She was strong, feisty and totally unflinching. But Fishguard heroine Jemima Nicholas was also a woman who shared a great love and compassion for her home county of Pembrokeshire.
Later this Spring this indomitable character will be brought vividly to life by leading Welsh playwright Jeremy Turner, in a new production specially commissioned for the Arad Goch Theatre company.
‘Jemima’ tells the story of this acclaimed woman from her birth right through to her pitchfork-wielding confrontation of the 1,400 French troops after they had landed in Llanwnda, Goodwick, in 1749.
“Every summer we make a Welsh language production for children and their families which is either an adaptation of a Welsh book or which portrays a historical Welsh character,” Jeremy Turner told The Herald.
“But because all our previous characters have been male, such as Twm Sion Catti, Guto Nyth Bran and Madoc, we felt it was time to focus on a woman who had a bit of an adventurous story behind her.”
Enter Jemima Nicholas who, after encountering the French troops, herded up 12 drunken soldiers and held them captive overnight inside a locked church. As a result of her efforts, the French army surrendered shortly afterwards at The Royal Oak pub in Fishguard and the mighty Ms Nicholas was awarded a lifetime pension. She died at the age of 82 in Main Street, Fishguard.
“I’ve decided to follow her story right from the very beginning, from her birth,” explains Jeremy. “So she is portrayed as a feisty little girl who is very proud of her hometown and her county.
“She doesn’t like people coming in and taking over the land which links in with the Enclosure Act of that time, as well as the slightly more political issues which are happening in Pembrokeshire today.
“But I didn’t want Jemima to be seen as a negative person. She always welcomes people to her town, but it has to be on her terms. So if anyone wants to come there, they have to speak Welsh.”
In one of the scenes, Jeremy depicts Jemima standing on the harbour wall in Fishguard.
“All of a sudden she hears all these different languages being spoken…French, Spanish and Irish…and she becomes captivated by the intrigue of the big world. So she and her friends try to learn those different languages.
“The Jemima I’m creating is a very open, positive woman but also a woman who cares very deeply for her homeland.”
Jeremy has already completed the play’s first draft but accepts that it won’t be finalised until rehearsals get underway towards the end of April.
“A play is never truly finished until the first performance, but once the actors start working together next month,then changes can start to be made,” he said.
The play opens in Aberystwyth on May 23 before going on tour throughout Wales.
It will be performed in The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, on July 3 and in Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan, on June 15. It will also be appearing at The Lyric Theatre, Carmarthen on June 28 and 29.
“Bringing the play to Pembrokeshire will mean a lot to me as I have very strong emotional ties with the county,” continued Jeremy, who is a founder member of Arad Goch Theatre company which was established in 1989.
“My grandfather lived in Maenclochog and we had other family connections with Eglwyswrw with the result that I’ve spent a great deal of time in Pembrokeshire when I was growing up.
“So to bring this wonderful story of Jemima Nicholas back there later this Spring is going to mean a great deal.”