Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 12:28 UK

Wales' connection with Liverpool

By Carl Roberts
BBC News

View of the Liver Buildings from the Albert Dock
Liverpool has close links with north Wales

Has devolution diminished Liverpool's unofficial status as the capital of north Wales?

As part of a special week of BBC Radio Wales programming celebrating Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, the Eye on Wales programme sent me across the Mersey to see if the lure of Liverpool remains as strong as ever for the people of north Wales.

I was brought up in Rhyl, a home from home for many Scousers, and Liverpool formed a big part of my youth.

I saw my first Christmas panto in Liverpool (Mother Goose starring John Inman if you're interested), went on many a school trip to the Albert Dock, and I decided to move to the city to go to university.

Barry Island beach
A day trip to Barry Island was enjoyed by Carl Roberts

My only visit to Cardiff during the same period was a day trip away to Butlin's in Barry Island - 10 miles away from the capital.

These days I live in Cardiff, but my recent visit to Merseyside reinforced to me the special relationship between north Wales and the area.

I took a bus tour with some day-trippers from Anglesey - with the best tour guide any Welshman would want in Liverpool.

The Reverend Dr D Ben Rees moved here from west Wales 40 years ago, and two hours listening to him recount the history of the Welsh in Liverpool might lead you think you are still in Wales.

"In a way, you could say that Liverpool should belong to Wales rather than England because it's not really an English city at all, it's more a Celtic city, and it would fit in very well within Wales… our roots are very deep here," he says.

Mersey tunnel

It's not a one-way street though. Plenty of Scousers have made the opposite journey and made their home in Wales.

A trip through the Mersey tunnel had me heading back towards Wrexham to see Bill Schleissing. He's lived in Wales for almost 70 years after being evacuated here from Liverpool at the beginning of the war.

Bill's experiences have inspired a new play, We'll Keep a Welcome, which has been touring north Wales and this week finishes its run in Liverpool.

"I was evacuated from Liverpool on September 1st 1939 at the age of nine," he recalls.

"We arrived at Rhos station, myself and my brother and when I think back on it, just imagine being sent to a foreign country, long distance away, strangers, what a daunting experience it must have been."

Bill says that he considers himself Welsh these days, but still feels a stronger pull to Liverpool than Cardiff.

Culture shift

But has the focus of north Wales has shifted more towards Cardiff Bay from Liverpool Bay over the last decade?

One south Walian who has made a career in Liverpool is Laura McAllister. She is a Professor of Governance at my old university - the University of Liverpool.

She thinks the links between north Wales and Liverpool are as strong as ever.

"We're in the infancy of devolution. I don't think we should get carried away with the nation-building concept," Prof McAllister tells the programme.

"I don't think Wales is ever going to be a nation which is totally cohesive and homogenous because of the whole range of factors that distinguish us, and we should celebrate those.

"People will come to Liverpool to shop, to see football, to some of the concerts here, simply because as a small nation with a limited population base we're not going to rival that.

"So we shouldn't get hung up about that, I think it's fine - just relax and enjoy it, really."

As my bus tour ended, I realised that I had learned more about the city in two hours than I had in three years living here. It's impossible to disassociate this place with north Wales.

Devolution might have raised the profile of Cardiff for many north Walians - but not at Liverpool's expense.

Eye On Wales is broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at 1830 on Monday.


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