Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meet the Readers

Minding my own business in Builth High Street , a reader sidles up and tells me the blog has got too political, too much Wcrain.
"You need more Radnorshire stuff" I'm advised. 
"What do you suggest?"
"How about the Radnorshire Cobdens?"

The friendly critic soon filled-me-in on the exploits of one Frank Cobden in the 1870 Varsity cricket match.  Oxford needed three runs to win with three wickets in hand when Cobden stepped-up and took his famous hat-trick.  If it happened today you'd suspect the involvement of far-eastern bookmakers.  Instead they  called it Cobden's match and although he was an Englishman there was said to be some Radnorshire connection along the way.

Cobden turned up in Knighton at the end of the 1870s. Heir to a small fortune he rented The Cottage and took an interest in the market town's sporting activities, football and cricket.  An early initiative was to restart the county cricket side, something that came to pass in 1884 - partial records of the team which flourished until 1889, when Cobden moved away, can be found here.

Playing its games at Bryn-y-Castell in Knighton - the town organised an annual August Cricket week  - this reformed Radnorshire side was clearly dominated by a county elite educated in the virtues of the English public school.  The Evelyn brothers of Kinsham Court, one an Oxford cricket blue, another a Welsh soccer international, were prominent in the batting line-up.  We also find a host of Green-Prices from Norton Manor and the inevitable Cobden dominating the bowling.

With Cobden's departure from Radnorshire the county side folded.  The cricketer moved to Capel Curig, where he is remembered in the name of the Cobden Hotel, formerly Tan-y-Bwlch.  There's a photograph of him here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gladys and the Pipsqueaks

Now here's an interesting snippet of 20C history to ponder, the visit of the Chilean Communist leader Gladys Marin to East Germany in the aftermath of the Pinochet coup.  At that time Marin was busy organising "Solidarity with Chile" campaigns around the world;  later she would return to Chile to participate in the clandestine struggle against the dictatorship and - a telling point this - become the only woman ever to act as general secretary of a major Communist party.

I wonder what our Welsh socialist bloggers think of this?  No doubt many would have a great deal of sympathy with Gladys, a true working-class hero - as the hundreds of thousands who attended her funeral in Santiago in 2005 clearly testified.  But what about some of the others in the video, the well-groomed Erich Honecker perhaps, or Egon Krenz - so obviously enjoying rubbing shoulders with a revolutionary untainted by power?  Suddenly we see that sympathy draining away.  Socialism yes, but East Germany, heaven forbid.

For most of us East Germany is the Stasi and the Berlin Wall.  The likes of Honecker and Krenz may have been trying to build socialism - full employment, health care, educational opportunities, housing, the equality for women from which the scientist Angela Merkel so obviously benefited.  They also stretched out the hand of solidarity to oppressed peoples, hence the large number of Chilean exiles in the crowd.  These party apparatchiks awarded themselves special privileges, that's true, but hardly on the scale of our present day Western elites.  The Stasi?  It could be argued that East Germany was indeed subject to a great deal of CIA, MI6 and BND inspired sabotage and dirty tricks, not all their enemies were imaginary.  The Berlin Wall?  How do you subsidize basic foodstuffs without preventing cross-border exploitation of that cheap resource?  And if you create a wage structure that narrows the gap between the manual worker and the highly trained specialists, how do you keep those specialists at home?  How do you build a socialism that respects individual liberty in a world with very powerful forces intent on its destruction?

I'll leave that for the socialists to answer, but as the memory of countries like East Germany fades away and a younger generation emerges who never knew that any alternative to capitalism could exist, we need to be careful.  Already in certain EU countries it's a crime to deny that Communist persecutions were qualitatively different from those of the Nazis. You can get five years jail-time for propagating such a viewpoint in Lithuania for example.  Communism is equated with Nazism and demands are made at an EU level that the history taught in schools reflect this new reality.  Will the history of the South Wales Miners or our politicians favourite, the International Brigade fall foul of these diktats?

Honecker and Krenz may have been responsible for their fair share of human misery but surely less than Clinton, Bush and Obama.  Less even than America's little British puppets.  Compared to the likes of the brazen cleptocrats currently destroying both Main Street and democracy, their crimes were smaller-beer, their virtues greater. Compared to them I say Hurrah for the Pipsqueaks!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Radnorshire Crusade

English and American film-makers regularly revisit the old Robin Hood legend which, I'd say, provides most of us with our initial impression of the crusades.  A bearded chap in chain-mail with a white apron and a red cross - why you can still see them supporting the England team at football matches.  Dig a little deeper and we come across oddities like the children's crusade or the noble Saracen warrior Saladin.

Radnorians who've read Gerald de Barri's Itinerary will be aware of the Archbishop of Canterbury preaching the Third Crusade in New Radnor in 1188.  Two local princes Einion ab Einion Clud of Elfael and Maelgwn ap Cadwallon of Maelienydd initially signed-up for a bit of action, although they eventually had the good sense to keep out of Middle-Eastern politics and concentrate on matters closer to hand.

Being something of a teenage fan of Anglo-Irish poetry and knowing the Young Irelander Thomas Davis's poem The Sack of Baltimore, I was well aware of the Barbary slave raids of the 16C and 17C.  I might even have known that Lundy was occupied by Ottoman pirates for five years in the 1620s.  Being a long way from the coast these depredations would hardly have bothered stay-at-home Radnorians.  What I was totally unaware of, until reading Mr Faraday's book (see previous post), was Henry VIII's proposed crusade of 1543.  No, that had certainly escaped attention.

A benefit of the Act of Union was that Radnorshire was now able to fully engage in England's overseas adventures, one such being fat Henry's proposal to launch a crusade against the Turkish Sultan, Sulieman the Magnificent.  The first priority was to raise cash to finance the war, local clergy were required to preach the crusade for six weeks and encourage their flocks to contribute.  This was a voluntary tax, a bit like those paid nowadays by trendy American companies operating in the UK, the "pay what you can, we won't press too hard" deal.

A total of £8 15s 8d was collected from the thrifty Radnorshire parishioners, ranging from the 6s 5d collected in Presteigne down to Llanelwedd, who managed a parsimonious 4d.  The crusade, of course, never came off, although London probably put the Radnorshire contribution to good use.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Three Books and an Opinion

Anyone interested in Radnorshire history could do worse than pick up a copy of Mr Faraday's Radnorshire Taxes in the Reign of Henry VIII.  A large format, 220 page book, it's a much expanded update of articles originally published in the county's Transactions.  The book includes around 40 pages of explanatory text but in the main consists of transcriptions of over 5000 personal names, arranged by parish, together with assessments of their wealth - all taken from the surviving public records.

I've blogged about this diligent work - the raw meat of history rather than someone's interpretation  - before and produced this map showing how traditional Welsh patronyms reigned supreme in the new county at the time of the Acts of Union.

There's so much to learn from records such as this - the great extent to which traditional Celtic female names survived to give just one example - Gwenllian, Angharad, Tanglust, Goleu, Gwenhwyfar etc. as well as Cymricised versions of French and English names such as Lleucu, Mallt, Dyddgu and so on.

Mr Faraday's formidable index lists over 200 unique names which might be considered English style surnames.  This should be treated with caution.  Around a third are either Welsh adjectival descriptions Tew, Hire, Fain, Bendee etc. or patronyms where the "ap" or "vz" has been omitted.  For example David or John were never adopted as surnames in Radnorshire, as they were in parts of South Wales.  Likewise none of the adjectival names developed into surnames in Radnorshire, although they certainly did over the border in Herefordshire and Shropshire.  Those great modern-day Welsh "tribes" the Joneses and the Davieses had hardly started to emerge in mid 16th century Radnorshire - just three examples of each.  Eventually they would make up a fifth of the county's population.

In his book on Ludlow Mr Faraday has pointed out that occupational surnames often masked a Welshman and this is likely to be the case in Radnorshire as well. The index has 15 Taylors, for example, but the majority have wholly Welsh forenames Llywelyn, Owen, Morgan, Griffith etc.  Turning to the Presteigne area, where English style surnames are common, we also need to be careful on assigning ethnicity - Morgan Elvell for instance is the Welsh language bard Morgan Elfael.  Local farm names also gave rise to surnames, some of which have survived to the present day:  Bilmore, Blackbatch, Hergest, Impton, Hoddall, Stones, Slough, Treyloe etc.

Another book I purchased this week was Richard Wyn Jones's The Fascist Party in Wales?  I'd already managed to read the Welsh language version published last year but got this version for reasons of vanity - I'm mentioned in a footnote!   An excellent refutation of malicious accusations, we still await an academic work on the real fascism in 1930s Wales as opposed to Labour's imaginary version.  One figure such a study should include would be the eisteddfodwr Leigh Vaughan Henry, see here.

The third book on my list has just arrived via the postman, the newly published 800 page paperback version of Mr Charles-Edwards' Wales and the Britons 350-1064.  The latest in the Oxford University Press series The History of Wales,  at £90 the hardback version was too expensive for me.  Having purchased the first in the series, Kenneth Morgan's Rebirth of a Nation,  as long ago as 1982, the wait for this latest paperback to eventually emerge wasn't too arduous.

Lastly an opinion.  We have no idea who, if anyone, shot down MH17. There seem to be three main suspects and, accidents aside, only one of them had the means, motive and opportunity.  Having largely ignored the burnings in Odessa and the killing of numerous civilians by outrageous aerial and ground bombardments of residential areas, our media is now ablaze with self-righteous indignation.  Even more than the people of Gaza the humble folk of Donetsk and Lugansk are "unpeople" in mainstream eyes. We should remember amidst all this clamour that we are dealing with forces which could easily stumble into nuclear conflagration.  We need to think about that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"She is just a child and yet still you piss yourselves!"

I'm guessing that the US State Department were quite pleased with Brazil's humiliating defeat in the recent football tournament.  They'll kid themselves that it will help hasten the day when a US-friendly government gets back into power.

One of the problems of being old is that things you know to be true - since you were alive at the time - are largely unknown to many of the new generation.  The murderous, CIA backed regimes in Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Central America fade into history and the narrative of a maybe naive but essentially decent American liberal interventionism takes its place. 

So here we have a young Dilma Rousseff seemingly pictured before a military court after suffering torture at the hands of the CIA trained junta. Meanwhile her judges hide their faces from posterity.

I can't say I know a great deal about the current situation in Brazil and no doubt there are valid criticisms to be made of her government.  At the same time the money-men from the US will be spreading their largess to ensure that Dilma loses the upcoming elections.  There will be concerned pieces in the "liberal" western media about conditions in the favelas and resources wasted on grandiose projects like the World Cup and the Olympics.  What they really mean is that Dilma, along with the other BRICS nations, is challenging the hegemony of the US dollar-racket.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Musical Interlude

With the Washington elite drunk on the idea of American exceptionalism and Brussels trumpeting the supremacy of "european values" - whatever they may be - it's no surprise to find Russian nationalism on the upsurge.  Dangerous times. These Russians, like Gwynfor in the olden days, are much taken with the idea of Romanitas*. For them Moscow is the third Rome.

On some PCs the subtitled captions have to be switched on.

*  For younger readers Romanitas isn't a third sector charity, although it sounds like one.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

No Turning Back

What are these "european values" we hear so much about from Brussels?  In these sniffy, politically correct times it's a wonder that the term hasn't been deemed slightly racist.  I don't suppose they mean the values of Hitler, Mussolini, Petain, Franco or any other of the rogues who ruled much of the continent within living memory.  And yes we know all about democracy, the rule of law and a few other virtues like social-solidarity which are said to differentiate Europe from that other portion of apple-pie - "american values."

The thing is these are just fine words, what about "european values" in action?  In Ukraine they seem to consist of forcefully overthrowing a corrupt but democratically elected government, installing real fascists in important ministries and launching a campaign of aerial and ground bombardment against mainly civilian targets in those oblasts where a desire for federalism or separation is damned as terrorism.  All of this largely ignored or misrepresented by the bulk of the mainstream media.

One of the big arguments the upholders of "european values" make is that Yanukovich was deposed constitutionally by a vote in the Ukrainian parliament.  Yes, many deputies had fled for their lives but there was still a clear majority on Feb 22nd to impeach Yanukovich, 328-0.  Really?  Well here's an account of how the Rada was operating at the time courtesy of James Mates of ITN.  European values you see.

But let's not get stuck in the past, let's talk about the here and now and in particular the Novorossiyan military leader "Strelkov" and his similarity to earlier historical figures, such as Patrick Pearse and the Italian Gabriele D'Annunzio.  Just as Pearse was described in the contemporary British press as a German agent so "Strelkov" is believed to be the tool of Moscow.  There is precious little evidence for this and if he is then they have given him little support. Putin's primary aim, after the annexation of the far more strategically important Crimean peninsula, has been to avoid falling into the trap of invading the east of Ukraine, something that the US would use as an excuse for a new Cold War.

Like Pearse and D'Annunzio "Strelkov" seems to be more a romantic nationalist, a literary figure and a participant in historical re-enactments with a web presence that any self-respecting agent would avoid.  Likewise most of the weaponry he commands seems to be captured from the Ukrainians rather than supplied by the Russian government.  Stories of massive Russian involvement is denied by honest Western journalists such as Mark Franchetti of the Sunday Times, much to the confusion of a Ukrainian TV audience, see here.  And yes this is an edited version on a pro-Russian channel but I can't find another subtitled version.

As it happens I'm not a huge fan of Irish Republicanism and there are times when I agree with those who say that the 1916 Dublin uprising was unnecessary, something of an ego-trip on the part of its leaders, kicking at a door that was already open.  Sometimes I might even agree that it inspired an unhealthy cult of death which has had a negative influence on subsequent Irish history.

Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that the uprising and its aftermath had profound outcomes - it destroyed constitutional nationalism, led to a successful armed struggle against the British state and, perhaps most importantly of all, served as an example to all the oppressed peoples of the Empire.  In a way the collapse of the British Empire began on the streets of Dublin in 1916.  Meanwhile D'Annunzio tried, in the aftermath of the First World War, to set-up a league of  oppressed nations, he wanted to arm the IRA for example.  One wonders if Wales was considered a suitable candidate, it's doubtful.

After his remarkable defence and breakout from Slavyansk "Strelkov" is bringing some order to the military situation in Donetsk - the Merthyr Tydfil fathered offspring city of Hughesovka.  It's possible that a great battle will be fought here, another Grozny perhaps.  Will an unmotivated Ukrainian infantry collapse when it has to engage in a close-quarters war? Will Putin bow to Russian public opinion and really intervene in the aftermath of heavy civilian casualties or will the rebels fade away in the face of massive firepower?

It's difficult to imagine a united Ukraine emerging out of this mess.  The Kiev authorities have killed too many innocent civilians. You surely can't shell your own cities and expect them to remain loyal - there can be turning back.  Some Ukrainian nationalists dream of a Greater Ukraine stretching from the Kuban to the Carpathians.  It's more likely that they will be left with a much reduced Central European rump state, another Slovakia.  Great geo-political issues may be decided here, a multi-polar world or the continuation of the American dollar hegemony.  A Europe of nations rather than "the values" of an elite that accept the slaughter of civilians with a shrug.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

A 10 minute Stroll through a Village

I remember a television programme, years ago, highlighting the poverty to be found in rural Eastern Europe; poor folk who didn't have electricity or even mains water.  I suppose it was meant to show the failings of "actually existing socialism" although for me it was just a reminder of my Radnorshire childhood.  We certainly had running water - only recently mind and there were still standpipes for those not yet connected, while the old folk still talked with affection about Shinkin's well.  Electricity came later and I was already listening to Bob Dylan by the time we were connected to the sewage system.

So the devastated villages of Eastern Ukraine have something of a nostalgic feel for me, the unadopted roads, the outside toilets, sheds built with no input from planning authorities and gardens full of vegetables - we didn't have lawns or much space for flowerbeds either.  

The BBC and the mainstream media ignore the on-going war.  It doesn't fit their NATO/US State Dept dominated narrative.  Whoever heard of displacing rebels from populated areas with long-range artillery and fighter-bombers?  The familiar American lie "we bombed them to liberate them."  I suppose I could have picked a far more gruesome video to make a point. So many of the victims are old folk, pensioners, obviously lacking the necessary agility to seek shelter when the bombs fall..

In my opinion America is desperate to provoke a large-scale Russian intervention, they will sabotage any attempt to avert a new Cold War, which is the only hope of salvaging their busted economy.  The Kiev regime is still dominated by the blood nationalists and fascists of Western Ukraine, only too happy to ethnically cleanse Ukraine of its Russian speakers.  Europe, especially Germany, must decide if it wants to pursue an independent foreign policy or follow the usual Washington line. Interesting times, although you wouldn't know it if you followed the mainstream.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fugitive Ireland

When I was a young lad a neighbour gave me a box of magazines,  published during the Second World War, called Hutchinsons Pictorial History of the War.  It was interesting to note how the magazine's appearance changed as paper shortages hit.  The number of pages in each issue diminished and the quality of the paper fell by a few notches.

Since there was not a great deal happening during the Phony War quite a lot of the stories and photographs featured the struggle of the gallant Finns - which I guess they were - against the Red Army.  Of course by the summer of 1941 all that had changed and Finland was an ally of Nazi Germany and an enemy of our equally gallant Soviet allies.  It was an early lesson in the pitfalls of seeing the world in black and white.

Of course shades of grey don't apply to the London media who regularly trot out the fact that De Valera signed a condolence book, at the German Embassy, when Hitler did the decent thing in 1945.  Such viewpoints ignore the close co-operation between Irish and British intelligence - the Americans were less forgiving - and the  50000 or so citizens of the Free State who served with the Allied forces.  At the same time support for Germany was widespread  amongst the population,  both as a result of anti-Britishness and right-wing Catholic prejudices against Communists and Jews.

This is the background against which this book - I picked it up for a song from an Irish bookshop -  was written.  In the main it tells the story of the fugitives from post-War Europe who found a safe haven in Ireland.

Of  course my main interest lay in the story of the support given by Welsh Nationalists to Bretons fleeing from the victors' justice of the French state.   For the Welsh such support was seen as an example of Celtic solidarity.  In Ireland, where many Bretons ended up after being spirited through Wales, such romantic niceties cut little ice.  It's the Australian author's view that Catholic solidarity lay behind the sanctuary given both to the Bretons and some dubious characters from Flanders and Croatia  - in particular the "Butcher of the Balkans" Andrija Artukovic.

All this can still raise passions or in the case of the Welsh government Heritage minister, Huw Lewis, perhaps a better word would be bluster.  At the end of 2011 he attacked the National Library for accepting a £300K legacy from the recently deceased Breton fugitive Louis Feutren.  Feutren was indeed a Nazi collaborator but then the German regime in Brittany had  been more "liberal" towards Breton culture than French governments before or since.  Unlike many in Eastern Europe - for example - the Bretons, even the handful who took up arms, were not eager participants in genocide and the slaughters aimed at the ethnic cleansing of close neighbours.  Never mind the Nazi slur has been a stick with which to beat the Breton separatists ever since.  Feutren's £300K was doubtless earned at the expense of generations of Dublin schoolboys rather than the spoils of war.

For Welsh nationalists to have taken-up such an unpopular cause as aiding these Bretons on-the-run in the aftermath of the Great European War seems to me to have been a laudable page in the history of the movement.  Would such selfless and politically incorrect actions come easily to the present generation and imagine the twitter storm if they did?
Andrija Artukovic
Andrija Artukovic

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Songs of the Minorities

Are the Rusyns of the Carpathian mountains a people?  The Slovaks and Hungarians think so, the Ukrainians don't.  That's the problem with a language continuum like East Slavonic, where you draw the line between a dialect and a language is essentially a political decision.  As they say a language is a dialect with an army and likewise if Scotland had remained an independent country, the guid Scots tongue might have developed as a distinct language of government.

According to the Ukrainian census there are 10000 Rusyns in the country, however, like the Welsh in 2001, this census did not make provision for such an identity.  Others claim that there are more like 500000.  No doubt many of these unrecorded Rusyns would identify themselves as Ukrainian, but others don't - they campaign for basic language rights against a disdainful Kiev.

The turnout figures for Transcarpathia in the recent Ukrainian presidential election are interesting. In parts of Transcarpathia this fell below 40% whereas in neighbouring Galicia it was often more than 80%.  This may be due to abstentionism on the part of the Hungarian minority but perhaps Rusyn identity played a part as well.