Cadw

Sep 092016
 
BY A GUEST WRITER

Having followed a series of excellent reports published by Jac related to the custodianship of our nation’s heritage, I should like to return to that telling mission statement of the National Trust for Scotland:-

“Scotland’s rich cultural heritage is not only an invaluable economic and social resource, it is what gives Scotland’s people a sense of belonging and identity; as such it is one of our nation’s most precious assets.”  Read it for yourself.

A sense of belonging and identity …

So what are the priorities of the official custodians of our nation’s heritage? And what does that reveal about how they see the Welsh people and their identity?

Just to recap, the most prominent custodians of our nation’s heritage are:-

Cadw sets out its own three-fold mission statement with admirable clarity:-

  • “We conserve Wales’s heritage.”
  • “We help people understand and care about their history.”
  • “We help sustain the distinctive character of Wales.”

Worthy goals but, as we all know, there are mission statements and mission statements.  Some provide organizations with clarity of purpose, motivation and a tool for making better decisions and focusing resources.  Others are sidestepped and forgotten with the same ease with which they were adopted – in short, a complete waste of time and effort.

Let’s take a look at what Cadw does in practice.  Their resourcing priorities, exhibitions and events, educational activities, and interpretation of historical sites, is overwhelmingly skewed towards the Edwardian Conquest castles – Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech, Rhuddlan, Criccieth and Flint.  These are, after all, the great draws for visiting English tourists, and for UK Lottery grants.

cadw-year-of-adventure

Furthermore, in its interpretation of historical sites, Cadw presents a very one-sided view of Welsh history.  The significance of the conquest castles was encapsulated by Thomas Pennant in 1772 when he described Caernarfon Castle as “the most magnificent badge of our subjection”.  It is for this reason that some have questioned whether CADW’s name was in fact an acronym for “Celebrate All Defeats of the Welsh”.

Cadw fails utterly, for example, to link the construction of the conquest castles with the corresponding systematic looting and destruction of all of the sites, structures and artefacts associated with sovereign and independent Welsh power and authority – Aberconwy Abbey (the mausoleum of the Princes of Gwynedd), the royal “llys” at Aberffraw, the Welsh regalia including the “Talaith” (coronet) and “Y Groes Naid” (the sacred relic believed to be a fragment of the True Cross).

harlech_badge-of-subjection

Harlech Castle

So what is the aspect of the Welsh identity that Cadw seeks to present, in order to foster our nation’s understanding of our history and distinctive character?  Subjection.  English overlordship.  The futility of aspiring to our own national destiny.

The secondary areas of focus for Cadw appear to be the castles of the Marches, those bastions of alien encroachment.  Chepstow, Monmouth, Skenfrith, Grosmont, Tretower, Montgomery, Oxwich, Weobley, Kidwelly, Llansteffan, Cilgerran.  Again, these are presented in a sanitized manner that utterly disregards the centuries of racial segregation of Englishries and Welshries, of penal laws excluding the Welsh from holding offices, or living, trading or owning property in the boroughs developed for English colonists under the protection of those castles.

Meanwhile, the recent article highlighting the “Powis” Castle experience showed how uninterested and ill-equipped the National Trust is to foster an understanding in our nation of our own history and distinctive character.  The National Trust perpetuates the 19th century taxonomic convention: “For Wales, see England”.

For the National Trust, any historical interpretation of its sites beyond the superficial Downton Abbey upstairs-downstairs world of Anglo-gentry of the 18th and 19th centuries and their anonymous native servants falls well outside their comfort zone.  This is the context in which their sites at Newton House (Dinefwr), Penrhyn Castle, Llanerchaeron and Tredegar are presented.

To illustrate further the stupendous bias of the custodians of our nation’s heritage in presenting our history, I have started to gather a list of the most neglected (or misrepresented) sites of primary importance in the history of Wales, focusing on sites that pre-date the Acts of Union (or Penal Assimilation Acts) of the 1530s.


Here is the list that I have gathered to date:-

Sycharth (“Llys Owain Glyndŵr“).  This was the birthplace and home of Owain Glyndŵr, our last Welsh Prince of Wales, and the subject of Iolo Goch’s famous poem.  The buildings were destroyed by Harry of Monmouth (later Henry V, King of England) in 1403.  For a description of the shameful neglect of this site today, I commend this article.

sycharth

Church of SS. Mael and Sulien, Corwen.  The dedication to two Welsh saints of the 6th century indicates that this lovely 14th century building is located on the site of a church foundation of great antiquity.  This is believed to have been the location where Owain Glyndŵr was acclaimed as the true and rightful Prince of Wales on 16 September 1400 in the presence of Ieuan Trefor, Bishop of St. Asaph.  It is this event that elevates this site to one of primary importance in the history of our nation, and the proper focal point for annual celebrations of Owain Glyndŵr Day (Sept 16).

acclamation-of-owain-prince-of-wales_corwen-1400

Acclamation of Glyndŵr

Church of St Peter ad Vincula, Pennal (Gwynedd).  The church was founded in the 6th century, but was so re-named and dedicated by Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales, in competition with the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, one of the chapels royal of his rival, Henry IV, King of England. Pennal was regarded with honour because of its status as one of the 21 llysoedd, the courts of the true Welsh Princes of Gwynedd.  The real significance of this site stems from it being the location of the parliament at which Owain Glyndŵr set out his policy programme for the independent state of Wales, recorded in the famous “Pennal Letter” addressed to Charles VI, King of France.  The enlightened policies which he expounded included establishing two universities in Wales, one in the North and one in the South, ending the subjection of the metropolitan church of St. David (St. David’s Cathedral) to Canterbury, re-establishing the independence of the Welsh Church, and ending oppression “by the fury of the barbarous Saxons”.

Bryn Glas (Pilleth) battlefield.  The battle, which was fought on 22 June 1402, near the towns of Knighton and Presteigne (Powys), was one of the greatest Welsh victories against an English army in the open field.  It paved the way for a truly national rising in Wales, the establishment of an independent state ruled by Owain Glyndŵr, our last Welsh Prince of Wales, and the alliance with France.  The battle also provoked punitive expeditions by Henry IV (King of England) that were marked by many acts of brutality and rape.

Aberffraw “Llys/Maerdref”.  This is the site of the “llys” (royal court) of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, from the 9th to 12th century, and symbolic throne of the Kings of Gwynedd until the 13th century Wars of Independence.  The Llys was dismantled in 1315 to provide building materials for nearby Beaumaris Castle.

aberffraw-llys

Aberffraw

Abergwyngregyn.  This site, surrounded by the most majestic scenery, was the seat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, and location of his brother Dafydd’s capture by the English invaders in 1283.  Abergwyngregyn is also the setting for “Siwan”, Saunders Lewis’s masterpiece of Welsh language drama based on the marriage of Siwan/Joan (daughter of the King of England) and Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales.

Aberconwy Abbey (pre-conquest site).  On this site a Cistercian house was developed under the patronage of Llywelyn the Great and his successors.  This was the burial place of Llywelyn the Great, his sons Dafydd and Gruffudd.  It was also seat of “Y Groes Naid” kept by the kings of Gwynedd, the sacred relic believed to be a fragment of the True Cross, expropriated by the English (with the “Talaith” and other Welsh regalia) in 1283 and removed to London.  In an act of deliberate symbolism, Edward I (King of England) destroyed this mausoleum of the princes of Gwynedd following the Wars of Independence in order to build his own castle on the site where the abbey had stood.

coffin-of-llywelyn-the-great

Coffin of Llywelyn Fawr (now in St Grwst’s, Llanrwst)


When will our nation have worthy custodians of our own historical, architectural and cultural heritage?  When will the official custodians accept and apply the guiding principle in of the National Trust for Scotland that the nation’s heritage is so much more than an economic resource: it gives our people “a sense of belonging and identity”?  When will they truly embrace the goals of helping our nation to “understand and care about their history” and sustaining “the distinctive character of Wales”?

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Jac adds . . . Anyone who is still in any doubt about Cadw’s purpose should know that in a few weeks time Caernarfon Castle will host an orgy of Britishness that will seek to engender loyalty to the most unequal and undemocy-groes-naid-black-backgroundratic state in Europe by cynically exploiting the butchery of the First World War. Yes, folks, the poppies are coming to town!

So get great-uncle Arthur’s medals out of the cupboard, bone up on the Somme, explain to the kids that Britain was defending democracy and freedom, and start whistling Tipperary.

Our guest writer mentioned Y Groes Naid, and while no one knows what it looked like, a few years back someone knocked up an imagined Groes Naid. I can’t be sure, but I’m reasonably certain it was somehow connected with Cambria magazine. Maybe someone reading this will know, so get in touch and I’ll be happy to attribute it. (Click to enlarge.)

Our guest writer also mentioned the coffin of Llywelyn Fawr; well I visited St Grwst’s earlier this year and I would recommend that all patriots do the same.

UPDATE 09.09.2016: Someone has made me aware of a consultation process being undertaken by the ‘Welsh Government on proposals for secondary legislation to support the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Here’s a link. Also available is Technical Advice Note (TAN) 24 asking for “your views on . . . detailed planning advice on the historic environment in Wales”.

Was anyone aware of this legislation, this ‘consultation’ process? Or was it restricted to interested parties guaranteed not to challenge the status quo? Anyway, the deadline is October 3, so tell them what you think.

Aug 212016
 
A GUEST POST

 

What is the National Trust for?

According to the 1907 Act, the National Trust was established “ . . . for the purposes of promoting the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest . . .

But for which nation?

In Scotland, this question was answered in 1931 by the establishment of a distinct legal organization formed “in order to carry out work and confer benefits in Scotland similar to those carried out in England and other parts of Britain.

The National Trust for Scotland is managed by its own board of trustees, elected by and answerable to the Scottish membership.

In Wales, this question finds its answer not in any Act of Parliament or of the Senedd but in the experience of visiting a National Trust property in our country.  I recommend a visit to “Powis [sic] Castle”.

Powis Castle

The magnificent red stone castle near Welshpool was the historic seat of the rulers of Powys – a kingdom with an unbroken history from the Roman civitate of Viroconium (Welsh: Caer Gwrygon; English: Wroxeter), from which the royal court moved to Mathrafal in the early eighth century, and thence to Castell Coch, the red castle, in the early thirteenth century.  Today, this castle continues to be known to the National Trust as “Powis Castle”, with their rigid adherence the place names attributed by English cartographers of the nineteenth century (Carnarvon, Llanelly, Powis) and in resolute opposition to the norms of Welsh orthography.

The castle remained in the hands of the descendants of the Welsh royal dynasty of Mathrafal until the late sixteenth century, when it was purchased by a branch of the powerful Welsh lordly family of the Herberts who remained in possession until the early nineteenth century.

Is the Castle presented by the National Trust in the context of this extraordinary and enchanting history?  The thousand year story of the kingdom of Powys and the descendants of its ruling dynasty?  Nope.  Seemingly of no interest to the National Trust.

The main exhibition presents some of the loot acquired by Clive of India, father of the British Raj, famed for his atrocities, maladministration and self-enrichment.  This notorious nabob’s connection with the Castle?  His son acquired it (by marriage) in the early nineteenth century.

Try asking for a guidebook for the Castle in Welsh as I did during my visit, and you will receive a response from the National Trust staff that is as replete with scorn and derision as it is unproductive.

There is no doubting for which nation’s benefit this property is being preserved by the National Trust.  For the fellow-countrymen of Robert Clive, son of Market Drayton, and squire of Esher in Surrey.

Powys map

As noted above, Scotland’s heritage under the custodianship of the National Trust for Scotland is managed by a board of trustees elected by the Scottish membership of the NTS.  The guiding principle by which the NTS carries out its mandate is expressed as follows:-

“Scotland’s rich cultural heritage is not only an invaluable economic and social resource, it is what gives Scotland’s people a sense of belonging and identity; as such it is one of our nation’s most precious assets.”  Read it for yourself.

How much longer do we have to wait in Wales for our own extraordinary historical, architectural, cultural and environmental heritage to be preserved, managed and presented by an organization answerable to our nation, and properly equipped and informed to fulfil its mandate for the benefit of our nation?

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Jac adds . . .

I agree with everything our guest writer says, and I would go further, adding that a nation with the interpretation of its past entrusted to those with an interest in effacing all memory of that past is as good a definition of colonialism as I can think of.

Some reading this might argue, ‘Ah! but don’t forget, we have Cadw‘. Really! Cadw is little more than English Heritage (West). And then we have the regional archaeological trusts, staffed with third-rate English diggers and their teams of willing young female volunteers, always looking for evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement.

Cadw red

Returning to the National Trust, it’s not simply what it currently owns that angers me but its perennial acquisitiveness. I’m thinking now of the regular appeals for money to buy a Snowdonia farm – in case someone buys it, packs it up, and takes it home with them? Think about it – we are expected to buy a piece of our homeland for an English organisation! (Yes, that’s another definition of colonialism, and of stupidity on the part of those Welsh who fall for it.)

It is almost twenty years since we voted for devolution, and little if anything has changed in the fundamental relationship between Wales and England. The English National Trust is proof of that. At the very least we need something comparable to the National Trust for Scotland, if only as a stop-gap measure.

This nation should have no trust in the English National Trust or any similar body.

Regular readers might remember that I mentioned Powis Castle in a piece I wrote back in 2012 on nearby Dolforwyn. Here’s a link.

UPDATE 22.08.2016: The page from the Cadw website show above was very quickly removed. I copied and posted the image late on Sunday night and when I checked at 11am on Monday, there it was – gone!

Cadw sorry

Sep 012015
 

THE LATEST IN A SERIES OF POSTS ON THE MANAGEMENT, OR MISMANAGEMENT, OF CARDIGAN CASTLE. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE OTHER POSTS I SUGGEST YOU START WITH ‘CARDIGAN CASTLE – READY TO FALL?’

As was the case with most Welsh castles Cardigan changed hands many times, yet of all its occupants the most widely known is undoubtedly Rhys ap Gruffydd (1132 – 1197), ‘The Lord Rhys’, ruler of Deheubarth and patron of the first recorded eisteddfod in 1176, when he invited poets and musicians from all parts of Wales and beyond.

Perhaps understandably, those now controlling the Castle have sought to use The Lord Rhys in up-front displays to disguise their lack of any real interest in the history and cultural significance of Castell Aberteifi. This was to be done by having the great man’s coat of arms stamped on assorted gewgaws, banners, plus of course the famous oversized bardic chair. And yet . . .

Since I became involved with this issue I was aware of an undercurrent, a suspicion held by more than a few that someone, somewhere, had made a monumental cock-up, with the result that the Castle was using the wrong coat of arms! Let me explain.

The Lord Rhys, as I’ve said, was the ruler of Deheubarth, and grandson of Rhys ap Tewdwr, who in turn was descended from Rhodri Mawr (820 – 878). But Rhys ap Gruffydd is a name regularly encountered among the Welsh nobility and gentry in the medieval period. One reason why, in an age of almost universal illiteracy, coats of arms were so important – they told people who you were. And why poets and genealogists had to know the lineages. However, this proliferation of Rhys ap Gruffydds can lead the modern amateur into mistakes, and this is what seems to have happened at Cardigan.

In the hope of clearing up the confusion I took the advice of Rhodri Dafis and contacted Thomas Lloyd, Wales Herald of Arms Extraordinary. I asked him quite simply to tell me the coat of arms for The Lord Rhys who held Cardigan Castle in the second half of the twelfth century. His response can be found below.Coat of arms Lord Rhys caption

“The arms of The Lord Rhys are simply: Gules, a lion rampant in a border indented Or (ie: Red, a lion rampant gold, within a jagged gold border). These are the ancestral arms of the Princes of Deheubarth, as given to Rhys ap Tewdwr.

There has been confusion with his arms and those of Sir Rhys ap Gruffudd, Sheriff of Carmarthen 1322, died 1356, but he was descended from Ednyfed Fychan, and had quite different arms with six small lions on a red background above and below a jagged silver band across the centre bearing three ravens. (My apologies for non heraldic terminology, not knowing if you know the correct lingo or not!).”

Everything at Cardigan Castle purporting to be the armorials of The Lord Rhys (ap Gruffydd) carry the three ravens . . . of the much later Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd (? – 1356), and these ravens in turn derive from Urien Rheged of the Old North. The confusion may arise because the Ednyfed Fychan (ap Cynwrig) (mentioned above by Thomas Lloyd) married Gwenllian, daughter of Yr Arglwydd Rhys, but daughters did not inherit their father’s coats of arms. Or perhaps because in the fifteenth century the line of Dinefwr was re-united with the House of Deheubarth when Thomas ap Gruffydd, married Elizabeth ferch John Gruffydd, descendant of The Lord Rhys. Their son Sir Rhys ap Thomas raised an army in support of Henry Tudor and is said to have been the man who killed Richard III at Bosworth. Though Sir Rhys’ grandson, yet another Rhys ap Gruffydd, was said to have been plotting with the Scots to make himself Prince of Wales, and executed for treason in 1531. Another route to confusion might be the fact that The Lord Rhys may have called Cardigan Castle home but he held many other castles, including Dinefwr.

Ravens display

So who might be responsible for this appalling mistake, this insult to heraldry, this marketing exercise masquerading as history?  From enquiries I have made the mistake seems to be a few years old, and the recently retired trustee Glen Johnson, who doubles as the local historian, denies any hand in the choosing of the coat of arms. The suspicion grows that certain persons who have been mentioned in this blog many times may be responsible.

Perhaps this awful mistake should serve as a salutary warning against relying on Wikipedia, where the entry for Yr Arglwydd Rhys makes the same mistake with regard to the coat of arms. The Wikipedia entry was updated as recently as Monday last week, August 24th, by someone called Dudley Miles, who lives in Finchley, London, and whose interests are Anglo-Saxon history and nature reserves!

The thing to remember about Wikipedia is that it’s a simple matter for anyone who has an account to sign into a page and make changes. If you go to the page for Rhys ap Gruffydd and look at the small tabs on the top you’ll see one that reads ‘edit’ and another ‘view history’. Click on the latter and you’ll find a number of pages listing changes; some of these are editing or removing what someone else has written and there is even talk of “vandalism”.

So when it comes to the coat of arms for Rhys ap Gruffydd, The Lord Rhys, we can either follow the ever-changing and consequently unreliable Wikipedia, or we can accept the description of the Wales Herald of Arms Extraordinary. The decision should be an easy one.

The inescapable conclusion is that the three ravens being used by Cardigan Castle are in no way connected with The Lord Rhys. They belong to the family of the later Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd.

*

Regular readers will recall the curious business of how trustee Sue ‘English!’ Lewis, acolyte to Lady Tucker, was appointed to the newly-created post of Facilities Officer very soon after losing her job as editor of the Tivy-Side Advertiser, and how the job was only advertised online, between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. The post was obviously created for Sue Lewis, and ‘advertised’ in the hope that no one else would notice.

Despite this plan of Baldrick-like cunning there were other applicants, one of whom – possibly others – were better qualified than Sue Lewis. This quandary was surmounted with the bizarre decision to Sue 'English!' Lewisappoint what appeared to be two Facilities Officers, Sue Lewis and Carys Ifan. Though I have heard that as the year progressed Carys Ifan became the Events Co-ordinator while Sue Lewis moved on to become Acting Director, taking over the role vacated by the recently sacked and gagging clause-bound Cris Tomos. Maybe Cris Tomos was given the elbow to resolve the absurdity of having two Facilities Officers. Who knows what goes on at Cardigan Castle.

Either way, Carys Ifan has now handed in her resignation. She joins Cris Tomos and others who have left such as Rhian Medi Jones, who was the Education Officer at the Castle until the ‘reorganisation’ towards the end of last year which removed a number of posts as the excuse to create the job for Sue ‘English!’ Lewis. It may be coincidental, but almost all those who have been eased out or made to feel unwelcome by the Gang of Four are locals, with roots in the area. (I had to be careful how I phrased that lest I gave ammunition to Phil Parry at Wales Eye, for whom sacking people for being Welsh would not be racist, but complaining about it would!)

No doubt the advertisement for the post of Facilities Officer will appear in the Belgrade Evening News next week, one night only, next to the ads for chiropody services. And of course in Cyrillic.

*

Another curious and suspect practice by the controlling clique is to approach dissidents secretly and individually to offer private meetings with Jonathan ‘Joff’ Timms who acts as secretary and front man for the Gang of Four, even though he lives over three hundred miles away in Kent. It is never promised that Lady Tucker or any member of her immediate entourage will be in attendance at these secret meetings, just Timms and perhaps one of the more ‘pliable’ trustees.

Seeing as all advances have thus far (to my knowledge) been rejected by dissidents unless Lady Tucker attends it’s difficult to know what Timms hopes to achieve by these meetings. Are they attempts to intimidate opponents? Attempts to win them over? Attempts to sow discord among the opponents of the current regime? Or a combination of all these? Maybe the set up will be ‘good cop, bad cop’, with Timms playing Mr Nasty and someone else pretending to hold him back as he polishes the brass knuckles.

As yet I have not been approached. But I am a man of principle and honour . . . consequently my silence will not come cheap.

*

The more I look at the Gang of Four + Timms the more I am reminded of those wise words spoken by Benjamin Franklin in 1776, just after he and the other Founding Fathers had signed the Declaration of Independence. He said, “Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately”. What he meant was that the breakaway colonists’ best hope of avoiding the noose was to stick together and see it through.

It may strike some as an odd analogy to make, but I see La Tucker and her cronies in a similar position. People are deserting them, their position becomes ever more exposed and isolated, and their only hope of survival is to stick together and brazen it out. Not least because while they remain in charge they have control of the records and other evidence of the way the Castle has been mismanaged these past few years, and its original mission subverted. Were they to be removed then those records – unless they went ‘missing’ – would become available to the new trustees.

The real concern now for those with the best interests of Cardigan Castle at heart should be that those whose job it was to independently monitor this project have either been negligent or else have fallen under Lady Tucker’s spell. To the point where the Heritage Lottery Fund, CADW and the ‘Welsh’ Government may have a vested interest in seeing the status quo maintained to avoid an even worse scandal than we see now. If so, then this is a short-sighted policy that  can only result in the failure of this £12m project.

*

September 10th sees the Annual General Meeting of the Cadwgan Building Trust that runs the Castle, and even though 80-year-old Lady Tucker is standing down (to comply with the rotation system), she is expected to be immediately re-elected by her gang. In fact, she has already been nominated for re-election by Glen Johnson who, you will recall from my previous post, stood down from his role as trustee due to online ‘persecution’. Yet here he is still involving himself, still doing the bidding of Lady Tucker, and if that wasn’t enough, he’s also allowed himself to be sweet-talked into serving as a ‘Patron’. He will also remain a guide. Some ‘resignation’ that was, Glen! Read it all here in the AGM agenda.

An outcome acceptable to the Gang has been assured by barring critics from joining, and attending the AGM. I have seen one very recent e-mail from ‘Joff’ Timms to someone who applied to become a member of the Cadwgan Trust. Timms wrote: “In the light of your well publicised criticisms of the trust, the trustees have asked Cllr —— —– and me to try to arrange to meet you to discuss ways in which you would be willing to support the trust in realising its objects. Following this meeting, Cllr —– and I would make a recommendation to the trustees about whether your application should be approved.”

In other words, ‘Submit, in advance, to the will of Lady Tucker and her cohorts or you will not be allowed to play any role in the running of Castell Aberteifi’. This way of doing things is comparable to a ruling junta in a third world country allowing ‘elections’, but restricting those elections to candidates who agree with the junta! And just in case any dissident sneaks through the screening process, there is a short and strict AGM agenda with “Any other business at the discretion of the chairman”. The chairman is presumably Timms, so if someone wants to raise an issue embarrassing to the regime he will refuse to allow it to be debated. This is what passes for democracy in Cardigan Castle – Joe Stalin would have approved!

Listen, Joff, or whatever your name is, this AGM should not be about maintaining your friend Jann Tucker and her gang in power; membership and participation should be open to everyone with the best interests of the Castle, the town and the wider area at heart. You are damaging the whole £12m project by reducing it to nothing more than a desperate struggle by you and your friends to stay in power against mounting opposition.

And who are you, anyway? You, living in Kent, with no known connections to Aberteifi; who are you to sit in judgement and decide which locals are allowed to serve their Castle? Who the hell are you to turn away people whose ancestors perhaps knew The Lord Rhys, and could have told your women friends that there are no bloody ravens in his coat of arms? Time is surely running out for you, them, and the hangers-on.

Mar 242014
 

I had intended writing something similar to this post a while back, when I heard that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) was launching a new campaign. For those who’ve missed it; the ‘campaign’ has started, but seems to consist of nothing more than small groups chaining themselves to the gates of out-of-the-way governmCyIGent buildings where the chainees are ignored, by the media and just about everyone else. As campaigns go, this exercise in futility is going nowhere.

Having originally decided that CyI and the non-campaign wasn’t worth the effort of a post, I have changed my mind over the past few days for reasons alluded to in the title. The bigotry is that exhibited by the sad git working in some Cardiff shop, who said on Facebook, “I love wales and it’s beauty, but the welsh language gets right on my fucking nerves. Two girls in the shop at the moment speaking to each other in welsh. I’ve had to turn bobby womack up to 8”. As the piece in Daily Wales, and the comments it attracted show, there were attempts to explain or laugh off the outburst. One comment even tried to justify the bigotry by claiming that Welsh is not a “mellifluous” language. In which case, neither is German, or Russian, or countless other languages. While on the other hand, French is very ‘mellifluous’, but that never stops those who share Shop Boy’s anglo-insular views from detesting Johnny Frog and everything about him and his culture.

So, we start with a clear and indefensible case of bigotry, which should have been followed by apologies all round, apologies accepted, end of story. But, no; for this morning, the radio station misrepresenting itself as BBC Wales put out a phone-in programme asking why so many people are upset by the sound of the Welsh language. (AvailaOliver Hidesble here.) Note that the ground of the debate has now shifted significantly. In less than forty-eight hours it has become an established fact that the sound of the Welsh language is irritating; and this elevates Shop Boy to the status of martyr, standing up to tyranny on behalf of the silent majority!

Proving yet again that whatever independence the BBC once had is long gone. What’s more worrying is that the Beeb isn’t even being run by Tory central office, it’s being run by the intelligence services. Alex Salmond has a lot to answer for. Keep it up, Eck!

I wasn’t able to hear the whole show but one woman I did hear made cogent points about expenditure on the Welsh language. Which I think is where language campaigners have got it very badly wrong. It boils down to psychology. Put yourself in the position of someone who does not speak Welsh, is not hostile towards the language, but one day – maybe low on funds – has a revelatory moment when he receives his bilingual council tax demand or electricity bill, and says to himself, ‘How much am I paying to have my bill translated and printed into a language I don’t understand?’ At that point he switches from ambivalence towards the Welsh language to hostility. And there are hundreds of thousands like him. And it’s all so unnecessary.

It happens because CyI has, for decades, pursued the strategy of recognition and visibility. In essence, this demands – in addition to pointless tokenism – that the Welsh language must have equal legal status with English, and must be seen and heard, everywhere in Wales on a par with English. Which is fine . . . up to a point. That point being that Gwynedd is not Gwent, Maenchlochog is not Manorbier. While the most virulent bigot living in Gwynedd cannot reasonably object to expenditure on a language he hears spoken all around him, no one should be surprised when an otherwise proudly Welsh anglophone in Abergavenny questions similar spending in his area. Without I hope sounding like an Adferwr I think we have to accept these differences.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s refusal to accept them has had two consequences. First, comprehensive bilingualism, across the country, in every aspect of life, does not establish a bilingual country – it just pisses off too many people unnecessarily, few of them bigots. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, by quixotically pursuing this policy of national bilingualism Cymdeithas has left Y Fro Gymraeg undefended, and seriously damaged the language’s chances of survival.

For where was Cymdeithas yr Iaith a few years ago when Tesco opened its new store in Porthmadog and shipped in an English workforce of over 100? And what of the other retail chains and businesses doing the same thing in Gwynedd and other Welsh-speaking areas? Are we to believe that this doesn’t affect people’s ability to use their mother tongue in their everyday lives? That this doesn’t deprive Welsh speakers of jobs in their own communities? How can anyone argue that the survival of the language is better ensured by demanding ‘Talu Yma’ signs in Cardiff stores, or insisting that the proceedings of Merthyr council’s sub-committee on rat infestation are published bilingually? This begins to sound less like a strategy to save one of Europe’s oldest languages and more like job creation for those CyIG members and former members with translation businesses.

And don’t answer me with the old nonsense about ‘dividing’ Wales along language lines. Wales was already divided, and enforced bilingualism across the board is only exacerbating the problem. Worse, by turning people against the language you risk turning them against all things Welsh and losing them entirely. (Plaid Cymru being a good example.) To the point where a cynic – no, not me – could argue that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has, over the past thirty-odd years, failed miserably at what it claimed to be doing, yet has successfully queered the pitch for many others.

What is needed is a strategy to, firstly, defend what remains of Y Fro Gymraeg. Then take the fight outside of the heartland to those who want it. For example, by getting involved in any struggle for Welsh language education; or any fight against the overdevelopment of a community where the language is still relevant. Finally, reach ouCyIG 2t beyond these areas and groups to those who identify with Wales and are proud to be Welsh, make them see the language, not as a threat, or a waste of their money, but as a vital and desirable part of our shared heritage.

From now on, campaigners for the language need to be more realistic in their ambitions, they need to understand contemporary Wales better (perhaps by moving outside their own circles a bit more), and they need to be a lot more hard edged in their approach. Forget the idiots on radio phone-ins, they are not the real enemy, they are just ammunition for the enemy. The real enemy is those you hope to persuade with the reasonableness of your demands, the virtue of your case. Those who smile and sound sympathetic but are not the reasonable and fair-minded people you want (and they want you) to believe they are.

That is because every survey ever conducted has shown that Welsh speakers are more likely to want greater devolution and independence than English speakers. That being so, only a simpleton would believe that the UK government (or its civil servants who run Wales) will allow – let alone welcome – an increase in the numbers and percentages of Welsh speakers; or think that an anti-Welsh Labour Party down Cardiff docks – knowing that Welsh speakers are less likely to vote Labour – harbours anything but ill-will towards the language and those who speak it.

Understand that the UK Government, the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party, and many, many others have a vested interest in seeing the Welsh language dead. With a nice headstone erected . . . in Welsh, of course. (Translation available from the nice English lady at the desk, her with the CADW badge.)