S4C will be taking to the road later this month following in the footsteps of Wales’ Romany Gypsies.
In a special week-long series entitled Y Sipsiwn, presenters Ifan Jones Evans and Shân Cothi will travel from Llangrannog in Ceredigion to Fishguard, Pembrokeshire in a Gypsy caravan – a ‘varda’ – from 25 to 30 June.
The series coincides with a month-long celebration in Wales of Romany Gypsy traditions. This celebration is being led by the Romani Cultural and Arts Company in Cardiff Bay. The company have organised a package of high-profile events which is supported by the Welsh Government.
The television series will discover how the Romany Gypsies have left a lasting legacy on Welsh life and history. There will be features along the way about their traditions, music, culture in Wales, Europe and the world and especially the persecution and prejudice they have endured over the generations.
Each live programme following the caravan’s journey will coincide with a local community event. We will meet people who have Romany heritage as well as discovering more about the beliefs and customs of the Romany. Historian, Gari Wyn will explore the story of the Welsh Gypsies and in particular Abraham Wood’s family, and the historian Arddun Arwyn examines the 1900 period.
Ifan Jones Evans will step back to the early years of the twentieth century – circa 1900 – as he travels in a Gypsy caravan built from scratch by local craftsmen and using horses from local stables near Lampeter, Ceredigion.
The Romany community feel that some TV programmes about Travellers have led to prejudice towards the Gypsy community – and the S4C series and the Romani Cultural and Arts Company events are seen as an opportunity to explain the heritage and way of life in a balanced way.
Isaac Blake, Director of the Romani Cultural and Arts Company said, “Y Sipsiwn is a contemporary series which also looks at the history of the Romany Gypsy tradition and so helps to create an awareness of the background and history as well as the situation of the community today. It will, hopefully, balance out some of the negative media preconceptions and challenge the myths and stereotypes.”
The Welsh Government is leading the way in Gypsy and Traveller rights. It published a policy document last year ‘Travelling to a Better Future’ which covers all aspects of travelling community life including education and accommodation.
The series Y Sipsiwn begins on Thursday 21 June at the Urdd camp Llangrannog, where the focus will be on the Welsh children’s author T Llew Jones’ classic book and subsequent S4C 1990s film Tân ar y Comin (translation - Fire on the Common) starring Edward Woodward. The film will be broadcast at the start of the S4C season on Sunday 17 June.
The journey begins on Monday 25 June, leaving Llangrannog and visiting Cardigan where they team will enjoy a preview of the up-and-coming Cardigan festival. Each nightly programme will look back on the day's journey.
On Tuesday 26 June the varda travels to Newcastle Emlyn where poets celebrate the literary heritage of the Romany Gypsy community in an event at Emlyn Hall and the Castle. This night is organised in conjunction with Literature Wales.
The caravan and its entourage reach Crymych the next day, Wednesday 27 June where local teams will have fun competing for local causes in an 'It's a Knockout' competition.
Newport, Pembrokeshire will be the venue on Thursday 28 June. On Parrog Beach, the local Yacht Club will be hosting an evening of live music with Lowri Evans and RADWM performing.
On Friday 29 June, an evening of folk dancing will be held at Fishguard’s new Welsh language primary school – Ysgol Glannau Gwaun.
Finally, on Saturday 30 June journey’s end will be at the famous Tafarn y Sinc pub in Rosebush for an evening which will feature Gypsy Jazz, the triple harp, traditional dancing and an opportunity to look back at the week’s highlights and reflect on the influence that the Romany has had on Welsh culture.
Dyfrig Davies, Executive Producer of the S4C series, added “It’s a real privilege to work on the series because it is such an interesting subject. The project has opened my eyes to the extent of the prejudice towards the Gypsy community in the past. Working in partnership, not only with Mr Producer and Slam Media on the production side, but also with local and national organisations including the Romani Cultural and Arts Company, is an effective way of achieving our goals. I hope to reignite the audiences’ memories of the Romany Gypsies and the way that they have enriched our cultures.”
There will be further programmes in the Gypsy season on S4C including documentaries about the history of the Gypsies in Wales, a look at the Romany Gypsy society’s present life in Wales and a programme on Romany Gypsy music. There will also be a transmission of the award-winning S4C film Eldra, based on the early life of Romany Eldra Jarman in north Wales.