James Wade, better known as Shemi Wâd was something of a local character and storyteller, and a number of folktales from north Pembrokeshire in particular either involve him, or are attributed to him. in a small, whitewashed cottage opposite Berachah Chapel in Broom Street, Goodwick (which was later renamed Duke Street). Shemi earned his crust as an itinerant worker: gardening for the local well to do, going from farm to farm to kill pigs and help out with the harvest. But he also owned a small boat, and spent much of his time fishing for Fishguard herrings which he sold on to be salted and fried, and also shellfish which he sold to locals and visitors during the season.
He died on 2January 1897 at the grand age of 80. His tombstone in Ros-y-Caerau, Pencaer faces some of his favourite haunts, Garn Fawr, Garn Fechan and Garn Folch. Shemi was also somewhat notoriously known as the best tobacco spitter around, and anyone poking holes in his tall tales did well to stand more than six feet away. Here’s one of them.
One summer’s day, Shemi was fishing on the Parrog with a dozen hooks all baited to lure fish. After a long hot afternoon, waiting for a bite, Shemi felt his eyelids droop, so he took a few steps back, lay down on a grassy bank, tied the lines around his right ankle and within moments, he was fast asleep. He was so deeply asleep and bound in dreams that he didn’t notice the tide go out, exposing all the bait on his fishing lines.
Image: From the archives of St Fagans National History Museum, Wales
Soon a flock of seagulls descended, swallowing the bait – hook, line and sinker. Moments later, Shemi’s snoring disturbed them and they all took flight, heading off across Cardigan Bay, dragging the still sound asleep Shemi with them!
They flew all the way across to Ireland, coming to land finally in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Shemi came down to earth with such a thud that finally he woke up. Startled, he freed himself from the fishing lines and stumbled around in the strange surroundings trying to get his bearings. He soon realised that he was in Ireland, but knowing nobody and with the night setting in, he went in search of somewhere he could shelter for the night. At the edge of the park he saw a row of cannons. Now Shemi was only a small, slight man and so he climbed into the barrel of one of the great guns, curled up and went to sleep.
What poor Shemi didn’t know was that the military fired a salute from the cannon ever morning. And so it was that a still slumbering Shemi was shot out of the barrel straight across the Irish sea. Lucky for him, he had a soft landing on the lush grass of Pencw, just above his Goodwick home.
Shemi swore ‘till his dying day that every detail of the story was true…..and those who heard the tale swore blind they believed him…..unless they were standing at least six feet away.
1. The Story of the best tobacco spitter around, County Echo Reporter, 13 December 2017
2. Tall Tale from Goodwick (8.4), Pembrokeshire Folk Tales by Brian John