In words

Some passages about Welsh nationhood

To the lonely places, the remote country. Where live the pure Welsh and the half-breeds of the Border are another race, almost.  To places now where the children play in Welsh in the school yards, with call and chatter and nosy shout.  Where live white-locked old men who have never been into England, and slow knitting old women who think that a double-decker bus is a journey to the brothel.  Here live people who have watched sea, watched mountain.  People who never make a journey further than the weekly trip to market and who wear clothes old into the years.

People here, too, who hate the English.

And there are many in these quiet places who have never used a telephone, never known the frightening whiteness of the dentist, never known a bathroom except the laying of the hip-bath by the kitchen fire on the Saturday night.

Men who read only the Bible and the days-old news in some weekly paper.  Women who do not know the silkiness of an electric iron and who cook on iron ranges, black roaring furnaces.

The last loneliness.

Cledwyn Hughes, A Wanderer in North Wales (1949)

The Welsh are a proud and ancient people. Racially they are no purer than the English; linguistically they are disunited, less than half of them to-day being Welsh speaking; in religion they have agreed to disagree; and, contrary to commonly held opinions, neither rugby football nor choral singing is a unifying factor, for hundreds of thousands of Welshmen prefer the association code, and the majority of the inhabitants of Wales have never attended an eisteddfod. Yet they account themselves, and indeed they are, a nation.

T. I. Jeffreys-Jones (Senior Tutor, Coleg Harlech), ‘Wales and its Peoples’, in D. J. Davies, (ed), Wales and Monmouthshire: An Illustrated Review (1951).

The intense local patriotisms of a mountain-divided country with indifferent communications were (and are) natural and proper.  Wales, save when united in opposition to England, was an aggregate of parish pumps rather than a nation. The thirteen counties could not for a moment be expected of their own violation to focus on Cardiff; the last thing that the mountains were prepared to do was come to Mahomet.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Still Digging (London, 1955)

A people of great warmth and neighbourliness above all.  A people who lived very close to one another and with a highly developed social sense of being involved in, and, often responsible for, the fates of one another. A people of great tenderness and affection. Not placid, not always good tempered; plenty of rows, in village, town or on the national level, but the emotional rows of the kind you find in a family, rather than the calculated and defined quarrels, usually based on a firm sense of incompatibility of personal or political interests which you tend to get in public life in other countries. I never really got over leaving Aberaman, and I know a great many other Welshmen who never recovered that sense of living in an intimate community which every Welsh valley provides.

Kenneth Harris, ‘Family feeling’, Radio broadcast, 1956

National honour has perished from the minds of most of the people of Wales; its sense of pride and sense of shame have perished, except for what remains in a bladder of wind.  Wales has remained alive somehow as a nation and retained her best things for centuries, despite the treason of her nobility in the sixteenth century.  But will she survive the treason of the Anglicized proletariat in the twentieth?  The question will be answered one way or another finally in our generation and each of us will have a personal share in the answer.  No nation or language is killed except by its own people.

D. J. Williams, Hen Dŷ Ffarm (1953).
Published in translation as The Old Farmhouse (Carmarthen, 1987).

All my neighbours are gone or going.  Last week, Gareth Jones number 12, off to the deserts of Luton – or was it Birmingham?  Somewhere foreign anyway.  The new Israelites, that’s what my people have become, and this is the century of dispersion.  Solicitor from Manchester bought number 6 – as a holiday house – and my people have become numbers on a depopulation map.  Very soon this little jewel of a country will be one vast holiday camp, with atomic power stations for decoration.

Stead Jones, The Ballad of Oliver Powell (1966).

Wales is the only place where I ever saw a wild red squirrel. Wales is Tommy Farr and Jack Peterson. Wales is Dylan Thomas. Wales is inspired fly-halves, sometimes called Jones, something called Morgan but always called Cliff. Wales is the Lloyd Georges, Nye Bevan and Michael Foot. Wales is where political disapproval can cut a majority in the Rhondda from a score of thousand to a handful, yet miraculously not quite go over the edge. Wales is the Royal Welsh Fusiliers lying in French mud as Robert Graves described them in “Goodbye to All That” and of other giant tragedies: The Depression, Aberfan.  Wales is the land of the lurid flames of Steelworks and of glorious song and finally, the land of the danker kinds of Christianity and of obstacles to getting a drink on Sunday.

Lewis Keeble in Wales – The Way Ahead? A Report of the Special Day Conference held at Cardiff on 20 October 1967

And every Welshman, whether from South Wales or from Snowdonia, has his dreams and his memories.  His memories of when he was treated as a ‘peasant’ by some holidaymaker; his dreams of the land of Wales becoming a true nation. His is not a militant nationalism, but rather a simple pride for belated recognition.

Cledwyn Hughes, Portrait of Snowdonia (1967)

This isn’t the world of horsemen and princes. We aren’t a kingdom in the misty twilight any longer. We’re part of Europe, and Europe itself isn’t as self sufficient as it was. Have you heard about Asia? Do you realise that at this moment there are probably as many people in the air, flying from one continent to another, as there are asleep in their beds in Cardiff? The human race is getting ready to go beyond the Moon, and you want gelignite to blow a hole in something.

Paul Ferris, The Dam (1969).

It is with a certain sense of pride and emotion that I have received these symbols of office, here in this magnificent fortress, where no one could fail to be stirred by its atmosphere of time-worn grandeur, nor where I myself could be unaware of the long history of Wales in its determination to remain individual and to guard its own particular heritage – a heritage that dates back into the mists of ancient British history, that has produced many brave men, princes, poets, bards, scholars, and more recently great singers, a very memorable ‘Goon’ and eminent film stars.

Prince Charles at his Investiture as Prince of Wales, Caernarfon castle 1969

the experience of knowing, not that you are leaving your country, but that your country is leaving you, is ceasing to exist under your very feet, is being sucked away from you, as if by an insatiable, consuming wind, into the hands and possession of another country and another civilization.  And as that is what happening in Wales … What we have on our hands is war … the struggle of the conquered for their very existence, the struggle to save their identity from being trampled into oblivion.

J. R. Jones, Gwaedd yng Nghymru (1970). Translation from Meic Stephens (ed.), A Book of Wales (1987)

I always associated Welshness with quarrelling committees, with things going wrong, little political men with vested interests and families of unemployable nephews screwing money and jobs out of the State for their own special, personal causes. And the Language that nobody spoke in the towns, unless it was to get on in the BBC or Education.  Of course, I remembered the more emotive things, hymns at football matches, those great spasms of emotion that swept across the terraces at football grounds, waves of feeling and piping tenor voices, patterns of song as intricate as folk wave, but meaningless in terms of my present.  Welshness was like a cottonwool fuzz at the back of the mind because Wales was always round the corner where I lived.  Men remembered it beerily when the pubs closed, or at specially contrived festivals – somebody’s pocket and kudos again.  We had come to be the St. David’s Day Welsh and nothing changed in our lives ever.

Alun Richards, Home to an Empty House (1973).

So if you say ‘Welsh culture’ what do you think of? Of bara brith and the Eisteddfod? Of choirs and Cardiff Arms Park? Of love spoons and englynion? Of the national costume and the rampant red dragon? … Taking culture in its full sense you would be speaking of something quite different: of a way of life determined by the National Coal Board, the British Steel Corporation, the Milk Marketing Board, the Co-op and Marks and Spencer, the BBC, the Labour Party, the EEC, NATO. But that’s not Welsh culture. Maybe, maybe not. It’s how and where most people in Wales are living, and in relation to which most meanings and values are found in practice.  Depopulation, unemployment, exploitation, poverty: if these things are not part of Welsh culture we are denying large parts of our social experience. And if we have shared these things with others, that sharpens the question. Where is it now, this Wales? Where is the real identity, the real culture?

Raymond Williams, Welsh culture, BBC Radio 3, 27 September 1975.

But what Welsh? The Welshman in Cardiff going to see about having his television aerial turned towards an English transmitter? The valley miner, his heart rooted in the old culture, who proudly regards himself as Welsh? The valley miner who thinks Welshness is just a sentiment and regards himself only as British? The hill farmer? Or the hill farmer’s son off to work in Birmingham?

No, Wales may be a country and a nation, but it is not a tidy parcel. It never has been, nor will be. It is a land of nuances.

Trevor Fishlock, Talking of Wales (1976).

‘The language,’ he said.  His tone expressed extreme contempt.  ‘That’s an excuse for absolutely anything.  Do the Welsh ever think of anything else?’

Emyr Humphreys, Jones: A Novel (1984)

Everywhere new here is the same as new things in England, whether it’s the university or the restaurants or the supermarkets or what you buy there. What about this place we’re in? Is there anything to tell you that you’re in Wales? At last they’ve found a way of destroying our country, not by poverty but by prosperity.  I don’t mind so much the decline and the decay, we’ve faced that before and we’ve come through. No, what I abominate is the nauseous fruits of affluence.

Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils (1986)

The process of Britishising the Welsh and the Scots by the state, the establishment and the media bears all the classic marks of brainwashing.

Gwynfor Evans, Radical Wales, 10 (1986)

The battle in Wales today is not, however, a battle between two languages or two nations. It is a battle of values, the battle of the long term against the fast buck, the unique against the uniform, justice against convenience, human survival against the ridiculous self-confidence of the unrestricted market and the old fashioned industrial state, which are trampling and poisoning the entire Earth as relentlessly as they drowned Capel Celyn and poisoned acres of Welsh mountain pasture.

Chief executive of Gwynedd County Council, speech to National Eisteddfod, 1989

-I’m telling yew, mun, its fuckin happening. It’s gonna come. A nation once again. It’s on the fuckin way boy, nothing fuckin surer.

-My arse.

-I’m telling yew. I saw it on-a telly before I came out like. Fuckin devolution, boy. Plans’re being made,forthe election like. National fuckin assembly.

-Ah yeh, an how many punters yew reckon’re going to turn out to vote then? Twenty, thirty percent of-a population? Remember 1979?

-No. I was six.

-Same thing’ll happen. Apathy. Can’t-be-fuckin-arsed-ness. That’s what wrong with this fuckin country mun, the general fuckin apathy of its inhabitants. Nothing fuckin moves em. Nothing fuckin gets em off eyr arses. Telly an beer an-a takeaway curry an they’re happy …

-Moan about it in pubs, that’s all we fuckin do, or write the odd fuckin poem. Does fuck all. Tellin yew, it’s a pitiful little nation this.  A fuckin boil in-a ocean.  I mean, the Irish kill each other, the Scots kill emselves, an us, well, all we do is kill time while we waitforsomeone else to come along an do somethinforus.

Niall Griffiths, Sheepshagger (2002)

The Welsh are always so pleased with themselves.  I’ve never taken to them.  What are they for?  We used to go on holiday and for day trips to Wales and they all spoke Welsh there.

Anne Robinson, Room 101, BBC2, 5 March 2001

‘How’s your knowledge of Welsh devolution, Ol?’

‘Is that about how people from Cardiff are closer to apes?’

‘Ba-dum,’ says Dad, hitting an imaginary cymbal.  He hates Cardiff too.’

Joe Dunthorne, Submarine (2008)