"Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed."note
"Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra mor yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau."note
— The first verse and chorus of "Land of My Fathers", the Welsh National Anthem.
Wales, the land of the Welsh Dragon, Tom Jones
and the rest of The BBC
Sci-fi/fantasy TV programs.
In Roman times
, the parts of Great Britain now called England (the words "England" and "English" refer specifically to the Germanic invaders you're about to meet), Wales, and Scotland were inhabited by a Celtic population. During the Dark Ages
, the Germanic Anglo-Saxons
invaded and pushed them into the little corner of the island we now call Wales. Wales was conquered by the English in The Middle Ages, and became legally a part of the Kingdom of England — which is why there's no "Welsh Bit" of the Union Jack, which was formed from the flags of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and, later, Ireland. Being conquered and repressed has given Wales both a strong sense of identity and the mother of all chips on shoulders. Do not call a Welshman English
. It will cause immediate and lasting discomfort (The Scottish are often portrayed as having similar tendencies).
It now has a devolved assembly, albeit one with less power than the Scottish
Parliament, based in the capital, Cardiff
(Caerdydd in Welsh). This reflects the overall state of Welsh affairs at the moment. Although Welsh is by far the healthiest modern Celtic language and Welsh identity is widespread and firm, the vast majority of Welsh are, all things considered, quite comfortable being British (not English, of course—British
), and are certainly nowhere nearly as interested in independence as the Scots. Some have even noted a reluctance on the part of the Welsh Assembly itself to ask for more power from Westminster (in contrast to the Scottish Parliament, which even under the Scottish-Unionist Labour/Lib Dem coalition clearly wanted a bit more authority for itself).
The Welsh language is a Celtic tongue that predates the Roman conquest. It is related to Scottish Gaelic, the native language of Scotland; to Irish, the native language of Ireland; and Manx, spoken on the Isle of Man, though not so closely that speakers of Welsh and those languages can understand each other. Welsh is more closely related to Breton and Cornish (spoken in the northwestern French province of Brittany and Cornwall
Welsh is generally regarded by English-speakers as a formidably difficult language, and a glance at the map shows such jaw-crackers as Machynlleth, Pwllheli, and the truly majestic Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch
. That said, the pronunciation rules are consistent (unlike English) and once you know that a "u" is pronounced "ee"; "dd" is a hard "th" (as in 'there' rather than 'think') ; and a "ll" is a sort-of cross between 'l' and 'th', then it will always be so, although the actual spelling (and hence pronunciation) of a word may change depending on the word preceding it. "Cwm", that perennial favorite of crossword-puzzle enthusiasts, is pronounced "coom" (and means "a hollow in the side of a mountain"). Welsh vowels ('a', 'e', 'i', 'o', 'u', 'w', and 'y') have two distinct pronunciations: one long, one short. For example, 'mẁg' (with a vowel sound like the one in 'book') and mwg (vowel sound like in 'pool'). In addition there are two variations of "y", which can be heard in "yn" (like 'un-' as in 'unhealthy') and "byd" (like 'bead') (obscure and clear sounds, respectively). Welsh English often uses "like"
as an interjection, but contrary to stereotypes the word 'boyo' is practically nonexistent.
The Welsh language was suppressed with varying degrees of viciousness by the English from the middle ages right up until the 1960s, but since then it has become one of the best-subsidized minority languages in the world, and nowadays around 20% of Welsh people can speak some Welsh, with 14% claiming to use it on a daily basis. Northern and Southern versions differ in details, and 'gogs' (as North Walians are referred to in the Southnote
) are sometimes said to sound like Russian porn stars. Welsh is accorded equal status with English within Wales, so all roadsigns and official notices have to be in both. (East of Conwy, English is given precedence. West of Conwy, Welsh comes first. Welsh language roadsignage generally begins at the border: visitors are often consternated that Welsh signage begins even before you have left Chester. (Big supermarkets in Oswestry, nominally inside England, have bilingual signage.) The language is the butt of many jokes in England, usually along the lines of "Welsh is very difficult to speak unless you have either a lifetime's study, or a serious throat infection".note
Welsh spellings are also the subject of English humor, sometimes being attributed either to anagrams of breakfast cereal names or escapees from HP Lovecraft
's less well-known works.
There is also a community of Welsh-speakers in Argentina, dating back to the 19th century, and Welsh is spoken in Patagonia, albeit with a Spanish accent.
Wales is notable for its sheep population — c. 10.9 million of them against a human population of about three million. So, the usual jokes
apply. Wales is also notable for its level of rainfall — even more so than the UK as a whole
. Second city Swansea (Abertawe) officially holds the distinction of "wettest city in Britain".
South Wales was more industrialized than the rest, due to immense coal deposits, though Wrexham in the North East was as industrialized also due to coal. A lot of Welsh cultural identity stems from the 19th-century mining industry, when "the Valleys" as the area was known, saw religious revivals, the enthusiastic adoption of the game of Rugby, and a great tradition of choral singing. The industry largely (and in the main needlessly) came to an end in the late eighties, thanks in chief to Margaret Thatcher
, leaving the population and economy a little shell-shocked. This is why it's not cool to be a Tory between Llanelli and Newport. Very few Tories survived the 1997 cull in any part of Wales. After ten years of New "Labour", the Welsh are also beginning to perceive Labour as just another English political party. After Blair and Brown signally failed to repair the damage done to Wales by Thatcher's Tories, the hitherto unthinkable started to happen - the super-safe constituencies of Rhondda and Islwyn fell to the Welsh Nationalists, although Labour won them back a few years later.
A lot of people in Wales are called Jones, Williams or Davies, due to the way the Welsh Patronymic
naming system was Anglicised — people in small villages will have to use their first names or get nicknames to distinguish each other. Traditionally these were often in the form of "Surname The Occupation", such as Jones The Steam [engine driver] from Ivor the Engine
. This results in SAT exams (see British Education System
) having to have candidate numbers in Wales. This is also the case with soldiers in Welsh army regiments, who even in the late 20th century were still identified by their unique Army number and not by one of a limited number of family names. Although Jones is traditionally considered the
Welsh surname, current surveys show that the most common surname nowadays is Williams — Owen, Jones and Powell then tied for the next most populous name with Davies and Hughes coming up not far behind.
There are two regiments of the British Army that require their officer candidates to be fluent, and ideally bilingual, in a language other than English. One is the Gurkha Rifles and the other is the Royal Welch Fusiliers. (founded in 1690, who use an archaic spelling of the word currently grammaticised as "Welsh".)
See also Portmeirion
There are a lot of famous Welsh people such as:
- Tom Jones - world famous singer, with a reputation for women throwing their knickers at him.
- Aimee Ann Duffy - a UK famous singer, who hasn't had any pants or knickers thrown at her yet.
- Dame Shirley Bassey!
- Catherine Zeta-Jones - world famous actress. Oh, and singer (sort of) in Chicago
- Katherine Jenkins, who like Charlotte Church really CAN sing, and unlike Charlotte Church has wisely decided to stay with what she knows best
- Aled Jones — another Welsh singer, most famous (as a boy) for his cover version of "Walking in the Air" from The Snowman. He now regularly presents the God-Slot religious show on BBC Radio Two every Sunday morning and is an occassional religious presenter on BBC television.
- Russell T Davies.
- Ray Milland.
- Anthony Hopkins. You know, A Glass of Chianti...
- John Rhys-Davies.
- Richard Burton.
- Bertrand Russell, the philosopher and mathematician, was born at Trellech in Monmouthshire and died almost one hundred years later at Penrhyndeudraeth.
- Timothy Dalton.
- Dylan Thomas, poet whose best known work is "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night". See Soul Music for Terry Pratchett's take on this.
- John Cale, musician and former member of The Velvet Underground.
- Milton Jones, comic.
- Christian Bale, born in Pembrokeshire but raised in Southern England from early childhood. (Incidentally, he voiced Howl in the film's English dub.)
- Author Jasper Fforde was not born in Wales, but lived there for a while, and "The Socialist Republic of Wales" features prominently in several Thursday Next books. Its background and Alternate History are All Here on the Internet.
- Alastair Reynolds.
- Comedians Rob Brydon, Ruth Jones and Rhod Gilbert.
- Wrestler Mason Ryan, former Florida Heavyweight champion and now heel for The Nexus on WWE.
- TNA wrestling also has their own wrestling Welshman, Rob Terry.
- Actor Michael Sheen, from Newport and Port Talbot. Cinema's very own Tony Blair.
- Rhys Ifans, a first language Welsh-speaker and main example of a 'Gog' accent (from North Wales)
- Hornblower actor Ioan Gruffudd, also Cymraeg - but Welsh-Speaker from South Wales (Glamorgan).
- Charlotte Church, from Cardiff.
- Gavin Henson, rugby player and noted sun-bed user, sometimes referred to as 'Tango Man' for this reason.
- Terry Jones of Monty Python.
- Arthur Machen, an author whose The Great God Pan and other stories were a major influence on HP Lovecraft.
- Ruth Madoc, comic actress.
- Iwan Rheon, singer and actor (Best known as Simon in Misfits and Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones), from Cardiff.
- Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia, was born in Wales, except she was naturalised in Australia as a youngster - first-generation Australians are recognised by the law as Australians but some Australian citizens whose ancestry goes back further tend to disagree
- Harry Secombe, Goon Show straight man as Harry Seagoon, comedian, singer and presenter of religious shows.
- Myfanwy Talog, Welsh-language actress, wife of English comic actor David Jason. Now deceased but a mainstay of soap opera Pobol Y Cwm for many years. Also voiced Welsh characters in English-language animations such as Count Duckula and Supermouse.
- Green Gartside, frontman of Scritti Politti.
- Bonnie Tyler.
- Singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis of Marina & the Diamonds.
- Welshy, Channel Awesome video producer.
- David Lloyd George, Prime Minister 1916-22. Born in Manchester to Welsh parents, and raised a Welsh-speaker in Caernarfonshire—and thus the only PM so far not to have English as his native language. The custom of holding the investiture of the Prince of Wales in Wales (specifically at Castle Caernarfon) came about at his insistence when Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) came of age in 1911 (Lloyd George was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time), and he taught the Prince a few words of Welsh for the occasion.
Welsh TV shows:
Famous Welsh Bands:
- Bullet For My Valentine
- Funeral for a Friend
- Goldie Lookin Chain
- Lost Prophets
- Manic Street Preachers
- Super Furry Animals
- Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
- The Automatic
- The Oppressed
- Los Campesinos!
- All the members of this band are actually English, but they all met at university in Cardiff and have adopted the city as their home
- People in Planes
- The Alarm
Famous Fictional Welsh People:
- Pixie from the X-Men comics
- Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones and Rhys Williams, Torchwood
- Fluellen, Henry V
- Wizard Howl, of Moving Castle fame.
- Brother Cadfael
- Negi Springfield from Mahou Sensei Negima! Well, he spent a good deal of his childhood there.
- The West clan of Gavin and Stacey, plus their friends and neighbors.
- Also from Ruth Jones, A Child's Christmases in Wales.
- Ivor the Engine.
- Several characters from Channel 4's classic sketch show Absolutely, particularly DIY 'expert' Denzil and his equally repulsive wife, Gwyneth (played by Welsh comedy actor John Sparks and Morwenna Banks).
- Futurama's Welshy, a Red Shirt replacement for Star Trek: The Original Series's Scotty
- Able Seaman Goldstein from The Navy Lark, apparently he joined the Navy to work his passage to Swansea.
- Madoc and all of his descendants in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
- The Owl Service by Alan Garner is set in Wales, based on themes from the Mabinogion.
- The Grey King, part of the series The Dark Is Rising, is set in Wales and has a Welsh-speaking boy as its second-most-important character.
- Jeff (the crazy one) from Coupling.
- The setting of the Chronicles of Prydain is based on Welsh mythology.
- The country of Llamedos on the Discworld is an extreme parody of Welsh stereotypes, best known as the original home of Imp y Celyn and noted for its rain mines.
- Llamedos is "Sod 'em all" backwards, a joke taken from the fictional village of Llareggub ("Bugger all") in Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood".
- The King Arthur of Welsh legend was a Celtic Briton and not necessarily considered to hail from (what is today) Wales, but as the descendants of the Britons, the Welsh always considered him as one of their heroes.
- Swansea-born Edward Kenway is the protagonist of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
- Merlin. The original Merlin was a bard called Myrddin, the founder of Carmarthen (from Caer Myrddin, "Merlin's City").
- Ddraig of High School D×D is a Welsh Dragon. And of course his name means Dragon in Welsh. It's implied that he looks like a realistic version of the dragon on the Welsh flag.
The Welsh flag
The flag's white and green halves recall the colors of the House of Tudor, itself a Welsh family; at the center is the Welsh Dragon ("Y Ddraig Goch", or "The Red Dragon
" in Welsh), said to have been the standard of King Arthur
and other Celtic warlords.
"The land where history sleeps, and so does everybody else."
"I think most of all, the Welsh were doomed by English superiority to become objects of terminal quaintness. The quaint language, the quaint songs. Those amusing choirs and chants"
— Simon Schama's A History of Britain