Jul 15, 2009

An Interview with Beryl Richards

Beryl Richards
Beryl (Bee) Richards earned degrees in art, human resources and career guidance and retired from a career in human resources and education to pursue interests in writing and historical research. She is the author of Nantybar - A Vanished Village in the Afan Valley and is currently working on a novel on the South Sea Bubble. Bee was born in Port Talbot, on the South Welsh coast, and came back to live there after traveling extensively. She quotes a familiar saying, "You can take the girl out of Port Talbot, but not Port Talbot out of the girl. Bee will be appearing at the Left Coast Eisteddfod to give a presentation on Prince Madoc.

AmeriCymru: You will be giving a talk on the Madoc Legend at this years' Left Coast Eisteddfod. Care to tell us a little about that? How did you first become interested in the Madoc Legend?
Bee: Madoc is one of the fascinating stories, which is surrounded by circumstantial and anecdotal evidence. I think it ranks in mystery with stories such as the Turin Shroud, the ‘Mari Celeste’ and it has a parallel in the Scottish legend of Summerled. Such mysteries and legends circulate all over the world. Always unproveable, always fascinating. Sometimes I wonder do we really want to solve these enigmatic tales. A lot of the fascination is taken out of such romanticism when proven a reality by science....

I am constantly fascinated by riddles, mysteries and ‘enigmas’ such as Madoc. The further I delve into the story the deeper the mystery becomes. All sorts of phantoms are released. What were the political aspirations of the first voyage? How in the light of the Welsh Civil war was Madoc able to sail from Rhos with ships fully equipped for a journey to who knows where? Were there any Imperialist designs from the royal house of Gwynedd? My interest in the ‘enigma’ started with a friend of mine a historian by the name of Bill Isaac lending me a book by Richard Deacon entitled (of course) ‘Madoc and the Discovery of America’ I became hooked!

AmeriCymru: What do you think it will take to prove that the Welsh discovered America? What direction would you like to see further research take?

Bee: One of the possibilities would be to pursue the DNA trail. Another would be in finding definite proof that the saga ever took place. Any reported remains have mysteriously disappeared or have been burned. There is a huge body of anecdotal evidence and written evidence by many famous individuals but nothing left of the material remains of the said Welsh. It is unfortunate that academia dismisses the hypothesis. No one institution has – to my knowledge – ever conducted a multi disciplinary approach to the problem, either in Wales or in the US where I suspect more archaeological evidence could be found to support the Madoc claim.

AmeriCymru: Are there any books on the subject that you would particularly recommend?

Bee: There is quite a body of literature on the subject, one of my favourites is the book which a lady called Zella Armstrong wrote and published herself entitled “Who Discovered America; the Amazing Story of Madoc. Richard Deacon ‘Madoc and the discovery of America’ another highly recommended volume is entitled Madoc, the Making of a Myth, by Gwyn A Williams. One of the most entertaining fictional accounts encompasses three volumes written by a novelist called Pat Winter. William A. Traxel also wrote an account which takes the saga further called “In the footsteps of the Welsh Indians.’ There are many more.

AmeriCymru: What inspired your interest in history? Would you agree with R.S. Thomas that it is not possible to ".... live in the present, at least not in Wales?"

Bee: Inheritence and curiosity also have a bearing on my interest. My father was one of the great instigators of my interest in history. Politically he was one of the best informed individuals I have met; discussions with him through my teens led me to want to find out the motivation behind his convictions. I started to read and found I had a great interest in how the past has influenced the present and how it will influence the future. It is my belief that we can only start to know our humanity by recognising the humanity and the struggles and triumphs of the past. Wales is a place full of crazy contradictions from the Mabinogion, to the religion of Rugby to the huge contribution we have made to the world of culture and industry. We are a multi cultural society and yet manage to draw in and to meld many communities into what is a vibrant modern country. I certainly think we live in a modern society, melded out of the people who have gone before us.

AmeriCymru: What inspired you to write "Nantybar...A Vanished Village in the Afan Valley"?

Bee: The wish to find out in more detail about the history of the little known Welsh valley of Afan was the motivation in writing ‘Nantybar’. The Rhondda Valleys are the usual topic of the Welsh Industrial Revolution, but what happened in the Upper Afan Valley during the 1800’s was repeated all over the country when the rural population made a mass migration to industrial sites in all parts of the country. The North, Scotland, Wales. All these places played a huge part in the support of the ‘British Empire’ with little or no recognition.

AmeriCymru: Any other message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Bee: Congratulations to AmeriCymru in accomplishing what will be a unique occasion. I hope this year will be the first of many.

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