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Grandson tackles three Welsh peaks in a day, in memory of ‘phenomenal’ gran

Irene Williams with grandsons Iwan and Dylan

Iwan Williams, senior community engagement officer at Bangor University, is taking on an ambitious challenge in memory of his 102-year-old Mamgu – Irene Williams a founding member of Christian Aid groups in Wales.

Iwan, aged 41, is setting out on Tuesday, July 2 to climb Pen y Fan, in Powys – the highest point in South Wales; Cadair Idris, in Snowdonia National Park; and Snowdon – or Y Wyddfa – the highest mountain in Wales.

And he’s aiming to complete the challenge in one day.

“I’ve been up Snowdon twice,” Iwan explained, “and I’m reasonably fit, having competed in several runs and marathons. I wanted to do something different to honour Mamgu and raise money in her memory. She was a phenomenal woman and inspired me and so many others. Raising funds for Christian Aid makes sense; it was Mamgu’s passion for decades.”

Iwan is originally from Llandysul in west Wales and spent a lot of time with his grandparents, Irene and Cyril, in nearby Cwmann during his childhood.

The couple were well-known in the area – Cyril was minister at Priordy, Welsh Congregational Church, Carmarthen in the 1950s and Irene pioneered support for Christian Aid Cymru – or Inter-Church Aid as it was then known – in the area.

She is featured in a book called Beginnings, by Dewi Lloyd Lewis, the first National Secretary for Christian Aid in Wales, who said while living in Carmarthen, “Irene organised the first door to door collection in the town which raised £64. They used tin collecting boxes as the collecting envelopes had not yet been introduced.”

Irene moved to Cardiff in 1958 and, alongside two friends, established a Christian Aid Branch. Her living room at St Isan Road was described as the ‘nerve centre’ for Christian Aid. On one occasion she and the team arrived at Tabernacle Chapel in the Hayes, in the centre of Cardiff, ready to sell cakes from a caravan on the pavement. The caravan door however faced inwards towards the railings and was inaccessible. Irene collected a group of men and asked the police to stop the traffic in order to turn the caravan around to face the customers. During her lifetime and while chairperson for the Lampeter branch for 18 years, she managed to raise thousands with various projects for Christian Aid.

Iwan said his grandparents travelled all over the globe due to Cyril’s career as a professor of religious studies, and were very interested in world affairs.

“At one point, their home was the unofficial UN centre for foreign students studying in Lampeter,” he joked. “If you were an international student studying in Lampeter in the 80s and 90s, there’s a good chance you were welcomed in the home of Mamgu and Dadcu. I often met students from Asia, Africa and North America in their house, and a number of them kept in touch with her until the end.”

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After Cyril’s death 20 years ago, Irene continued to live independently until her 100th birthday when she moved to a care home.

In January this year, she died, aged 102.

“She was full of spirit and determination,” Iwan added. “She was a phenomenal woman who lived an incredible life.”

Iwan said Irene gave a lifetime service to Christian Aid, adding; “She was a wife to a Minister and Professor, but she was so much more. Who knows what job she could have achieved if there was gender equality in her time.

“She had a great interest in home and international affairs and could talk about anything: it was possible to discuss the world with her all day. People working together across borders of every kind – political, linguistic, religious – was her aim.

“And what life experiences she had. Not many met Archbishop Desmond Tutu twice, or Martin Niemöller, the theologian who opposed Hitler; she welcomed the Venerable Master Chin Kung, a Buddhist monk, to her home; spent one winter travelling around India; travelled to Korea with Dadcu; and visited Cuba and South Africa with her friend in the United Nations. 

“I’d like to think she’d be glad I’m doing something for a cause which meant so much to her.”

Iwan has raised £245 of his £500 target already. To support him, and the work of Christian Aid, please visit his fundraising page – https://www.justgiving.com/page/iwan-williams-trichopacymru2024.