Born 3 April 1832 at Tŷ'r Agent near Ynys-ddu, a village in the Sirhowy valley, Monmouthshire. His two brothers, David Thomas and John Thomas, were surveyors and engineers and Islwyn began to learn the rudiments of their profession, but his brother-in-law, the Rev. D. Jenkyns ('Jenkyns y Babell') saw that he had the making of a preacher and he was sent to schools at Tredegar, Newport, and Cowbridge, and to Dr. Evan Davies's (1826 - 1872) academy at Swansea. At Swansea he fell in love with a young girl, Ann Bowen, but before they could be married she died, and this profoundly affected both his life and his poetry. At the Twyncarno (Rhymney) monthly meeting, 3 and 4 January 1854, a request was received from Babell chapel that William Thomas be allowed to preach and at the monthly meeting held at Gelli Groes, 16 August 1854, after the usual probation, permission was given 'to begin preaching according to the normal dispensation.' He was ordained in 1859, but never had charge of a church. In 1864 he married Martha, daughter of William Davies, who had married the widowed mother of Ann Bowen; they lived at ' Green Meadow ' near Babell chapel until, in 1871, he built ' Y Glyn ' for himself and his wife. According to Daniel Davies (1840 - 1916), Islwyn 'edited the Cylchgrawn, the Ymgeisydd, the Glorian, the Gwladgarwr, and the poetry columns of the Baner and Cardiff Times,' but it is difficult to know how much truth there is in this. At any rate, he edited the Welsh column in the Cardiff Times, and Glasynys (Owen Wynne Jones) and he were leader writers for the Glorian, but it was Llew Llwyfo (Lewis William Lewis who was appointed its editor. Islwyn died 20 November 1878, and was buried in Babell chapel burial-ground.
Islwyn was taught poetry by Gwilym Ilid and Aneurin Fardd, and there were at that time several literary circles in Monmouthshire, particularly at Abergavenny. He constantly competed in the eisteddfodau - for the most part unsuccessfully. In 1853 he won the prize at Cefn-coed-y-cymer eisteddfod for a poem, ' Abraham yn aberthu Isaac,' and another at the last eisteddfod of the Abergavenny Cymreigyddion Society for an elegy on Carnhuanawc; he won the chair at Rhyl eisteddfod, 1870, for his awdl, ' Y Nos '; at Holyhead, 1872, for an awdl, ' Moses '; at Caerphilly, 1874, for an awdl, ' Cartref '; and at Treherbert, 1877, for an awdl, ' Y Nefoedd.' He never succeeded in winning the chair at the national eisteddfod, although he competed for it on many occasions. Towards the end of his life he formed the opinion that his urge for competing had caused him to neglect the preaching of the gospel.
His books and collected works were: Barddoniaeth, gan Islwyn, 1854; Ymweliad y Doethion a Bethlehem. Y bryddest fuddugol yn Eisteddfod Ivoraidd LIanelli, 1867 (Aberdare, 1871); Caniadau gan Islwyn (Wrexham, undated); Pregethau y Parch. William Thomas (Islwyn). Gan y Parch. Edward Matthews, 1896; Awdl ar y Nefoedd, 1878?; Cymru, gan Islwyn (Cyfres Blodau'r Grug, undated); Islwyn, pigion o'i waith, 1897; Islwyn (Llyfrau Urdd y Delyn, 1897); Gwaith Barddonol Islwyn (Owen M. Edwards), 1897; Gwaith Islwyn (Cyfres y Fil, 1903); Perlau Awen Islwyn, gan J. M. Edwards, 1909; Islwyn's English Poems, 1913.
Published date: 1959
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