Niles Gymanfa Ganu marks end

WARREN – For more than 85 years, a group of local people of Welsh heritage gathered in Niles for an annual hymn festival each October.

The Gymanfa Ganu, a Welsh festival of sacred hymns, was so popular at one time that there was both an afternoon and evening gathering held at various locations including the Niles Masonic Lodge and McKinley Memorial Library auditorium.

As with many groups, fewer and fewer younger members have joined to replace older members over the years, resulting in the official ending of the group.

The local Gymanfa Ganu, which formed in Niles in 1926, officially ended in December 2013 and held one final get-together at the Saratoga Restaurant recently for St. David’s Day, which was March 1.

St. David is the patron saint of Wales to what St. Patrick is to Ireland.

In Wales, Gymanfa Ganu is still an annual event in some chapels and may take place at festivals around the world – wherever people of Welsh heritage live.

At age 96, Nelson Llewellyn of Champion is the oldest member, having served as president for many years.

Ken MacMillan, a member, said the organizations has seen thousands of members to less than 100 in recent years.

“This represents what is happening to a lot of organizations,” MacMillan said.

“We officially ended in December but decided to get together one more time for St. David’s Day celebration,” David Williams, a member, said.

“There are no younger people involved. The rest of us are getting older and we were unable to find people willing to take over the officer positions,” he said.

Llewellyn said when the group first organized in the mid-1920s, they met in local funeral homes as the Niles Druid Club, made up of Welsh-born men whose goal was to preserve their heritage and rich culture of Welsh music, poetry and art.

“It was just men at the time. They met at different funeral homes,” he said.

There was also a Welsh church, the Southside Presbyterian Church in Niles, where members attended.

The first Gymanfa Ganu was held on Oct. 3, 1926, in the McKinley Memorial auditorium under the auspices of the Niles Druid Club.

Llewellyn said shortly after organizing in the late 1920s, the groups started the annual Welsh song festival each October.

Williams said the hymn fest is filled with singing of hymns and songs and reciting of poems celebrating the Welsh heritage.

“There have been several large choirs who have attended. We have had male choirs from Cleveland and other areas. Many of these choirs have been to Wales,” Llewellyn said.

“When the hymn festival started there were two sessions; one in the afternoon and one in the evening. It was always full and there was sitting in the balcony,” Llewellyn said.

MacMillan said years ago there was a large Welsh population in the Niles, Mineral Ridge and Youngstown areas active with the group.

A reorganized group of Welsh and non-Welsh men and women formed the Niles Gymanfa Ganu Association in 1971 to carry on the work of the Druid Club. The Niles Gymanfa Ganu Association was an affiliate of the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association.

“The women came along, and we resurrected the St. David’s Day Banquet at the Old Welsh Church on First Street in Niles. We always had a full house and a good meal,” Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn, who went with his father to the events, has been an active member for more than 40 years. He said while many families have been involved, it is not enough to continue the group.