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Shared Heritage from Welch to Wales

WELCH, W.Va. – The country of Wales and the state of West Virginia share many commonalities with a legacy of coal mining at the top of the list.

“Shared Heritage: Stories and Music from Coal Towns in Wales and West Virginia” will explore storytelling and musical traditions born in the coal communities found in both places. The heart of this proposal features two performances by four highly regarded performers at the Jack Caffrey Arts and Culture Center in McDowell County, West Virginia—one performance for school students, the other for the general public.

Welsh visitors to West Virginia frequently comment about the similarities of the topography and the small settlements nestled in the hilly terrain found in both places. Geologists tell us that the Appalachians and Cambrians were once part of the same mountain system and were formed during the same tectonic events, eons ago. On a human scale, the Welsh influence in McDowell County can be seen in common surnames such as Jones, Evans, and Jenkins, and in place names including the county seat, Welch. The ties run long and deep.

The same geologic forces that created our hills also created the black diamonds underneath. Wales and West Virginia share economies based on coal mining and cultural traditions that blossomed in the company towns—storytelling and music being especially noteworthy. Isolated geographically and socially, the coal towns (nant y glo, in Welsh) became, by necessity, cultural centers.

Music and storytelling in the “camps” was more than just entertainment but a way to pass on heritage and solidify a sense of community. “Shared Heritage” brings together four compelling performers—three from West Virginia and one from Wales—to explore this heritage through traditional music and stories.

The overarching goal of the project is to demonstrate the close coal heritage ties between Wales and West Virginia. Secondary goals include exposing county school students and the public to a different culture, exploring the relevance of coal town traditions for modern times, bringing people to downtown Welch, and—with a little luck—inspiring people to further explore their creativity.

To achieve these goals, two performances will be held on Friday, October 21st, the first during the day for all 5th graders in the county school system, the second for the public that evening at 7:30 p.m. Both events will be held at the Jack Caffrey Arts and Culture Center in Welch.