St Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland, but there's reason to believe he may actually be Welsh.

The small mining village of Banwen in south Wales has a claim on St Patrick, who is celebrated on St Partrick's Day, March 17, every year.  

This year the village will mark the day at the spot where Patrick and his sister Darerca were kidnapped by Irish pirates 1,500 years ago with the unveiligng of new scultures as well as online events, that also remember all victims of kidnapping and human trafficking.

Although the traditional annual Banwen gathering at the Welsh St Patrick memorial cannot happen this year because of Government Covid restrictions, lockdown hasn’t stopped the village of Banwen, in the valleys, from remembering that the Patron Saint of Ireland was brought up on the west coast of Britain and taken to Ireland as a slave by pirates.

Dr Simon Rodway, a lecturer at the Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth, told The National it is hard to sure Patrick was Welsh but he was certainly a Briton, and it is also certain he lived near enough to the west coast to have been captured by Irish raiders. 

"Whether he lived in what is now Wales or not is not certain, however - he could have come from what is now north- or south-west England," said Dr Rodway. 

"However, in the fifth century, England and Wales are not meaningful terms.  Patrick apologises for his Latin, which he calls an 'alien language'.  This must mean that his first language was Brittonic (otherwise known as British Celtic), the ancestor of Modern Welsh (and Cornish and Breton)."

Patrick was from a Roman family and his own writings Confessio tells how he was abducted when a boy from his Roman settlement in hilly moorland called Taburnaie Bannavem in the west of Britain. The Welsh St Patrick memorial in Banwen sits on the side of the great Roman Road Sarn Helen at a place still called Tafarn y Banwen in the village centre.

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As there will be no public gathering this year due to Covid lockdown rules the village community has decided to mark the Welsh origins of St Patrick, his sister and Patrick’s mother with new sculptures made by the south Wales artist Mel Bastier placed at the site of the Welsh St Patrick memorial.

There will be an online St Patrick’s day lecture about modern day people trafficking given by a detective who helped to set up the national people trafficking unit at London’s Scotland Yard.

The online event will also feature a new poem about the kidnapping of Patrick and his sister from the award winning Welsh writer Menna Elfyn. The village commissioned the poem from Menna Elfyn, who is also the chair of the writers organisation PenCymru that campaigns on behalf of writers around the world who are persecuted and imprisoned. 

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The story of Banwen’s connection to the kidnapping of St Patrick was brought to public attention by former miner and writer, and lifelong village resident George Brinley Evans.

George, now 95 years old, came across Confessio in a national magazine in the 1930s when he was in school. The article featured St Patrick and carried the claim that Patrick’s home Taburnaie Bannavem was Tafarn y Banwen in the village of Banwen.

“I was astonished,” said George who has led the work to get the Welsh St Patrick memorial stone erected on the side of the Roman road in the village. “Tafarn y Banwen was a place I knew well. It was the farm that my grandfather rented from the colliery. Suddenly I learned it was the original home of St Patrick.”

The National Wales: 95 year old Banwen man George Evans read as boy about Patrick coming from Wales95 year old Banwen man George Evans read as boy about Patrick coming from Wales

Willow sculptures of two figures representing St Patrick’s mother and sister will be installed at the roadside site of the Welsh St Patrick’s memorial for St Patrick’s day.

The figures are made by the natural willow artist Mel Bastier from Bridgend who has run online workshops for the village so that members of the community could be involved in the making.

Patrick’s sister, Darerca, was also kidnapped and taken to Ireland and played a major role in Patrick’s work of developing the Christian church there. In addition to speaking of the historical story of Patrick and his family at the hands of pirates and slavery, the new sculptures also bear witness to the cost of human trafficking today and modern day slavery.

Sonia Coy, co-organiser of the celebrations in Banwen, said: “It’s wonderful to be able to shine a light on our women, who often labour in the shadows. It’s  wonderful to begin to hear their stories and feel compassion for mothers, who like Patrick’s mother Conchessa, have had children taken from them. And we are also celebrating all that Darerca her daughter achieved.”

On this quiet Welsh hillside there is a memorial this St Patrick’s day to people all over the world who are caught up in modern day slavery and trafficking, and the terrible cost to them and their families.

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