Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Newtown: Cardiff's 'Little Ireland'

St Paul's Church, Tyndall Street
Newtown was an area of Cardiff between Splott and the Docks, known as 'Little Ireland.'

My dad has often spoken of his childhood in Newtown and when travelling on the "new" flyover that goes from Cardiff jail to the new revamped Docks with the Welsh Assembly building etc. one can see the area where Newtown used to be.

The area was demolished (I got the impression of slum clearances, but perhaps that is unfair) the year I was born, 1970.

Did my Irish grandfather end up living in Newtown with his Welsh wife because the Irish tended to gravitate there? Or were the rents cheaper? Or was it a work-related move?

Furthermore, it's interesting to read that Newtown was established by the Marquis of Bute, specifically for Irish workers. In the superb essay When the Heart Stopped Beating, published in the South Wales Echo, Dan O'Neil marks the irony of the Marquis of Bute who built Newtown for the Irish workers escaping the Irish famine all but begging forgiveness for bringing in "Papists" -- when his own son would convert to the One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church.

Certainly reading a booklet on the Catholic history of Cardiff some years back, there was an editorial from the (19th Century) South Wales Echo which tried to paint the growth of the Irish population in Cardiff in general, and the establishment of a Catholic Church in particular, as if the Spanish Armada were en route again, as if the gunpowder plot were happening again: it was full of hysteria and hyperbole akin to an Al Qaeda cell being discovered in the city.

Altar boys in Newtown

The following site (see link at end) gives an excellent overview of Newtown, a community torn down 40 years ago.

Here's a piece from the When the Heart Stopped Beating article:

The last Mass was celebrated in Saint Paul’s Church, Newtown, on Sunday, October 22, 1967.And that, more than anything else, more than the sight of old houses falling, familiar pubs reduced to dust, men, women and children moving from the homes where they were born - that, more than anything else spelled out that this was truly . . . .The End. For Saint Paul’s was the beating heart of Little Ireland. When it was built it signalled that the men and women from the Ould Sod had come to stay.  They had come fresh from the terrible famine, that calamity imprinted on the world’s mind as the Great Hunger, and they had built the vast docks which were to make Cardiff the coal capital of the world; and they brought their customs, and their religion with them.

Newtown, Cardiff


  1. My mother went to work at the Presbytery, straight from school in Pontnewydd, near Cwmbran. She talked about how busy it would be on Saturday evenings, with parishioners ringing the bell, and presenting a penny which would ensure a relative's name would be read out at Mass the following day.

    1. Thank you so much for that input. You have painted such a lovely picture. It is so important we remember a real part of Welsh history that could otherwise be lost.

  2. It just annoys me when I see the fuss that has always been made of the Bay-or 'Tiger Bay' as it was called when I was growing up.The Irish who settled in Newtown made a massive impact on Cardiff for it was their graft which built Cardiff Docks and made Cardiff the great port that it became.I feel that whilst much has been made of the Dockland area Newtown has never been credited with the fame it truly deserves.My mother and her family were the Healans of North William Street, whilst I was born (and my father's side came from)Morgan Street in Adamsdown.My mother died in 2001 at the age of nearly 91 and believe me I could tell you many tales.


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