Brecon Castle, mid Wales

                              The ancient heritage of Wales    

                          the National Anthem of WalesOwain Glyndwr - the real Prince of WalesHome to Swansea, WalesThe National Eisteddfod of Wales - the oldest festival in EuropeSt David (Dewi Sant) - Patron Saint of Wales

 

   National Anthem of Wales

The result of a collaboration between father and son, Evan James and James James, Pontypridd weaver Evan wrote the characteristically passionate Welsh words one Sunday morning in January 1856. His son adapted a favourite Welsh harp melody and the result was celebrated by compatriots present at the Bangor Eisteddfod (the ancient Welsh festival) of 1874.

 

 National flag of Wales - the red dragon ("Y Ddraig Goch" in the Welsh language)

UK Flag       

  Welsh Language

English Translation      

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.

Gwlad! Gwlad!

pleidiol wyf i'm Gwlad.

Tra mor yn fyr

i'r bur hoff bau,

O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau !

Land of my fathers
so precious to me.
Proud mother of poets and singers,
high home of the free:
The fame of her heroes
Patriots much blessed,
Spilt their blood for freedom.
Homeland! Wales!
- ever my heart is in Wales.
In thy good grace
Lord keep our race,
Our language, our hills and our vales.

  

 Carreg Cennen Castle, Trapp, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales

  " Still do the great mountains remain and the winds above them roar " 

John Ceiriog Hughes, "Alun Mabon" (1832 - 87)     

 The greatest Welsh hero! 

Six hundred years after fading into the timeless mysteries of the Welsh hills, the name of national hero Prince Owain Glyndwr still enshrines Celtic passions. Famed for leading a successful Welsh revolution against English rule in the 15th Century, his army destroyed the hated strongholds which symbolised a foreign Saxon sovereignty over Wales. After 11 years of Welsh independence, eventually the English regained political dominance, not least because Glyndwr's French and Scottish allies withdrew their promises of military support at the defining moment due to their fear of enemy superior numbers.

This year marks the 600th anniversary of Glyndwr's uprising, which occurred after an influential group of Welsh patriots crowned Owain Glyndwr as the rightful Prince of Wales and a military leader to mastermind their national liberation campaign against the English throne; historically the Welsh had lost independence since the last Welsh King, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, was killed in battle in 1282.

Within days, the Welsh army cheered to the sight of Glyndwr's flag raised on the summit of Caerdrewen above Corwen. They succeeded in their raid of the English garrison towns of Ruthin, Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Hawarden, Oswestry and Welshpool in north and mid Wales. Attacks in the south of Wales soon followed with equal success. The battles were not pleasant - the capture of Stalling Down saw Glyndwr and his French allies inflict a defeat on King Henry IV's men after an 18 hour battle. The blood was said to be "fetlock deep". Glyndwr established a united Welsh Parliament in his home town of Machynlleth - near the mid Wales coast - and later at Harlech, where he successfully ruled his patriotic nation for the following eleven years.

 Prince Owain Glyndwr

Owain Glyndwr Society

Glyndwr's fate of 1415 is still a mystery; many theories have been advanced over the years. Some believe he returned to his beloved Welsh hills to die. Ancestors of Glyndwr have recently announced that the prince and certain members of his family were murdered by vengeful English soldiers in Herefordshire. In 1905, the author Owen Rhoscomyl commented on the hallowed memory of the Welsh hero:

 

Machynlleth, Wales

Machynlleth, Wales - home to Prince Glyndwr's 15th Century Welsh Parliament

His grave is beside no church, neither under the shadow of any ancient yew. It is in a spot safer and more sacred still. Rain does not fall on it, hail nor sleet chill no sere sod above it. It is forever green with the green of eternal spring. Sunny the light on it; close and warm and dear it lies, sheltered from all storms, from all cold or grey oblivion. Time shall not touch it; decay shall not dishonour it; for that grave is in the heart of every true Cymro (Welshman). There, for ever, from generation unto generation, grey Owen's heart lies dreaming on, dreaming on.

To celebrate the 600th anniversary of Glyndwr's uprising, beacons were lit throughout Wales on September 15, 2000. The following day was declared "Welsh Independence Day" and was celebrated with patriotic events and activities throughout all the communities of Wales. Six centuries after Glyndwr's death, Prince Owain is still considered the last ruling King of Wales - a Herculean courage among Welsh heroes. In 2000, Glyndwr was voted "Welshman of the Millennium" by the people of Wales. Contemporary world leaders such as Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro have publically expressed admiration for Glyndwr's strength, fortitude and military prowess.

St. David - Patron Saint of Wales  

            

St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St Davids Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, south west Wales.

Pic copyright Mark Richards

St. David's Day celebrates the life of the Patron Saint of Wales on March 1 - the Welsh patriotic festival recognised the world over has been the national day of Wales since the 12th Century. Saint David's "Feast Day" dates further back to the 8th C. Wales' Patron Saint was a Celtic monk, abbot and archbishop, and was the founder of Christian worship in Wales and western parts of Great Britain. Included among the ten monasteries St. David established was Glastonbury and the site of worship he founded at his native Menevia, west Wales, was later consecrated as the U.K.'s first Cathedral in 1131.

Both St David's parents were descended from Welsh royalty. His father, Sant (or Sandde) was a Prince of Powys, whose own father Ceredig was Prince of Ceredigion. His mother was Non, the daughter of the local chieftain of Menevia (now St. David's). It was believed in medieval times that Non was a niece of King Arthur. In legend, St Patrick - also Welsh born - has a premonition of David's birth in approximately 530A.D.  St. David's 12th Century biographer, Rhygyfarch, states his place of birth was upon a cliff overlooking today's St Non's Bay, south west Wales; in the 18th Century the picturesque chapel of St Non's (Capel Non) was built at this location to mark the place of David's birth as closely as possible. St. David was educated at the monastery of Hen Fynyw; his teacher Paulinus was blind. According to legend, young David cured his teacher's blindness in one of many stories of miracles attributed to Wales' Patron. Another story suggests that he revived a young man from death.

It is recorded that David was strictly vegetarian who ate only bread, herbs and vegetables such as watercress, and he drank only water. By the 9th Century he had become known as Aquaticus or Dewi Ddyfrwr in Welsh. David's monks had to live by a strict religious code, besides which they ploughed the fields, fed the poor and kept bees. During his lifetime, Dewi's travels took him away to Cornwall, Ireland, Brittany and Jerusalem, in addition to Rome where he was made Archbishop of Wales. He was often accompanied by fellow travellers St. Padarn and Teilo.

St David died on 1 March 589A.D., reputedly aged over a hundred years. His remains were consigned to a shrine which was ransacked in the 11th Century by Viking invaders, who removed precious metals and artefacts from the site, in addition to murdering two Welsh bishops. In the year 1120, Pope Callactus II canonised David as a Saint, at the same time he was recognised as Patron Saint of Wales, the country of his birth where he had served as archbishop. In 1123, the roads to Rome were heavily congested with pilgrims and such was the holiness of David, Pope Calixtus decreed that two pilgrimages to St. Davids, Wales equalled one to Rome.

In 1181, work on St. David's Cathedral began; over the centuries, it suffered a harsh fate. A tower collapsed in 1220, in 1247 the building was damaged by earthquake, St. David's shrine was stripped further by Bishop Barlow in 1538 and the building was attacked by English Parliamentary soldiers in 1648. However, extensive rebuilding work by some of the 19th Century's finest architects restored the cathedral fully by the turn of the 20th Century.

St David Statue, St David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St. David Statue, St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

The town of St Davids was awarded city status in 1995, and today is the smallest city in the U.K.  March 1 is marked in Wales, and by ex-Welsh patriots around the world, with a traditional feast and the wearing of a leek or daffodil, Wales's national symbols.

 

Coronation of the Bard (poet), National Eisteddford of Wales

National Eisteddfod of Wales

The National Eisteddfod of Wales is Europe's oldest and largest festival of culture, literature and indigenous music; its origins backdate to the 12th Century. Every August, the attraction of Wales's National Eisteddfod draws 170,000 visitors over a week long event, which is best described as a Welsh cultural and artistic Olympics, a celebration of the Welsh love of art, literature and pageant. Throughout the year, local and regional Welsh Eisteddfodau qualify a total 6,000 competitors for the national event, which range from poets to choirs and musicians to artists. While the Eisteddfod is held at towns and cities alternately in northern and southern Wales, the institution is exclusively Welsh language orientated and provides a high profile focus and convergence of the Welsh speaking communities of Wales. However, the emphasis is not exclusive to Welsh traditional life and historical culture - contemporary cultures, such as Welsh language rock music and the performing arts are discharged with equal Welsh passion ("hwyl" in Welsh!)

The most coveted literary prize in the National Eisteddfod is the "chair" - indeed, the word "Eisteddfod" translates as "chairing" or "sitting". This is awarded ceremonially to the most accomplished poet in the competition. The symbol of the chair dates back to  11th Century Eisteddfodau;  the chair represented a place of residence for the winner of the poet's top prize in the castle of a member of Welsh royalty, or nobility, who were the affluent patrons of the arts in medieval times.

The most famous poet was farmer's son Ellis Humphrey Evans, who was awarded the Eisteddfod chair posthumously in 1917 after he submitted his work from the front lines of World War One but was killed in action just a few days later. The chair was draped in black as a mark of respect.  An Oscar nominated Welsh language movie celebrated this great bard named "Hedd Wyn" by the Eisteddfod fathers, the "Gorsedd".

The modern Eisteddfod includes a ceremonial crowning (or "Coroni") for less prescribed poetic forms than the strict metrical verse required to qualify for the chairing contest ("Cadeirio"). The bardic poets are ranked according to accomplishment in their craft - their robes can be green, blue or white to indicate their artistic contribution to Welsh cultural life; the white robes represent the pinnacle of literary achievement.

Eisteddfod opening ceremony, Llanelli, 2000

Eisteddfod opening ceremony, Llanelli, 2000.

Pic copyright National Eisteddfod of Wales

The historical origins of the festival date back to year 1176. The bardic (poet's) revival of the 12th Century - together with a proliferation of creative writing from the monasteries and religious institutions of Wales - led to a gathering at Cardigan Castle organised by Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd. The mood of the nation dictated the need for a competitive forum for the authors of the day; the meeting at Cardigan established conventions for poetic verse in the proposed competition. The event was described by an anonymous author thus,

At Christmas in that year the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd
held court in splendour at Cardigan, in the castle.
And he set two kinds of contests there; one between
bards and poets, another between harpists and crowders
and pipers and various classes of music-craft.
And he had two chairs set for the victors.

The contest continued in the format first established in 1176 and in the Sixteenth Century the word "Eisteddfod" became the accepted name for Wales's cultural institution. However, it was in the 18th Century that Edward Williams, a Welshman residing in London, steered the event to its contemporary order. He established the ceremonial traditions, the robes, the modern organisation and extended the contest culture to embrace other crafts and musical forms. It was at this time the Eisteddfod came to be associated with the Celtic practices of the Welsh druids, in recognition of the continuity between the ancient and modern peoples of Wales.

In today's form, beyond the main Eisteddfod pavilion where the main stage hosts the ceremonies and contest finals, the body of activity happens on Y Maes ("the meadow"). Here, smaller pavilions host rock music festivals, displays by Welsh organisations (e.g. political parties, charities, etc.) and exhibitions from fine art to ceramics. Plays are performed in "Theatr Y Maes" and the Welsh learner's tent offers translation of the events occurring live in the main pavilion. Also scattered throughout the Maes are shops and media organisations, crafts and impromptu musical performances. The town which hosts the Eisteddfod offers more plays, poetry, exhibitions and performance throughout the evenings.

In 1947, with the devastating aftermath of the Second World War at the fore of the world's consciousness, the Welsh Eisteddfod concept was diversified, to embrace competitors from across the globe, by Harold Tudor and W.S. Gwynn Williams. In the spirit of healing and world peace, this event became The International Music Eisteddfod and is hosted every July in the picturesque north Wales town of Llangollen. One of the earliest International Eisteddfodau included a young Luciano Pavarotti, who was a member of an Italian choir on his first public performance. In 1995, to celebrate the Fortieth anniversary of his career debut, Pavarotti performed a concert at the Llangollen Eisteddfod which was simultaneously broadcast on screens in parks throughout Wales.

Arthur Stone, Cefn Bryn, Gower, Swansea, Wales

Arthur's Stone, Cefn Bryn, Gower, Swansea, Wales

 

 

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