- Gwyn A.Williams
Mrs.GOS and I spent a week or so in Wales recently, visiting family. It really is a ridiculously beautiful country, and the Welsh have looked after it so well. Even the bits they've "spoiled", like the slate-quarries of Snowdonia, have a fascinating grandeur. Probably the most "spoiled" town is Blaenau Ffestiniog, and that has an extraordinary landscape quite unlike anything in the rest of the British Isles.
Quite a remarkable people, the Welsh. Everyone knows that the Scots make strenuous efforts to rule the world, exporting doctors and engineers and administrators to every far-flung corner of the globe, flooding parliament with Labour MPs, inventing the Edinburgh Festival to try and fool us into thinking that they're really a cultured lot who'd never stoop to a deep-fried Mars bar. The Welsh do things more quietly, on the other hand, but in their unassuming way they've been just as successful. They invented whisky and most corn-based liquors. Thirty percent of all UK volunteers in World War I were Welsh. The world's first co-operative was started by a Welshman. Eleven American presidents have had Welsh blood, and eighteen people of Welsh descent were signatories to the Declaration of Independence. Las Vegas was founded by Welsh Mormons, and Mount Everest was named after a Welshman, Sir George Everest from Crickhowell, who was Surveyor-General of India in 1865.
And it was the Welsh who perpetrated the biggest con-trick of all: they invented themselves. Don't just take my word for it - listen to Gwyn A.Williams writing in "When was Wales?" …
"This is the first point to grasp about the history of this people. Wales is impossible. A country called Wales exists only because the Welsh invented it. The Welsh exist only because they invented themselves. They had no choice ... men and women make their own history. But they do not make it in circumstances chosen by them ..."
In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries these sensible people had a good look at the English and decided they didn't want to be like that. What they needed was some customs and traditions the English didn't have - so they made them up! The gorseddau or bardic tradition was largely the creation of two ministers of the Unitarian church, Edward Evan and Edward Williams. Not only did they invent the tradition, basing it on old stories and poems, but they declared that they themselves were the last surviving Celtic bards. The tradition of the Eisteddford, with its supposed links to the ancient druids, dates from around the same time when after the Napoleonic Wars people were allowed to gather together in large numbers once again. Once again, don't take my word for it - read here.
The same applies to the traditional Welsh costume, which appears to have been the brainchild of land-owner Lady Llanover. She was a talented publicist who aimed to popularise and support the native woollen industry. She built a woollen mill in the grounds of Llanover House and made her estate workers, tenants and guests wear a "uniform" based on her ideas of national dress. It was not universally popular - her maids apparently changed at the first opportunity when they left the estate!
Dr.Iorwerth C. Peate writes "It is necessary to understand that there was nothing especially Welsh in this dress. The same was as familiar throughout England", and a spokesman for the Museum of Welsh life added "the popular image of a woman in red cloak and black hat is one which has developed as a result of various influences which arose in the nineteenth century. Wearing a costume enabled people to declare their national identity in a period when it was under threat."
And what, you may be wondering, gave rise to this surge of scepticism in the Grumpy breast? It was the sight of a sign fixed to the wall of an alley in a small Welsh town, bearing the legend "No cycling - DIM BEICIO".
"Dim beicio?" we thought, "they cannot be serious!" But they were. Just where we'd left the Grumpymobile was a sign saying "Dim parcio". Once we'd noticed that, there was no stopping us. A chapel is "capel". The Chapel of Zion is "Capel Seion", and a new chapel is "Capel Newydd".
Windows are "ffenestri", just like fenętres (French) and fenestrae (Latin). A church is "eglwys", like église in French. A castle is "castell" and a shallow valley or coombe is "cwm". A bridge is "pont" (more French, you see).
After that it just gets silly. A cupboard is "cwpwrdd", your garage is "garej", the car you keep in it is "car", and when it breaks down you have to take the "bws". To while away the journey you'll probably read a "bwcio", and no doubt you'll be wearing "trowsus" or a "sgert" although you probably won't have a "ffured" (ferret) in your pocket.
So there you have it - the whole Welsh thing is a gigantic hoax. There's no such place as Wales, and most Welsh people are probably French. As the song says from Bugsy Malone, "We could have been anything we wanted to be". They're aren't totally clever, though. They could have imagined themselves onto the French Riviera, but instead they invented rain.
The GOS says: Naturally enough we engaged in an extensive programme of research and consultation in the preparation of this page, and in the process came across something we feel you should all take very seriously.
It's on a website called The Register, and it's a scholarly discussion on the velocity of a sheep in a vacuum.
Wonderful thing, education.
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
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