Since arriving in Ireland more than 20 years ago, Huw Rees has fully integrated into the local community: he has joined a men’s choir and a cricket club, and regularly hikes in the mountains.
Despite his love for his adopted country, there is still a situation where his feelings for his home country of Wales outweigh those for Ireland.
“The only time I wouldn’t be 100 per cent for Ireland is if they play Wales in rugby. I haven’t lost that, I haven’t lost that Welsh identity,” he laughs.
Born in Swansea, Rees moved to Carrig-on-Bannow in County Wexford in 2000, despite being “absolutely petrified” to have been uprooted his whole life.
He had met his future partner Margaret, an Irishwoman, seven years earlier on a cruise between the two countries on New Year’s Eve in 1993.
“We were in a bar. There were a lot of people. I’m quite tall and she’s short. She was there in front of me, wanting to be served. The bartender couldn’t see her, so he approached us and asked who was next, pointing at me. I said, “This lady come here before me.” She has been waiting for a long time, you can serve her first”.
“She came to thank me. She was traveling with her family. We just talked about it this way. When I got home, I had his address in my pocket, his phone number. After a few weeks of buzzing and hawing, I decided I might as well see if I could renew the connection. So I did and it was fine.
The long-distance arrangement was different, he says, but it felt like they were able to relax into the relationship.
“If I was away on the weekend, I would go on a day trip or a weekend trip and she would do the same. It was really surprising how many times you actually got together,” he says.
“It was like opening the door to a whole new world. I fell in love with Wales and its history
Eventually, they decided to make things more permanent. They originally considered moving to Fishguard, a coastal town in Pembrokeshire, where Rees lived and worked in a construction company.
However, Margaret had two young children at the time, and they realized it would be easier for Rees to move to Ireland instead.
“It was more than a culture shock; it was a wake-up call. You had responsibilities now, as Margaret had two young children. I enjoyed new life experiences. I was 38 years old. It was a big change at that age; I was settled in that stage of life, so it was like I was starting from scratch,” he says.
Despite the change in life circumstances, he says the move was “my doing, really”.
The move spurred what he now describes as a love for history. He didn’t know much about the country he lived in and he sought to gather more information.
“I was asking people about Ireland and discussing it, and then they were asking me about Wales. It then occurred to me that I had a superficial knowledge [of Wales]. It wasn’t as deep as I thought it would be,” he says.
Seeking to improve this knowledge, he began to research his home country.
“It was like opening the door to a whole new world. I became passionate about Wales and its history and was immensely proud of how Wales had managed to retain its identity and the Welsh people had retained their culture and language and had not become a region of western England.
Through this research, he discovered that there are many similarities between the two nations. The biggest similarity, he says, is the sense of community between people.
“I live in rural Wexford and come from a rural part of Wales. There are a lot of farming communities, there are a lot of connections with your neighbours. The parish is a big thing in Ireland. The GAA in Ireland in every little village is like the rugby clubs in Wales,” he says.
However, the identity of the countries is quite different, he says.
“We evolved differently. Because the Normans were in Wales, and the Saxons, then we were annexed by England, I think Ireland is a more confident country in its independence,” he says.
“Wales have yet to develop that confidence. I think there are lessons Wales can learn.
He started posting some of the interesting facts he learned about his home country on a Facebook page called “The History of Wales”, which now has over 180,000 likes.
Each specific day, there is a subject. They vary, it’s such an eclectic mix, it can be sporty, it can be historic
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” he says of the page’s popularity. “And they come from all over the world. Mainly in Wales and Great Britain, but there are some in Ireland, the United States and everywhere, even in Pakistan.
A publisher approached him, interested in turning his social media page into a book. Wales On This Day is co-written with his sister Sian Kilcoyne, and he shares some interesting date-related stories and facts.
“Each specific day there’s a topic. They vary, it’s such an eclectic mix, it can be sporting, it can be historic, a certain sporting event, a cultural event. Things like the first words spoken on Coronation street [were by] a Welsh actor. And then big historical events are also included,” he says.
The writing of the book is “something unexpected”, and which “really takes us into a new world, with the edition”.
At 60 he ‘sees the doors of retirement’ and wants to use this time in retirement to continue using his writing to pursue his love of Ireland and Wales.
“Writing is something that I would really like to develop. I have a lot of ideas that I would like to develop, in particular. There’s a lot of Welsh-Irish relations historically, so that’s something I’d really like to spend some time getting involved in.