Welsh or not?
The painter, Peter Prendergast, questions notions of identity in his Welsh homeland, with particular reference to his surname.
"What's in a name? What is nationality? Prendergast is a Norman name taken in the 11th century to Pembrokeshire in Wales and then on to Ireland. My father, Martin Prendergast, was born and brought up in a peasant's cottage in the county of Wexford in Ireland in 1900. He had 11 brothers and sisters all except three emigrated, some to America, my father to Maesteg in Wales. They sailed by steamboat from Rosslaire harbour in about 1916. Sailing by night, they would have passed Tusca Lighthouse, the same lighthouse that years later would light up the bedroom and the bed that my brother and I shared with my Aunt Bridgie, both of us fighting not to sleep next to her, she was 70. Whilst working in Wales as a coal miner my father played hurling. He played hurling against America in Dublin. In the 1930s my father married my mother and moved to Abertridwr and worked in the Windsor Colliery. My big brother, Stewart, was born and then six years later my twin brother and I in the back bedroom one Sunday morning in October 1946.
The men in our family are all coalminers. In the 1950's our two weeks holiday was spent in Ireland. We walked in the lanes and spent our time swimming whilst our parents lay in the sand resting. In Abertridwr, my Grandfather helped build the Catholic church . The Irish attended Mass and socialised afterwards. Many were members of the local Conservative Club. There you could get a drink on a Sunday. In chapel-going Wales, Catholicism slightly isolated the Irish. On Whit Mondays, the chapels with their banners paraded through the valley. Catholics did not, they had their own party. A funny thing, this Christianity. My father worked for 46 years as a coalminer. He liked sport, walking and Irish music but he didn't like having to be a miner. Sometimes on the afternoon shift from 1.00 pm to 10.30 pm miners hardly saw the sunlight, especially in the winter. Our backyard had always been a tip full of rubbish.
The summer my father retired I went home from college. The backyard was full of flowers. My father said that he'd always wanted a garden but being a miner meant he had no energy or time. He had been working to support his family. When he retired, he spent his life watching sport, walking with my mother, and when the sun came out, sitting in his garden in his deckchair, he became a sun worshipper. So Prendergast isn't a Welsh or Irish name, it has no particular place, there are no borders. We don't own the land, we are all travellers. Roots are where we decide to put them. Culture is now, not then. The Irish think of home, but most stay where they've landed."