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St. David, often overlooked Welsh saint, to get his due at museum

St. David, often overlooked Welsh saint, to get his due at museum

The patron saints of Ireland and Italy, respectively, will be cheered with parades, music and specia
St. David, often overlooked Welsh saint, to get his due at museum
Welsh immigrants — like the men pictured here — contributed to the slate industry in New York and Vermont. (photo courtesy Slate Valley Museum)

St. Patrick and St. Joseph have plenty of friends in March.

The patron saints of Ireland and Italy, respectively, will be cheered with parades, music and special foods. St. Patrick’s Day is always observed on March 17; St. Joseph’s Day follows on March 19.

Kathryn Weller wants people to add a third saint to the mix. St. David, an influence with people of Welsh descent, will be honored at the Slate Valley Museum in Granville on Friday — his feast day in the Christian church.

David will receive his due locally because there are strong Welsh ties to Granville and the Slate Valley — a 24-mile stretch of land that straddles the New York and Vermont borders. The 6-mile-wide valley begins in Granville and Rupert, Vt., and runs north to Fair Haven, Vt.

“The museum has always done programming that honors the Welsh community and their contributions to both the slate community and to the slate industry itself,” said Weller, the museum’s executive director. “Welsh immigrants began coming to the Slate Valley around the 1850s. They were coming to support the slate industry; slate is a very important industry in Northern Wales.”

St. David’s Day Observance

WHERE: Slate Valley Museum, 17 Water St., Granville

WHEN: 1-5 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: www.slatevalleymuseum.org

St. David may be the most famous of British saints, according to the website American Catholic.org. He lived during the fifth century, engaged in missionary work and founded many monasteries — including his principal abbey in southwestern Wales. According to the website, David and his Welsh monks worked in silence without the help of animals to till the soil. Their food was limited to bread, vegetables and water.

The museum will keep St. David and his countrymen and women in mind on Friday.

Artifacts on display

“Welsh artifacts from our collection will be on display including, clothing items,” Weller said. “The exhibit ‘The Dream and the Reality’ will be on display, which talks about the experiences of Welsh immigrants in the Slate Valley.”

The 1941 movie “How Green Was My Valley,” which received the Oscar for best picture that year, will be shown throughout the day. The film is about the Morgans, a Welsh family working the coal fields in South Wales at the turn of the 20th century.

Welsh music is planned for the museum’s sound system throughout the day. Welsh foods also will be sampled.

Weller said people who prepare for St. David’s Day prepare with leeks and daffodils.

“He was a proponent of leeks, like an onion,” she said. “That was always the sign of St. David. We found a fabulous image, which we used last year, it’s one of the earliest St. David’s Day images ... it’s a Welshman celebrating St. David’s Day around 1735 and it looks like the man has leeks coming out of his hat.”

Weller said flowers have trumped vegetables in modern observances. “Today, the leek has been replaced in a lot of modern celebrations by the daffodils,” she said. “They’re more of a generic symbol, mostly because they’re in season this time of year and symbolize the color of spring.”

Traditional food

People will wear a daffodil or dress in the red, green and white colors of the Welsh flag. “We’ll be sampling traditional leek soup and Welsh griddle cakes — which are called “cacen gri” — they’re amazing, they’re really good,” Weller said. “We’ll also be giving daffodils out at the museum. There will be children’s crafts that will help tell us who St. David was and why he is celebrated as well as talking about an immigrant group we don’t normally hear much about. This was a very important group to this region, as were the Irish and the Italians.”

While Irish and Italian immigrants often endured harsh receptions in American, Weller said, Welsh were welcomed with open arms in the Slate Valley. Many of them knew how to mine slate from time spent in the quarries of their home country. “They had the knowledge and the skills necessary for the young American slate industry to succeed,” Weller said.

America rewarded the newcomers in return. Weller said slate workers of the mid-1800s never would have had opportunities to manage or even own their own facilities. In America, they received those chances.

The museum currently is digitizing its collection of oral histories, including contributions from local of Welsh descent. In those histories, people have talked about their ancestors.

“They were very literate, they really celebrated and enjoyed music as well as poetry,” Weller said. “In America, they had numerous Welsh choral groups; there were choral groups in our area well into the second half of the 20th century. Green Mountain College still has a wonderful Welsh choir group made up of their students that performs throughout this region. They’ve performed here at the museum. They make at least one trip to Wales every four years.”

Donning yellow

If people are considering a trip north — the drive from downtown Schenectady to Granville takes about 90 minutes — and don’t want to wear leeks or daffodils, another option remains.

Much like people wear the color of the shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day, folks devoted to David might wear the color of the daffodil on Friday — yellow.

“That would probably work, too” Weller said. “It’s a celebration similar to St. Patrick’s Day. ... St. David’s Day is Welsh descendants’ way of showing their heritage.”

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