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Former Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Owen John Thomas dies at 84

14 May 2024 4 minute read
Owen John Thomas

Martin Shipton

A former Plaid Cymru Assembly Member who was instrumental in the revival of the Welsh language in Cardiff and founded the venue Clwb Ifor Bach has died at the age of 84.

Owen John Thomas represented South Wales Central in the then National Assembly from its inauguration in 1999 until 2007.

Passion

His son Hywel Thomas has issued this statement on behalf of the family: “My father, Owen John Thomas, passed away peacefully this morning after a long illness.

“He loved Wales, its people, language, and culture with a passion. He was driven by a desire to see Wales freed from the constraints of Westminster to determine its own affairs. Those holding onto centuries of power would dismiss people like my father as troublesome agitators. But when all said and done, all he ever wanted for his country was fairness and the powers to lift the people of Wales out of poverty and give them a fighting chance of a better future. Progress was slow, letter after letter, inch by inch but he kept going and never gave up.

“He knew the streets of his beloved Cardiff like the back of his hand and always had a story for every building – the hidden passages and alleyways connecting the Royal Arcade to the Tabernacle Chapel and the facades of the old houses of Kingston Court.

“My father never tired of walking through the streets and arcades of Cardiff city centre, stopping and chatting to people along the way – sometimes frustratingly so for me and my siblings. But the reward for our patience, was a visit to the Sarsaparilla Bar in Morgan’s Arcade. There, we would sit on the high bar stools at the counter sipping our Sarsaparilla and Burdock feeling like grownups.

“In his early thirties my father decided to learn Welsh. Once proficient in the language, he became famous for his ‘shwmae brawd’ greeting – meaning, hello brother/comrade – a nod to the common cause of a free Wales. He dedicated much of his life campaigning for the provision of Welsh medium education in Cardiff which is now thriving in the city.

“He also realised that if the language was going to flourish, people needed a place where they could use it socially. Bringing together a group of like minded friends and people, he set about raising the necessary funds to buy the leasehold from the British Legion on a suitable building in Womanby Street. That was 1983, and that building is now Clwb Ifor Bach.

“It was inevitable perhaps that my father’s passions and convictions would lead him to politics. In the Welsh devolution referendum of 1997, he saw his dream realised with the establishment of a National Assembly for Wales. He served two terms as one of its elected members between 1999 and 2007.

“The cruel Alzheimer’s disease would eventually take his voice, but he has left an indelible mark on his country, its capital city and the Welsh language. My father was a warrior. His spirit will live on in the streets and buildings of the city he knew so well and loved so much.

“He leaves behind his wife Sian, six children, John, Hywel, Eurwen Iestyn, Rhodri and Rhys and eleven grandchildren. We will all miss him dearly. Nos da dad.”

Campaigner

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “On behalf of Plaid Cymru I extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Owen John Thomas.

“We remember him as a formidable campaigner and tireless advocate for the Welsh language and Welshness in Cardiff.

“He made a significant contribution not only to his community but to also to Plaid Cymru.

“From campaigning for the rights of Allied Steel and Wire pensioners and Welsh Language Education in the capital to playing a part in shaping Plaid Cymru’s strategy after the 1979 referendum – he made a lasting contribution to Welsh politics, both locally and nationally.”


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hdavies15
hdavies15
7 days ago

Got know him when I first arrived in Cardiff in early 70’s. Part of the glue that held a community of like minded people together at that time. Went on to do a whole raft of good things as cited above. A genuinely effective politician who was respected all round. Our current crop would do well to study his fine example. Diolch o galon, cysga yn dawel brawd.

Steve George
Steve George
7 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

I’ll second that. His campaigning on leasehold reform was years ahead of its time (and still needed). A genuine, down-to-earth man. We need more of his type in politics. Alzheimers is a very cruel illness and my thoughts are with his family.

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