Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed."note
Tra mor yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau."note
In Roman times, the whole of Great Britain was inhabited by a Celtic population. During the Dark Ages, the Germanic Anglo-Saxons invaded and took over most of the island, but one of the parts they didn't take over was the little corner we now call Wales.note 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 Welsh people "English"; it will cause immediate and lasting discomfort (ditto for Scottish and Irish people).
Although long treated as a separate nation to England for cultural purposes, Wales was still part of England for legal purposes until 1967. It was not until 1972 that its borders were clarified. Cardiff (Caerdydd) had been proclaimed the capital of Wales in 1955. This was mostly because it was Wales' largest city; there was no government based there at the time, and pre-conquest Wales never really had a fixed capital. Since 1999 Wales now has a devolved assembly based there, albeit one with less power than the Scottish Parliament. 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 closely related to Breton and Cornish (spoken in the northwestern French province of Brittany and Cornwall, respectively, with all three making up the Brittonic or Brythonic subfamily), and more distantly related to the Goidelic Celtic languages - Scottish Gaelic, the native language of Scotland; Irish, the native language of Ireland; and Manx, spoken on the Isle of Man.
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. As a result, Welsh speakers tend to find it absolutely hilarious when non-Welsh speakers try to pronounce Welsh words and names. 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, some form of encrypted message used by intelligence agents, or escapees from H. P. 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".
The majority of the population live in the southeastern corner, in the corridor between Swansea and Newport. The mountainous middle of Wales is quite sparsely populated. This, as well as the lack of north-to-south transport links (trains from Cardiff to North Wales go through England), mean there is a degree of cultural separation between the North and South of Wales. Historically, Wales' population was more dispersed, but South Wales (and to a lesser extent, Wrexham and the North East) boomed in the 19th century due to immense coal deposits. A lot of Welsh cultural identity stems from the 19th-century mining industry, when "the Valleys" saw religious revivals, the enthusiastic adoption of the game of Rugby, and a great tradition of choral singing.
The heavily industrial economy ensured that Welsh politics have always favoured the left. This has continued after the industry declined, as Margaret Thatcher is often blamed for the post-industrial misfortunes of regions like "The Valleys" (to the north of Cardiff). In 1997 and 2001, the Conservatives failed to win a single Welsh seat, although they have since made some inroads. Wales also has its own secessionist party Plaid Cymru ("Party of Wales"), who tend to have the most support in the rural areas.
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 (they were founded in 1690, and still insist on the archaic spelling of the word currently rendered 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.
- 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.
- Desmond Llewelyn. Q in the James Bond films.
- Timothy Dalton. The fourth James Bond actor, and a prolific Shakespearean.
- Mark Lewis Jones.
- 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 a Cymro note — but a 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.
- Gareth Bale, footballer who was formerly a winger for Tottenham Hotspur before being sold for a record-breaking transfer fee to Real Madrid.
- Terry Jones of Monty Python.
- Arthur Machen, an author whose The Great God Pan and other stories were a major influence on H. P. 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, The Goon Show straight man "Neddy 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.
- Bryn Terfel, world famous operatic bass-baritone.
- David Lloyd George, Prime Minister 1916-22. The only Welsh PM of the United Kingdom thus far (all the others have been English or Scottish, or in one case, Canadian). Born in Manchester to Welsh parents, and raised a Welsh-speaker in Caernarfonshire—and thus also 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.
- James Callaghan, though he didn't come from Wales, held a seat in Cardiff.
- Eve Myles
- Nicky Grist, rally co-driver, best known for his work with Colin McRae especially on the Colin McRae Rally series of video games.
- Elfyn Evans, rally driver, currently competing for the Ford M-Sport rally team
- Taron Egerton.
Welsh TV shows:
- C'Mon Midffîld: north Welsh Sitcom, the most successful Welsh comedy.
- Pobol y Cwm: south Wales Soap Opera.
- Dim Byd: a sketch show.
- Y Gwyll/Hinterland: a bilingual Mid-Wales detective drama in the vein of Nordic Noir like Wallander, Bron|Broen, or Forbrydelsen.
- Fireman Sam was originally broadcast in Welsh and takes place in Pontypandy, a portmandeau of Pontypyrid and Tonypandy, two towns in Rhonda Cynon Taf.
Famous Welsh Bands:
- Bullet For My Valentine
- Funeral for a Friend
- Goldie Lookin Chain
- High Contrast
- Manic Street Preachers
- Super Furry Animals
- This band, which usually records most of their music in English, often includes at least a few Welsh language songs on their albums, culminating in 2000's Mwng, the best selling Welsh-language album in rock history
- 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
- Mclusky and its Spiritual Successor, Future of the Left
- 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 & 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.
- 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. Likely as a direct result, Sir Ystin from Demon Knights.
- Percival is assimilated to the Welsh hero Peredur in some versions.
- 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 DXD 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.
- Humon's Scandinavia and the World plays on all the stereotypes in the character of Brother Wales, who is in a meaningful relationship with New Zealand (portrayed as a sheep). The Welsh language, as it appears to this particular Great Dane, is explored here. note
The Welsh flag
- "The land where history sleeps, and so does everybody else."— Griff Rhys Jones"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