It was heartening to see the warm welcome to the Wales rugby team as they returned home, having acquitted themselves brilliantly in the Rugby World Cup with a fourth place success. That’s not bad for a country whose population places it at about number 140 out of 225 countries of the world. However, it seems it’s only during the 80 minutes of an international rugby match Wales becomes one nation – proud, united and bursting with patriotism.
Unfortunately, at other times the events of history have caused Wales to be a nation lacking in self-confidence. Historians point to conquest by the Normans, Edward Ist’s bloody campaign and the various Acts passed between 1535 and 1542 which made in Wales part of England – at least, in law. This sense of oppression and being downtrodden has sadly been embraced by many Welshmen throughout subsequent years. This resentment was reinforced by educators who forbade use of the Welsh language in schools by means of the notorious “Welsh not” token where any child heard speaking Welsh at school was made to wear the token around their neck, passing it on to another offender if caught, and the last child at the end of the day was caned. However, it was never official government policy.
I grew up with my Welsh valleys mam-gu (grandmother) furious if ever Winston Churchill’s name was mentioned in the house because he was said to have sent the troops in against the South Wales miners in Tonypandy. The reality was actually somewhat different but the point was that this was seen as yet another example of the Welsh being treated badly by the English.
For 150 years the mines and quarries of Wales – North and South – supplied the United Kingdom, the Empire and the World with iron, steel, coal and slate to drive the Industrial Revolution. Sadly, the vast wealth that these valuable resources created was not enjoyed by the miners, ironworkers and quarrymen that paid a terrible price in poor wages and working conditions with many paying the ultimate price in the many industrial accidents or cruel, lingering deaths through occupational diseases like pneumoconiosis or silicosis. This became yet another brick in the wall built by Welshmen of examples of oppression and was duly embraced.
Where I live in the mountains of Snowdonia, we are rich with a great history of castles and yet I was amazed that none of my Welsh friends would dream of going into magnificent castles like Caernarfon or Conwy because of the association with Edward I and English oppression. More up-to-date is the fact that most people living in the nearby town of Bethesda would not dream of going anywhere near Penrhyn Castle, because that was the home of the local Penrhyn Quarry owner who locked out the quarrymen for two years at the start of the 20th century.
I am happy to say that I am a Welshman without this cultural baggage and was drawn by hiraeth to come and live back in my beloved Wales. I accept the relationship between Wales and England would not be used as a model for contentment between nations, but I believe a major shift of culture is needed.
Wales is a country where we have magnificent cultural heritage, Europe’s oldest language still flourishing, choirs and a musical tradition unsurpassed in the world. We have stunningly beautiful mountains, rivers, valleys and landscapes. We have more wonderful castles than you could shake a stick at, heritage railways that bring pleasure to every child and grown-up child smelling the steam and oil. We have given the world much-loved actors, politicians like Nye Bevan who gave us the NHS, world famous singers and pop groups. We have our own language which is slowly growing after long decline. We have our own Welsh Government which, for all its flaws, is becoming distinctive and confident. If we were to embrace all that we have as proud Welsh men and women, then the move for Welsh independence would simply disappear as Wales adopted its rightful place as a nation in a Union of nations, co-equal, co-valued and the envy of the world.
So Welsh men and women – throw off those chains of oppression and being downtrodden. They don’t exist any longer. Despite everyone and everything: we’re still here – Er gwaethaf pawb a phopeth: dyn ni yma o hyd!