US City with a Pinch of Wales; SALT LAKE: The Home of the Winter Olympics Has a Generous Dash of Celtic Flavour

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), February 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

US City with a Pinch of Wales; SALT LAKE: The Home of the Winter Olympics Has a Generous Dash of Celtic Flavour


Byline: FELICITY WATERS & RHODRI OWEN

FEW of us may be venturing across the Atlantic this week for the Winter Olympics in Utah, but we can rest assured that the Welsh will be very well represented in Salt Lake City.

In this small corner of North America, it is estimated that between 10 and 15pc of the population boast Welsh ancestry.

Many have visited the National Library in Aberystwyth to trace their family tree.

The Welsh of Utah today originate from the Welsh Mormon community which emigrated to the Mormon Church's headquarters in Salt Lake City in 1849.

Visitors shouldn't be surprised to see Welsh culture still very much alive in the American state.

Male voice concerts are performed regularly in Salt Lake by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was founded by Flintshire-born conductor John Perry. St David's Day is also fervently celebrated with special dinners and poetry readings.

The Merthyr Tydfil area has strong links with Salt Lake City. Its first branch of the Mormons was established in Penydarren in 1843.

Four years later there were 900 members in the area. Many emigrated to America as missionaries and began to establish their own communities abroad.

In 1963 a new chapel was built on the site of the old Cyfarthfa Ironworks. Membership fell dramatically during the 1980s, but there are now more than 500 Mormons in Merthyr.

Ron Dennis, a professor of Portuguese and Welsh in Salt Lake, whose great-great-grandfather, Captain Dan Jones, was born in Merthyr, takes pride in his Celtic roots and even runs Welsh-language classes.

"Take-up for Welsh lessons is excellent, though students do find the language hard to learn, " he said.

"Lots of people here have some Welsh connection, be it one-eighth, one 16th or even more distant, but they are very proud to be Welsh and want to learn all about their ancestry, " he explained.

"The Welsh people who came here in the 19th Century made a tremendous contribution to our community, what with their music as well as masonry expertise in the building of several important buildings in Utah. …

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