Pride in Welsh Kale Gypsies’ contribution to Wales glows with the inclusivity of storytelling, poetry, harp music and clog dancing

26 September 2022
Pride in Welsh Kale Gypsies’ contribution to Wales glows  with the inclusivity of storytelling, poetry, harp music and clog dancing

September 2022: Frances Roberts Reilly launched her book tour of Wales with Parramisha: A Romani Poetry Collection by visiting cities, towns and villages where her Welsh Kale family were renowned for their contributions to Welsh culture, storytelling and musical legacy. She visited Aberystwyth’s International Storytelling Festival, the Corwen Museum, run by the Edeyrnion Heritage and Cultural Society to help highlight and protect the history of the area and in Newtown at the Oriel Davies Art Gallery, which features National and International artists working within a Welsh context.

Frances Roberts Reilly
Frances Robert Reilly

Peter Stevenson, author, storyteller, artist and organizer of the Aberystwyth International Storytelling Festival, called Welsh Kale, “a unique culture and language, known only to Wales.” While in Corwen, Laura Watkin’s of the Amgueddfa Corwen Museum wrote; “[what] a story it was, one that goes back seven generations, and covers the persecution of a race, the history of a language, the development of culture, of music and of storytelling.” At Oriel Davies, Director, Steffan Davies, said of a sold-out audience “Frances [told] old Welsh Romani tales brought to Wales by Abram Wood, infused with the Gypsy’s own story of journeying from the known into the unknown world that imparts these stories with strange moments that have travelled with them all the way from India to Europe and now to Wales.”

PARRAMISHA - Frances's book of poetry

For Frances, it was a “homecoming” experience to bring her storytelling a poetry back to Wales. “I didn’t know what to expect, except the unexpected, which came in the stories of local Welsh people talking about our Gypsy lives; whether it was identifying an atchitan in Corwen on the River Dee, the Roberts family, busking and harp playing outside Newtown’s Bear Inn or the Lovell’s doing farm work on a women’s father’s farm.” We know the Welsh take great pride in their own language and identity, “so it was a surprise to receive that same honouring and respect for our Welsh Kale identity”, says Frances. “As Welsh Kale Gypsies, we’re securely and abidingly part of a Welsh identity that comes equally with a strong sense of validating our belonging.” 

Returning to Wales from Canada was a "homecoming" for Frances

However, it was the meeting up with other still living members of the Welsh Kale vitsa and families that were the highlight of her book tour. “People would come up to me and say, ‘I’m a Boswell.’ ‘I’m a Wood.’ ‘I’m a lee.’ “In Bala, a local shop keeper said I had a Wood relative living there. I went to his cafe – Woody’s – they said I’d know him by his dark skin, but I’d know Steve Wood anywhere by his features so characteristic of Wood family members”, says Frances. One of the segments in her storytelling and poetry reading is about the Wood and Roberts boys’ reputation as skilled fishermen and how Howell and Manfri Wood were hired by local gentry as guides from the Plas Coch in Bala. “When I heard that Steve was a guide to moneyed guests at Palé Hall we celebrated his continuation of the Wood tradition for over 100 years.” {Poem: Ils for Tea]


Frances was joined by 16-year-old Cadi Glwys Davies who played a selection of Welsh Gypsy jigs, hornpipes and waltzes from the Wood, Roberts, Eldra Jarman and Nansi Richards repertoires, then at the end treated the audience to her vivid display of clog dancing. “Cadi Glwys Davies is an award-winning harpist with a gift to bring Frances' poems to life. She started with a piece played for Queen Victoria when she visited Palé Hall, ‘The Bells of Aberdyfi’, says Laura Watkins.

Future projects that came out of her book tour include a programme on Welsh Gypsy Women lead by Pedr ap Llwyd FLSW, CEO of the National Library of Wales. As well, an exhibition with a walking tour about Wood family history in Corwen, both of which Frances will support, assist and curate. In November, Frances travels to Los Angles where at the PAMLA Conference, UCLA she will deliver a paper on Esmeralda Lock about how Romani women have been stereotyped, exoticized, and sexualized; consequently, how Romani women are misrepresented or often underrepresented in the areas of arts, media, and culture.

Cadi Glwys Davies
Award winning harpist Cadi Glwys Davies

Of course, more invitations for storytelling and poetry readings will allow Frances to return to Wales in 2023. “I was made to feel proud and welcomed in Wales as a Welsh Kale Gypsy poet and storyteller”, says Frances. “This is a win-win for all Romani.”

Press release/TT News

(All photographs courtesy of Frances Roberts Reilly. Lead photograph: Frances Roberts Reilly with Cadi Glwys Davies)


Twitter: francescsr

Book: Parramisha: A Romani Poetry Collection. Cinnamon Press (2020). Available at Amazon, Waterstones, Books Council of Wales. ISBN: 9781788649063