Coronavirus: US woman, 96, speaks Welsh for first time in 40 years

By Kathy Peart
BBC News

  • Published
Ray McDermottImage source, Family Photo
Image caption,
Ray McDermott's family moved to England when she was 14 and she later moved to the United States

An elderly Welsh woman now living in the United States has spoken Welsh for the first time in 40 years after a lockdown social media appeal.

Ray McDermott, 96, who is originally from Carmarthenshire but who has lived in the US for 70 years, was worried she would never speak it again.

But Ray, of Ohio, has now been able to connect with Welsh speakers after her son, Keith, asked for help online.

"It actually brought tears to my eyes," she said.

Ray spent her childhood in Llandeilo, in Carmarthenshire, Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, and Aberystwyth in Ceredigion, before marrying an American soldier, Jim McDermott, when she was 18 and later setting sail for a new life in the US.

The mother-of-two has not spoken Welsh since her mother died nearly four decades ago and recently told her son: "I don't think I'll ever have a chance to speak Welsh again."

Image source, Family photo
Image caption,
Ray married Jim McDermott, a Texan, when she was was 18

Keith, 70, who lives in New York City, said he was desperate to help his mother speak her mother tongue as she has started to suffer short-term memory loss.

"The pandemic imposes the greatest loneliness on people. My mom is feeling that loneliness," he said.

"As her short-term memory gets worse, her long-term memory comes into focus.

"When we get in to discussions of the past and Wales, her memory is totally sharp and she has been yearning to speak Welsh."

So he put a message on Facebook for help for his "very cool, great-humoured" mother in the New York Welsh area and, within 30 minutes, he was deluged with responses.

He said he was "touched" and "a little overwhelmed".

"She was shocked, since she doesn't have a computer the whole world of internet is shocking to her," he added.

"I read each comment to her and she was very responsive when people included what part of Wales they are from."

Image source, Family photo
Image caption,
Keith McDermott said he was "very touched" by the offers of help for his mother Ray

Keith went one step further, asking Melisa Annis - a director and playwright originally from Cardiff but living in New York - to give Ray a call.

"I saw Keith's post and thought 'that's something easy for me to do'," she said.

"It's a very hard time at the moment and we are all feeling a little bit isolated and especially if you are older. I thought 'why not reach out?' I am a fluent Welsh speaker and very pro the Welsh language.

"It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for her, I think."

Ray said it was lovely to speak to someone who had visited the same places as her when she was a child and that speaking Welsh again was a very special moment.

Her first words were: "I used to talk in Welsh with my mum."

She told BBC Wales: "My mother was the last person who spoke Welsh to me and she has been dead 40 years so it has been a long time.

"I didn't think I would get to speak Welsh again.

"It actually brought tears to my eyes. I don't cry very often. It was lovely, it really was."

Keith hopes to set up more Welsh phone conversations for Ray and Melisa has promised to send Ray some short stories in Welsh to remind her of her life in Wales.