Penmark’s Irish Connection

The inhabitants of Penmark, a village in the Vale of Glamorgan, have by now got used to the sound of air traffic, much of it to and from Dublin, in and out of the nearby Cardiff Airport (Rhoose). It was, of course, not always thus, as the following (slightly amended) extracts from the parish history show.
At that time (1851) the St. Mary’s (Anglican) congregation was about 60 in the morning, including children, and 30 in the evening. The Chapel Sunday School (Nonconformist) was also well attended and possibly the children were taught basic reading and writing. This was in the years before organised education was available and was of course free. The building was altered in 1880 and flourished until a new chapel was opened in Rhoose in 1931, built at a cost of 1,000. The Deacon in 1851 was Thomas Matthews, a farmer from Fontygary; a later minister, Rev. Phillips, lived at the Manse at Lancadle. In 1892 the monthly meeting was held there for Methodist ministers from the district. The local paper stated, “their conveyance to the village was by brakes running from Cowbridge and Barry to meet the various trains. The utmost hospitality was shown by the inhabitants towards strangers…
For several years Penmark was the centre of the Catholic population in the region and known locally as ‘Little Ireland’. The first Irish family to arrive in the Parish was James Tobin with his wife and daughter in the early 1850s. (The Penmark Registers show the following Tobin deaths : Catherine, aged 11 years, May 1866. James, aged 45 years, January 1878. John, aged 7 years, March 1866. Leah, aged 7 months, May 1885. Mary, aged 50 years, September 1868. William, aged 37 years, April 1869).
Within a decade 10% of the population was of Irish origin. Until 1862 they were served by priests who travelled from Cardiff and services were held in homes in the parish. The following account of the early years of Irish Catholicism in the Vale is taken from the Catholic Magazine, St. Peter’s Chair.

“The first of these priests was Father Nedelec (of the Fathers of Charity). Before coming, he sent a letter to get a place ready for him to give Benediction. That was found in the house of James Barry who worked for a farmer at Tredogan. When the farmer’s wife found out the priest was coming she sent to stop him at once. The poor farmer was afraid of losing the house, went to meet Father Nedelec and told him his trouble, but the Rev. Father told him never to mind, but go back with him and see what would happen. They had Benediction without any trouble. That being over it was settled that everyone should pay sixpence a quarter to the mission expenses. The next place the priest went to was Rhoose, to the house of William Neal, where they had Holy Mass. The next place was Fontygary in the house of Thomas Roberts. He said the Squire would not be willing, but Father Nedelec drove up to the Castle and asked to see the Squire who admitted him, gave him lunch and freedom to preach the Gospel in the surrounding district. Father Nedelec then went to Penmark, to the house of Jeremiah Daly.”

After that came Father Bruno who experienced great hardships. He celebrated Mass at Llanbethery for a number of years. One time, when the snow was a foot deep on the ground, he came from Cardiff to prepare an old woman for death. Part of the way he could come by train but the rest he had to walk through the snow, the water oozing out of his boots. The subscription was raised to one shilling a quarter. He used to come out to instruct the children on weekdays, sometimes walking the whole distance there and back, twenty four miles.
Father Bruno was succeeded by Father Hayde, who used to celebrate Mass in the houses of Jeremiah Murphy, Daniel Holland, Owen McCarthy, Lawrence Driscoll and Denis Regan (‘Holly Cottage’) at the Finger-Post in Penmark Village. He was followed by the Rev. Father Clark who was in the area for about eight years, and celebrated Mass in the same houses. These services were continued on a more regular basis by Father Hyland who was the first Catholic priest to officiate at St. Mary’s, when he buried Mary Daly in June 1880. Marriages still took place at St. David’s in Cardiff. By 1889 there were 146 Roman Catholics in the Parish and many were able to go to Mass in a small room at the thatched Wenvoe Arms at Cadoxton. An altar was erected each Sunday morning in a room which served as the local court and furniture and sacristy were carried from Father Hyland’s house in Lower Guthrie Street.
In May 1892 a school chapel was dedicated on Court Road by Bishop Hedley and the children at Penmark School attended the service. The Parish Church of St. Helens in Barry was dedicated in 1907. Mass continued to be celebrated at the Regan home (‘Holly Cottage’) until a wooden hut (‘St. Vincents’) was dedicated in Rhoose in 1927 and Canon Quigly celebrated the first Mass.

: Maureen Bullows in her parish history, 'Penmark Past', published by the author at The Orchard, Penmark, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3BN.
We are grateful to her for permission to reproduce her work in a slightly altered form.

Published in The Green Dragon No 3, June 1997