Novelist Islwyn Ffowc Elis’ former home, Bangor

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Novelist Islwyn Ffowc Elis’ former home, Garth Road

In the house named Irfon, at the end of Gordon Terrace, the Welsh-language novelist Islwyn Ffowc Elis (1924-2004) and his wife, Eirlys, lived from 1955 and the early 1960s. His parents-in-law owned the house. In a study on the top floor he wrote his third novel, Yn Ôl i Leifior, (‘Return to Lleifior’), published in 1956. This was the sequel to Cysgod y Cryman (‘Shadow of the Sickle'), which was voted by readers the greatest Welsh-language book of the 20th century in 1999.

The couple had moved to Bangor after he suffered health problems while working as a chapel minister on Anglesey. He decided to try earning a living as a freelance writer. He worked for the BBC’s Bangor office and tried to rekindle his literary popularity with the sequel to Cysgod y Cryman. He referred later to the “six and a half happy years in Bangor”; in this period he wrote three other novels and his daughter, Siân, was born in 1960.

He had previously lived in Bangor as an undergraduate student, like Harri Vaughan, the main character in Cysgod y Cryman. He recalled his student life in his first volume of creative prose (which won him the National Eisteddfod Prose Medal in 1951): “And then came the Bangor days. There have never been, and never will be, their like. Had I been offered the gardens of Babylon or Rockefeller’s countless millions, I don’t believe today that I would have exchanged them for those five intoxicating years.”

Cysgod y Cryman and Yn Ôl i Leifior describe the social tensions between two generations on a fictitious large family farm, called Lleifior, in Montgomeryshire, Mid Wales. Islwyn lived in that county – working as a minister in Llanfair Caereinion – when Cysgod y Cryman was published in 1953. It was his first novel and it breathed new life into the Welsh-language novel, inspiring a new generation of authors to tackle the genre. It also established him as the foremost Welsh-language novelist of his era.

Several of his books are available in English translation.

With thanks to Prof Gerwyn Wiliams, of Bangor University, to Sarah Kelly, and to Patricia Lindsay of Bangor Civic Society, for suggesting this HiPoint

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Footnotes: Recollections

Sarah Kelly recalls Islwyn Ffowc Elis at Bangor University, where she was an undergraduate from 1947. “In those days the college was much smaller than it is now. Everybody knew each other. The Welsh speakers said hello to each other.

“He was a pleasant character. A friend of mine fell in love with him. We had a big job with her – he married someone else.”

Mrs Kelly’s mother and sister bought and moved into the large house in Gordon Terrace in 1963.

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