I am writing this blog with tears in my eyes to the sound of the Llanelli Male Voice Choir singing Calon Lan at the funeral of Ray Gravell. For those who don’t know him Grav was an outstanding centre from the great Welsh sides of the 1970s. A British Lion in 1980 and a member of the Llanelli side that 35 years ago beat the 7th All Blacks. Grav was more than just a rugby player, he was also swordbearer of the Eisteddfod a bard, a broadcaster and an actor of note. The First Minister of the Welsh Assembly has just said it all He touched everyone. A person of great enthusiasm, immense passion who was always modest, who never really believed the level of his talent and inspired all those around him.
A sense of his importance in Wales can be gained from the fact that the sword of the Eisteddfod led out his coffin, the first time it has ever been used outside of the Eisteddfod. All Welsh radio and Television channels are transmitting the ceremony either in Welsh or with simultaneous translation. The funeral is in a packed Stradey Park, the home of Llanelli Rugby Club and the score from the All Black’s defeat is up on the score board (2 goals and a try to a single goal 9-3). I can see former English forwards such as Fran Cotton, who were Lions teams mates unashamedly crying. For a small Welsh town this funeral has a real international presence.
Hywel Teifi Edwards, historian, in his tribute says There was a touch of the Mabinogion about him and closes in Welsh with Heros don’t die. Dafydd Iwan has sung Owen Glyndwr will return and the flag of Glydwr was in the procession. Gerald Davies, quotes Carwyn James No one has ever worn the red shirt of Wales with a better sense of what it means to be a Welshman. There is real affection and poetry in these tributes and a smile on the faces of his family as they hear stories of his singing in the dressing room. Gerald Davies again: He was devoid of any malice, he was a granite figure yet tender.
For Llanelli, Wales and the British Lions he wore a red shirt. It was fitting that his two all to young daughters wore that same shirt as they followed their father’s coffin into the ground. At the start of the ceremony one of the commentators explained the significance of the Welsh word Cynefin: a place of multiple belongings. Stradey Park, home of the Sospan Fach that adorns the top of its Rugby posts, stands today for a man who symbolised what it was, is and will be to be Welsh; to belong.
With Cwm Rhondda the ceremony concludes, but the memory will live on.
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