A Garden for Newtown:

Little Ireland and Passports for its People

The Arts Council of Wales has approved an application from the Newtown Association and a grant of 77,000 has been allocated towards the building of a memorial garden in the area once known as Newtown. The offer is subject to the availability of Partnership funding and although well on the way to reaching its target figure the Association is still actively seeking Sponsorship.
To identify this unique community and to help boost the memorial garden funds the Newtown Passport has been produced, and can be obtained by former residents and their descendants for a small fee of 5.
You will have read in previous issues of ‘The Green Dragon’ about how, during the 1840s, the Marquis of Bute made arrangements to bring a large number of Irish families to Cardiff in order to provide the labour necessary to the building of the Docks. These Docks were to provide a port for the export of the coal being produced in the South Wales Valleys. The families were settled into purpose built housing in an area near the docks. The area was known as Newtown, ‘Little Ireland'.
Life for these families was not easy. Their living conditions were appalling; they were treated with hostility by local people for working for next to nothing, and despised by many for bringing pestilence and what was described as popery’ to the town. However, the alternative for them - to stay in famine-torn Ireland - was worse. Far, far worse.
Those who survived those early days became, essentially, the builders of Cardiff docks and in doing so they contributed enormously to the development of the greatest coal exporting port in the world. These men and women also worked in the industries which developed and thrived around the docks. They too, were responsible for the foundation of a unique close-knit Catholic community, a community that spanned four generations over a period of 120 years.
Through the years the Community produced many men and women who made substantial and outstanding contributions to the cultural, commercial and industrial development of the town, which was to become the capital city of Wales. Many sporting heroes took their very first steps in those little streets - the boxer ‘Peerless Jim Driscoll’ being the most famous. Sadly Newtown did not feature in the grander scale of things planned for the further development of the city, and in the late sixties the bulldozers moved in. Its buildings, including its beautiful Church, were destroyed, its people were scattered. But, thankfully those foundations were deep-rooted and its soul survived.
In 1996, inspired by the poem ‘The Parish of St Paul’s’ recorded by Tommy Walsh (himself a Newtown Boy) a group of former residents got together and formed ‘The Newtown Association’ with the essential aims of commemorating the loss of a community; recording its history and keeping its memory alive. It will provide the people of Cardiff with a source of educational archive material about the Newtown community, with a permanent memorial, a ‘Memorial Garden’, to the significant part which the people of the community played in the development of the city.
The Garden will be erected directly opposite to where the ‘Crichton Arms’ once stood. It will be readily accessible not only to the citizens of Cardiff but also to the many visitors to the city. The artist, David Mackie, has suggested that the memorial should not be exclusively a place of memorial or rest, but a place of instruction and education. There will be an emphasis on text as a design element in response to Tommy Walsh’s Poem which includes the line, “But you won’t find any Epitaph, or Plaque set in the walls”. The translation of texts into Welsh and Gaelic will point to the integration of the community. There is scope for further text to be incorporated in the surrounding walls and paving through the ‘Naming of Names’ either from Census information or by Subscription.
The garden will accommodate both personal use, when people come to remember individually, and communal, ceremonial use, as a stopping point in the proposed annual ‘Famine Walk’.
During the coming months many fund raising and social activities will be held. We shall also be seeking sponsorship from local businesses, particularly those with an Irish connection, as well as relevant organisations in Ireland. If you know of any organisation or individual who might be prepared to help, please contact us.

For further information please log on to our website

Mary Sullivan (Chair),
The Newtown Association,
February 2002.

Published in The Green Dragon No 10, Spring 2002

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