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Authors behind books examining Chicago and Pontypridd’s historic battle to host Eisteddfod finally meet up

30 Jul 2023 4 minute read
Pontypridd and Chicago’s battle for National Eisteddfod hosting rights

On 1 August 1893 Pontypridd hosted the opening of the National Eisteddfod for the first and only time, beating Chicago for the privilege.

In recent years, two authors have told very different stories of the struggle to secure the festival, and with this year’s event on the horizon both authors finally met up to share their stories.

Fortunately, there was no hostility as this was a classic example of the pen being mightier than the sword!

The Chicago story

Dilys W. Rana was born and brought up in Nannerch just outside Mold in North Wales but emigrated to the USA after her marriage in 1971.

She joined the Welsh Cambrian Society of Chicago, where she is now President, which was formed in 1853 and she became interested in tracing the early Welsh immigrants who helped establish the city. Dilys is also a board member of the Welsh North American Association and is a frequent visitor back to Wales.

Dilys Rana said: “Since about 2000, I became very interested in researching the early Welsh settlers in the city.

“Part of the reason was the discovery of a minutes book, written in archaic Welsh and sometimes in English, from the founding of the first Welsh society in Chicago in 1853.

“I immediately felt a kinship with these early pioneers and wanted to know more about them. Where did they come from? Why did they come? How did they live, work and raise their families here?”

In 2016, Dilys published a book called ‘The Welsh Who Built Chicago’ which details how those early Welsh settlers helped build and shape the city during the nineteenth century.

The book also includes details of Chicago’s bid to host the 1893 National Eisteddfod of Wales.

In 1893 Chicago was hosting the World’s Fair to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America.

Chicago had seen a huge influx of immigrants from Wales, and they wanted to showcase their culture and identity by hosting the National Eisteddfod at the World’s Fair.

Dilys goes on to express Chicago’s disappointment that Wales’ premier cultural event was not awarded to them. However, they did go on to host a very successful International Eisteddfod which, she says, is still talked about today.

She then went on to say, ‘No one remembers Pontypridd’.

The Pontypridd story

The other author is Sheldon Phillips who was born in Pontllanfraith, Monmouthshire (now Caerphilly County) in South Wales but his father and paternal ancestors were originally from Pontypridd.

It was this paternal connection and his interest in family history research which led him to find out that three of his great uncles, including the General Secretary David E. Phillips, were heavily involved in the delivery of the 1893 National Eisteddfod.

In 2023, Sheldon published a book called ‘No One Remembers Pontypridd: The forgotten story of the 1893 National Eisteddfod of Wales’ – the title reflecting the comment in Dilys Rana’s book.

Sheldon Phillips said: “The comment from Dilys that ‘no one remembers Pontypridd’ struck a chord with me, especially as there was no formal report for this Eisteddfod.

“I was determined to tell Pontypridd’s story and put the record straight”.

His book details how the economic and cultural growth of Pontypridd led to the town bidding for the 1893 National Eisteddfod after losing out to Swansea for the 1891 festival in very acrimonious circumstances.

Sheldon outlines the details of the bidding process and whilst there was some support for Chicago the reasons why Pontypridd was ultimately selected.

The two authors meet up

The two authors agreed to meet whilst Dilys Rana was on a return visit to Wales. They recently met for the very first time over lunch on ‘neutral territory’ in Chester. Despite their different perspectives they got on famously.

They shared very similar stories of researching factual stories and of the trials and tribulations of writing a book.

They are both first-time self-publishing authors, both passionate about Wales and their Welsh heritage and both had insisted that their books were to be printed in Wales.

Dilys Rana and Sheldon Phillips cemented their newfound friendship by signing a copy of their book for each other.

Dilys Rana’s book ‘The Welsh Who Built Chicago’ is available by emailing the author [email protected]

Sheldon Phillips’ book ‘No One Remembers Pontypridd: The forgotten story of the 1893 National Eisteddfod of Wales’ is available from Storyville Books, Pontypridd and online here…

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