by

Wena Alun

Over the summer of 2004 I was lucky enough to come to Rhiw to work with the National Trust on an exhibition detailing some of the history of Plas yn Rhiw. This is just a small part of what I discovered. Wena Alun, BBC Cymru/Wales.

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The fact that Plas yn Rhiw is today open to the public, suspended as far as possible in bygone days – is due entirely to the generosity of three sisters.

Eileen, Honora and Lorna Keating wanted to keep a corner of the Llyn forever frozen in time – as it was when they had first fallen in love with it, when they visited the area as children whilst staying at a nearby cottage Pen yr Ogof.

Many years later, the three came together to buy the house together with the adjoining woodland. In fact their first idea was to save just the woodland for prosperity, but they decided to renovate the house after receiving advice from a family friend that it was feasible to do so.  

"Wena"

Local builders then moved in the carry out the extensive works needed – a photo of some of them can be seen on the Rhiw.com website.

At first the sisters, along with their mother, stayed in the village, popping down to the house to check on any progress. But after one of them had to camp unexpectedly in the house after missing the bus back and failing to push her mother up the hill in her wheelchair, they moved into the partially renovated property.  The property and much of the surrounding countryside was donated to the National Trust in 1952.

Their main concern was the environment, and they campaigned against anything they felt would spoil it. In fact one unfortunate neighbour at Talafon was asked to remove his clothes-line because it spoiled the view, and to place it out of view of the road!

I’d come to Plas yn Rhiw as part of an external attachment scheme run by the BBC. The idea was that I bought my skill as a journalist out to the community and then I’d take back new contacts and experiences to my work at the BBC in Bangor.

It was a pleasure putting together the exhibition at Plas yn Rhiw – with thanks to Rhiw.com for some of the photographs. Because the Keatings lived until fairly recently – the last, Lorna, died in 1981 – I came across many who remember when they lived in the house.

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"Some of Rhiw.com's photographs that were shown"

Recollections included visits to the house when all the sisters spoke at once, and surfaces were cluttered with piles of paper. In fact one Trust employee recalled shifting through piles of stuff collected by the sisters before the house could be opened to the public.

Robin Thomas worked for the sisters. He remembers the garden as being much more overgrown than it is today. He also remarked about the microclimate at the site making it much warmer than at his home on Mynydd Rhiw. This allowed the sisters to indulge in their passion for collecting unusual plants  - many of which can still be seen in the garden today.

Even today centuries after the first house was built on the site, Plas yn Rhiw is still important in the locality, providing employment - and a visitor attraction to those who venture this far onto the Llyn.

The present custodian is Mary Thomas who is in the fortunate position of remembering the house from her childhood. And if there’s something Mary doesn’t remember, her mother Gladys Thomas also has many recollections of the house as a private home.

 

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