Walking in
their footsteps

Dr. Eirug Davies, author of

The Welsh of Tennessee

visits Briceville, Coal Creek,
and Knoxville, TN

 7 December 2012

Dr. Eirug Davies (Center) presents his
book The Welsh of Tennessee
at the East TN History Center

Why has a distinguished Harvard researcher served as a devoted role model to students from a small Appalachian mining community for the past decade?  The answer to that question might surprise you.


Dr. Davies in Wales
Summer 2015

Dr. Davies was honored
by being selected to be a judge
in the Summer 2015 Eisteddfod Literary
Competition in Wales

From his humble beginnings in Llannon, Cardiganshire, Wales, Eirug Davies earned a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wales.  He moved to Boston in his twenties and spent his technical career as a solid state physicist with the Air Force, where he conducted microelectronics research to help develop the microchip. As a hobby, he cultivated a love for Welsh literature published in America.

After retiring from the Air Force, he became an associate member of Harvard University's Celtic Department, putting his engineering problem solving skills to work researching Welsh literature and sharing his knowledge with students at Harvard.

Eirug receives plaque
from Briceville students

Eirug at Jellico barber shop
where Welsh miner and mine rescuer
Philip Francis witnessed a
murder while getting a hair cut
and shave in the 1890s

In 2002, students from Briceville Elementary School in the Coal Creek watershed of Anderson County, Tennessee, discovered the headstone of a Welsh miner who had once owned a rare book collection now at Harvard.  To show his appreciation for their contributions to his research, Eirug sent them literature about the early Welsh miners from Coal Creek and why their discovery of a simple headstone mattered to him.

Eirug & Barry Thacker on
Lookout Mountain, TN,
which was the subject of the
1891 Dixie Eisteddfod

The Welsh left Great Britain because British Parliament banned use of the Welsh language.  They came to America for the freedom to practice their religion in their native tongue as they had done for generations. 

The Industrial Revolution had started in Great Britain long before it did in America, so many of the Welsh were miners.  Opportunities in Tennessee after the American Civil War brought them to Coal Creek.

The Knoxville Iron Company
Foundry after the Civil War


Briceville students were treated with a lecture by Dr. Eirug Davies
inside historic Briceville Church

In his correspondence to Briceville students, Eirug noted that the Welsh word for Coal Creek is “Nantglo.”  He suggested that a scholarship offered to them by the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation be named the “Nantglo Scholarship” in honor of those early Welsh miners. 

Briceville students sent Dr. Davies “thank you” letters for teaching them about their Welsh heritage.  He says those letters touched his heart, so he visited East Tennessee in 2004 to present a Welsh flag to them.  Kyle Leinart was one of the students accepting the flag on behalf of the school.

Much has transpired since then.  Eirug has finished his book, The Welsh of Tennessee, while many of the students he met in 2004 have finished high school.  Nine of them were awarded Nantglo Scholarships and are enrolled in college.

On Friday, 7 December 2012, Eirug returned to East Tennessee.  His first stop was to the church the Welsh miners built in Briceville in 1888 where he lectured the current generation of 4th and 5th graders about the Welsh of Tennessee.

Students presented Eirug with a token of their friendship--a plaque containing a piece of Briceville Church that had been removed during the recent restoration of the historic structure.  They then posed for photographs with him beside the plaque they had previously installed to recognize the church’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eirug then presented a Brown Bag Lecture at the East Tennessee History Center.  Afterwards, he signed books for nearly one hundred Welsh enthusiasts.

Thank you to Cherel Henderson,  Director of the East Tennessee History Center, for setting up the lecture at their beautiful facility.

Plaque presented to Eirug by students
ntaining a piece of Briceville Church
that had been removed during the
recent restoration of the historic structure

He ended the day by meeting up with Kyle Leinart, who is now a sophomore in civil engineering at the University of Tennessee.  When he was a 5th grader, Kyle had to look up to Eirug when he accepted the Welsh flag.  This time their roles were reversed. 

Eirug with Kyle Leinart in 2004

Eirug with Kyle eight
years later in 2012

Eirug & Carol Moore stand at
Ft. Anderson on Militia Hill,
with the town of
Coal Creek behind them, where
Coal Creek Scholars recently
installed historical markers


Eirug says that seeing the Briceville students embrace their Welsh heritage was his motivation for writing the book.  He once thought that finishing the book would end his research on the Welsh of Tennessee, but questions asked by Briceville students following his lecture have sparked him anew.

They asked, “What is the Welsh word for God (Duw)?” and “What is the Welsh word for Jesus Christ (lesu Grist)?”

Eirug concluded that much more remains of the Welsh of Tennessee than just their headstones.

On the last two days of Eirug's trip to Tennessee, he visited Soddy, Sale Creek, and Jellico where the Welsh miners also lived in Tennessee.  He walked their footsteps in cemeteries, battlegrounds, and industrial sites.

As we gave our good-bye hugs at the airport for Eirug to return to Boston, he told us in his beautiful Welsh accent, "I kinda feel like I am the third member of the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation team with Barry and Carol."  Indeed.

Briceville Church bell rung
in recognition of Eirug's special visit

Listen to PODCAST of Dr. Eirug Davies'
interview with
WUOT's Chrissy Keuper

WUOT 91.9fm

Good news!!! Thanks to
Adam H. Alfrey of
the East TN History Center, Eirug Davies'
lecture is now up and live on ETHS' YouTube
Channel. The recording, which lasts about
an hour, can be accessed by clicking here.

Eirug learned that, "The Welsh had
a greater presence in East
Tennessee than even I envisioned."

Eirug Davies, Amy Smotherman Burgess
(Photographer with Knoxville News Sentinel),
and Barry Thacker, PE

Click on images to enlarge:


Photos from Eirug's lecture at the East Tennessee History Center

Welsh cakes
were served!

Folks who raised their hand
are all part Welsh

Eirug walking the streets of
Jellico, TN where many of the
Welsh moved after they lost their
mining jobs in Coal Creek to convicts

Click for PDF of
Fred Brown's story in the
Knoxville News Sentinel
or visit


Riding the incline
at Chattanooga

On the headstone of Elizabeth Jones in Jellico, Eirug found the Welsh inscription:

"O fryniau Caersalem ceir gweled Holl daith yr annialwch i gyd", which is a Welsh hymn that translates to, “From the hills of Jerusalem one can see the whole journey through the wilderness.”


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