Wales Watching

Wales Watching

An exhibit detailing Welsh culture comes to Marymount.

What do the singer of "She’s A Lady," the winner of the 1991 Masters Golf Tournament and the portrayer of Hannibal Lecter have in common?

Tom Jones, Ian Woosnam and Sir Anthony Hopkins are all Welsh.

These prominent figures and more are celebrated in a new exhibit at Marymount University that tells the story of Welsh immigration to the United States.

Unlike their Irish and Scotch brethren, little is known about Welsh culture in America.

"I often have to explain that Wales is a nation and not a magnificent sea creature," Dr. John Ellis, history professor and Welsh expert at the University of Michigan, said at the opening ceremonies for the exhibit, "Keeping Up With The Joneses: The Story Of Welsh In The U.S.A."

The Welsh Assembly Government, in an attempt to raise the profile of its tiny nation, funded and organized the traveling Welsh exhibit.

It originally began at Ellis Island and has been featured in Rio Grande, Ohio and Utica, N.Y., both areas where large numbers of Welsh immigrants settled in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The title "Keeping Up With The Joneses" comes from the name Jones, which is the most popular Welsh surname. According to legend, the phrase came from a wealthy Welsh family in New York who were constantly improving their estate, frustrating neighbors who were unable to keep up.

SIR DAVID MANNING, the British Ambassador to the U.S., spoke to an audience of county officials and Celtic-enthusiasts at the official opening of the exhibit earlier this month.

Fresh off of the Queen’s much-publicized visit to America, the ambassador said he was delighted to be celebrating Wales and Welsh culture.

"This is a wonderfully appropriate venue for ‘Keeping Up With The Joneses,’" Manning said.

The ambassador, who mentioned that he was somewhat of an architecture buff, said that "When it comes to great Americans with Welsh roots, I want to mention Frank Lloyd Wright whom I greatly admire."

Manning said that he thinks the exhibit will spark the interests of Americans in Wales and encouraged the audience to make voyages to the country.

"I hope this inspires you to come visit Wales," he said. "You won’t be disappointed."

Professor Ellis also gave a lecture on Welsh-American history at the exhibit’s opening. He said that the history of Welsh immigration to the United States is different from that of the Scotch and Irish peoples because Wales did not undergo any serious periods of poverty or famine.

"The industrial revolution turned Wales into a powerhouse," Ellis said. "Rather than being forced from their homeland, the Welsh were inspired by the New World and chose to come."

He also said that, as late as 1900, a majority of the Welsh population spoke Welsh as their first language.

"Wales is a nation of non-conformers," Ellis said.

Kelly McCarthy, an honorary emissary from the Isle of Man’s government, attended the exhibit opening with her husband Bill and was thrilled that a small piece of Celtic culture was coming to Northern Virginia.

"We’re very excited to see [the exhibit]" she said. "The Welsh are very close to us. They’re fellow Celts."