Madam Megan Telini

Megan Telini’s distinctive and elegant grave at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead.

This distinctive gravestone  marks the last resting place of a famous Welsh Prima Donna, Madame Megan Telini. The inscription reads:-

Megan Telini
Welsh Prima Donna
Beautiful voice great artist
Charming personality
Lifelong worker for charity
Including Penrhyn Quarry strike
Miners relief fund
And with-all a most loving
and devoted wife and mother.

She was born Margaret Jane Parry at Bethesda in 1878 and was an accomplished singer, winning over 350 prizes and accolades at various concerts and eisteddfodau and eventually winning the Open Soprano competition at the National Eisteddfod in 1898. Her father Robert Parry (known as Trebor Llechid) worked at the Penrhyn Slate Quarry and became involved with the strike fund committee during the great quarry strike of 1898-1902.  She helped to raise a significant amount of money with a ladies choir in support of the quarry workers during this very difficult time.

When the strike ended many Bethesda families moved away from the area and the Parry family came to live at 8 Moreton Road, Holyhead. Megan married David Huw Jones in Bethesda in 1902. After marrying she spent eight years in Edinburgh before going to Italy where she had further training and took up the name of Madam Telini.

On returning to London she was kept busy on the ‘Concert Scene’ for several years, singing on many world stages such as La Scala in Milan.  She released over sixteen records (a great accomplishment for the time). During the great depression of the 1920/30’s she performed numerous concerts to raise money for the miner’s families of South Wales. She also supported many good causes at her adopted town of Holyhead, particularly for Capel Tabernacl, Thomas Street, where the Parry family worshiped. Madam Telini eventually retired in 1934 to keep a small hotel in London. When WW2 broke out Megan and David moved to Pembrey, Carmarthenshire, where she died in 1940.

Returned by her family to Holyhead to be buried, her grave at Maeshyfryd is close to that of her parents and two of her siblings.

From research undertaken by Peter Scott Roberts.

Peter Scott Roberts is keen to continue his research into Madam Megan Telini and would be pleased to hear from anyone with information to offer – or 01407 740246.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

Jonathan Swift at Holyhead – ‘muddy ale and mouldy bread’

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He is probably best known for his book ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘, published in 1726. He would have passed through Holyhead many times in his lifetime.

Jonathan Swift left Dublin on 9th April 1727 for a six-month visit to England. On his way back, he arrived in Holyhead on Sunday 24th September, just missed the packet boat, and had to stay in the town for a week because of storms. He stayed at the inn run by Mrs Welch, which was at the corner of present-day Thomas Street and Market Street and at the time just above the rocky sea-edge.

He wasn’t happy. Several of his initiatives in London had come to nothing. He was tired from his horse ride from Chester, and he was having bad dreams. He was suffering from recurring bouts of deafness and giddiness. He thought he didn’t have long to live, and made his first will. And he’d just heard of the dangerous illness of Stella, the name he used for the woman with whom he’d long been intimate. He was desperate to get back.

During his enforced stay, he had nothing to do, so he wrote bits and pieces in a notebook that came to be called his ‘Holyhead Journal’. The first page is a list of memoranda – things to be done before leaving England, such as buying ‘a pair of spectacles for [someone] 70 years old’. But most of the Journal consists of poems, such as the one that doesn’t paint a very nice picture of Holyhead at that time.

Lo here I sit at Holyhead
With muddy ale and mouldy bread
All Christian victuals stink of fish
I’m where my enemies would wish
Convict of lies is every sign,
The inn has not one drop of wine
I’m fasten’d both by wind and tide
I see the ship at anchor ride

The Captain swears the sea’s too rough
He has not passengers enough.
And thus the Dean is forc’d to stay
Till others come to help the pay
In Dublin they’d be glad to see
A packet though it brings in me.
They cannot say the winds are cross
Your politicians at a loss
For want of matter swears and frets,
Are forced to read the old gazettes.
I never was in haste before
To reach that slavish hateful shore
Before, I always found the wind
To me was most malicious kind
But now, the danger of a friend
On whom my fears and hopes depend

Absent from whom all climes are curst
With whom I’m happy in the worst
With rage impatient makes me wait
A passage to the land I hate.
Else, rather on this bleaky shore
Where loudest winds incessant roar
Where neither herb nor tree will thrive,
I’d go in freedom to my grave,
Than rule yon isle and be a slave.

The town of Holyhead that Swift would have known

He has nobody to talk to, because he doesn’t speak Welsh. He goes for walks along Rocky Coast – which in those days extended all the way round to the inner harbour – but has to fight against the rain. He walks to the top of the Mountain, but it was too hazy to see the Wicklow hills, and he gets soaked on his way down. A boat eventually sails, but meets another storm and has to turn back. He finally got away on the first day of October.

No wonder he penned such a gloomy poem. And yet, ten years later, he wrote a letter directing his executors to pay the cost of transporting his body to Holyhead ‘and for my Burial in the Church of that Town’. (He changed his mind later, and is now buried in Dublin.) And he writes, probably thinking of the happier times he’d passed through Holyhead on his way to England: ‘Here I could live with two or three friends in a warm house and good wine – much better than being a slave in Ireland’. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad place after all.

Irish Ferries’ ‘Jonathan Swift’ at Holyhead – named after the Dean of St. Patrick’s

Contributed by Professor David Crystal

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

The Charlemont Packet Tragedy of 1790

Parkgate Packets at Dublin Harbour in 1788

Throughout the 18th Century Parkgate Packet Boats provided a much used means of sea travel to Dublin from the west coast of Britain. They mostly carried passengers, the mail being directed through Holyhead. Described as brigs, carrying two masts with square rigged sails, the vessels were built of wood and had a broad and flat beam so that they could lie aground at low tide. Although based at Parkgate, close to Chester on the River Dee, they also sailed from the larger port of Liverpool.

Parkgate Packets depicted on a commemorative bowl from 1790

On Wednesday 15th December 1790 the Parkgate Brig Charlemount, reported to be under the command of Captain Gillen, set sail from Liverpool for Dublin and had reached the bay of Dublin, when she was driven back by a violent gale. On Friday 17th December, the weather became favourable and the Captain again proceeded to make for Dublin, having now 120 people on board. The storm returned and he was again forced to put back.

By now the passengers became increasing concerned and insisted that he make for Holyhead. The Captain declared that he was unfamiliar with the coast but the Mate said that he knew the coast well. The Captain gave way against the pressure of the passengers and the Mate took over the navigation. As they approached Holyhead in the midst of a storm the Mate was confused by some lights and the Charlemount struck the rocks at the point of Salt Island (Ynys Cybi). A few yards further and they would have reached the relative safety of the creek at Holyhead. This being about 4.30 in the afternoon of the 18th December 1790.

It took only half and hour for the vessel to break up completely. There were about 12 ladies on board, who it is told, clung to the Steward in fear of their lives. Unfortunately they and the Steward all perished. Of 120 persons on board only 16 survived. One of the passengers, Captain Charles Jones RN, the eldest son of the Irish peer, Viscount Ranelagh, managed to save himself and was able to help another passenger by catching hold and dragging him onto the rocky shore.

Lewis Morris’ Map of Holyhead from 1748. The Charlemount foundered at the point of Ynys Cybi.

Newspaper reports of the day mention some of those who perished – William Holmes of County Wicklow; Mr. and Mrs. Moore of County Meath; Mr. Smith of County Wicklow (his body was found with his pocket watch and 9 guineas in his pocket book). Also lost were a Miss Carter and Miss Church, belonging to the Society of Moravians at Ballymena.

The Captain and Mate saved themselves. They took to the shrouds and managed to scramble ashore. A newspaper report in the month following the tragedy mentions that the Charlemount was among a number of vessels seeking shelter at Holyhead from the storm and was following another vessel, the Hillsborough, and should not have lost its way. The Mate was later arrested and imprisoned for negligence in his navigation of the vessel.

With more than 100 victims of the tragedy the question arises to where the bodies were buried. Those of a higher station in society could have been returned to their home parishes. Many of those who died were of poorer means and probably buried locally in an unmarked grave. There are no records available to confirm a precise burial location. However, evidence suggests that they were buried together in the north-west corner of the Roman Fort at the Holyhead Parish Church of St. Cybi.

This area is now the location of the town’s ‘Field of Remembrance’, where tributes to those lost in recent conflicts are displayed. Observers will see the lack of  marked graves in this section of the graveyard and that the ground is clearly raised. Lending support to this theory is the marked grave of William Holmes, 31 year old victim of the tragedy, lying close by. It would seem from his grave inscription that a friend thought highly enough of him to arrange a separate burial.

IMG_1840 copy (1)
The probable burial location of the victims of the Charlemount Packet Tragedy
William Holmes’ Gravestone.

From research undertaken by Peter Scott Roberts

Image of the ‘Packet Boats at Dublin Harbour’ from a painting by J T Serres. With permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Lewis Morris’ map from Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales

Image of the Parkgate Packets depicted on a commemorative bowl –

© Holyhead Maritime Museum