Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Matters Arising

I was expecting more online interest in Simon Brooks' new book Pam Na Fu Cymru; perhaps there was some confusion as to whether the book should be treated as an academic essay or a political polemic, or perhaps like me some readers just struggled with the vocabulary.

Mr Brooks poses the question why isn't Wales a Welsh speaking country and why isn't it independent.  Looking back to 1850 he points out that we were then in a stronger position, linguistically and culturally, than some present day independent European states, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe.  The failure to develop a successful national movement is laid at the door of 19C Welsh liberalism and the subsequent 20C radical movements in particular the Labour Party - a radicalism that puts wider interests ahead of those of its own community.  I suppose you could say that Wales is a conservative country whose intelligentsia pretend to be radical and that pretence holds us back.

I don't disagree with this analysis, indeed it was true of the Civil War and the earlier stripping of the altars.  The English are the radical iconoclasts and the Welsh are the conservative traditionalists and the failure to recognize this fact accounts for the present day failure of our national movement to make an impact.

I'm not going to comment directly about the book but rather note down some points that crossed my mind, especially regarding Radnorshire, which arose from an initial reading.

Borderlands

There's a trend in modern history which sees the study of the borderland or periphery as being particularly useful in understanding processes affecting the heartland, I was reminded of this frequently while reading SB's book.  Radnorshire history receives little attention and yet it surely has something to offer in understanding the broader picture.

SB points out that in 1850 Welsh was the language of some 90% of the people, with English monoglotism found mainly in the long established "Englishries" of Gower and South Pembrokeshire; the more recent advance of Welsh into the Vale of Glamorgan being a reminder that language shift doesn't have to be all one way.   In Radnorshire however the language was already in retreat.  In 1827 a report discusing the dialect of the Llandrindod district stated that the language had retreated 20 miles in living memory, this ties in with reports that in New Radnor there was nothing but Welsh in 1742 or that in 1744 there was little English between Bleddfa and Llanfihangel Rhydieithon.

Here's Jonathan Williams writing in the early 19C to explain the process of language shift in Bugeildy, a border parish on the river Teme - the 17th longest river in the UK which flows 81 miles into the heart of England to join the Severn below Worcester:

"An increased intercourse with England, a more general interchange of the commodities and produce of these two countries respectively, and, above all, the introduction of that jurisprudence with which the inhabitants of Wales found it necessary to be familiarized, as well as the diction in which all legal pleadings, deeds, conveyances, processes, &c., are executed, soon undermined that predilection for their mother tongue which was before their distinguishing character, and rendered the study and acquisition of the English language necessary, not only as an accomplishment, but also as a matter of indispensable interest." 

This statement suggests two important facts, firstly that bilingualism and subsequently language shift are made possible by everyday contact with the English language.  This was possible in eastern Radnorshire in a way that was impossible for the common folk in counties further west.  Language shift was not then a matter of national sentiment but of opportunity.  Secondly the adoption of English was seen as a legal necessity.  Obviously this had been the case for the gentry class but why lower down the social scale? The support for Welsh that Mr Brooks notes amongst conservative landed circles surely had much to do with the language being seen as a barrier to the hoi polloi getting above themselves.  Yet in Radnorshire there was a tradition of the generality using the law, as here for example.  I put this down to a not unsizeable class of small landowners, descendants perhaps of the querulous manwyr noted in the 16C bardic poetry.

Physical Force

Another stick to beat 19C Radnorians, especially those in the west of the county was it's physical force tradition, exemplified by the open flouting of the fishery laws - here's an example - but also participation in the Toll gate riots, resistance to squatter evictions and action against landlords and shopkeepers, especially those newcomers who stepped on people's toes.  Even Ireland took note of the Radnorian example. It's interesting that these actions occurred in districts where language shift was proceeding apace with bilingualism allowing young couples to abandon the teaching Welsh to their children.  The more monoglot districts on the Irfon, by contrast, were far more peaceful.

Radnorshire was often slandered by Welsh non-conformity for its immorality and English tongue, so there is some satisfaction in SB's unmasking of this class as the sell-outs they appear to have been.

The relative success of UKIP in seats like Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent etc has revived something a prejudice against the inhabitants of what was once known as the  Black Domain.  The rural traditions of violent community action transplanted to the area in the form of the Scotch Cattle, the anti-Irish riots of the 19C and the Tredegar riots of the early 20C are condemned as, perhaps, proto-fascist in nature, harbingers of the 21C UKIP vote - oh well it's a theory.

Looking back to the 1960s you sometimes wonder if Cayo Evans was responsible for more advances than Gwynfor?  Certainly the threat of MAC - whose activists seem to have often been English speakers from the South East - must have been partly responsible for the abandonment of Labour's plan to build a new town of 60000 souls in Mid Wales.

So here we have another long-standing contradiction, a "radical" national intelligensia who wouldn't say boo to a goose - does no-one in Cardiff currently own a spade for example -  and who seek the approval of their betters across the border, contrasting with a more rough and ready tradition of essentially conservative reaction to unwelcome and unasked for change.

Landespatriotismus

Now here's a term I'd never heard before, seemingly the first stage in building a national movement.  Radnorshire had its fair share of such folk: William Probert of Painscastle - a translator of the Gododdin and Edward "Celtic" Davies* of Llanfaredd come to mind as does Ffransis Paine in more recent times.

I've never been a member of the Radnorshire Society but how its membership must have had their Anglo prejudices shaken in the years before and after the Second War by the articles of Mr Cole, detailing local wills with their numerous APs and VCHs.

Iorwerth Peate decribed Radnorshire as ""a deracine society, a people fallen between two stools, a community of half-things."  Perhaps that has been a common prejudice amongst Welsh speaking intellectuals, who have sometimes given the impression that this great chunk of  Central Wales should be handed over to the West Midlands.

Radnorshire's Welsh history has largely been recovered by Radnorians themselves, which is as it should be.  Does Wales consist of two indigenous communities - the English speaking Welsh and the bilingual Welsh?  Perhaps it does, although I like to think that it is one community, although at different stages of a single historical process.  If only that bilingual community were a little more aggressively Cymraeg in its outlook.

* It's interesting that the Dictionary of Welsh Biography says that Celtic Davies had an imperfect knowledge of Welsh, yet he grew-up on a farm just five miles from, and a generation before, the childhood home of  Carnhuanawc, although  on the opposite side of the Wye.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Hillbilly Nationalists*

"Simpering, self-serving, holier-than-thou bullshit" so says the heading of a sidebar on Jac's blog.  A pretty controversial statement in a Wales that seems to have more than its fair share of simpering, self-servers.

It was a very clever move for the elite to take over the original rainbow coalition idea in order to isolate those who might actually pose a threat to their hegemony - like poor southern whites for example.  Obama is OK because he's black, Hillary Clinton will make a fine president because she's a woman and in 2020 we'll probably be due a gay president and anyone who opposes will be branded a homophobe.  Let's forget about their actual policies, identification with a right-on minority is all that matters - they may be warmongers, neo-liberal thieves, perverters of the constitution and servants of the 1%, but, hey, they're the new radicals.

This confederate flag business seems to fit right-in, you can tweet your outrage and tick-a-box.  You might think you're a rebel but really you're a pussy, you salivate when someone rings the bell.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a young woman shinning-up a flagpole to pull down a version of St Andrew's cross, but not as an attack on the flag itself but rather as a stunt to embarrass those who use it to divide ordinary folks.

It wasn't always like this.

Here's a snap from Chicago in the late 1960s featuring a Black Panther and an activist of the Young Patriots Organisation, a group of white working class youth of mainly Appalachian origin who allied themselves to the Panthers and to the Puerto Rican Young Lords.  You'll note that the Young Patriots used the Confederate flag as their symbol and this caused no friction between them and the Panthers.  Of course the Panthers were a real threat to the interests of the ruling-class, which is why so many of them ended-up on a mortuary slab.

Together these Chicago groups opposed Mayor Daley's corrupt political machine, they failed, indeed the Daley machine's most recent graduate now occupy's the Oval Office.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Party Poopers

The 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement of Patagonia is not, we are told, an occasion for celebration.  Indeed it something to be regretted, an example of Welsh colonialism.

I agree that the Patagonian enterprise deserves serious historical attention -  rather than sentimentalism -  as does Welsh participation in the British Empire.  For example this Radnorian well wisher of the Welsh language was able to pursue his philanthropic endeavours because of a fortune earned in India and the Windward Islands.

The Welsh Colony does not fit well with the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine, rather it should be seen as part of the 10000 year old process whereby farmers occupy land previously the preserve of hunter/gatherer societies.  Herzl may have considered Patagonia a suitable location for a Jewish state, but as he wasn't born until 1860 it was hardly contemporaneous with the Welsh project.  Indeed the remarkable thing about YWladfa was its early date and its absolute remoteness from any other settlement.

Revisionists dismiss the good relations between the Tehuelche and the Welsh but present little evidence to the contrary.  One author cannot believe that only three settlers were killed by natives, he cannot believe it so it can't be true.  Others claim that because of the similarity to familiar tales of "good injuns" then it must be another such tale.  Yet another author will report the views of present-day Mapuche speakers without reference to their history.

At the time of the establishment of the Welsh colony the Chubut river was something of a border between the nomadic northern Tehuelche who had recently adopted the language of the more technologically advanced Mapuche.  The southern Tehuelche still spoke their own Aonikenk tongue, a language which is now virtually extinct.  It's worth reading about the Mapuche who were certainly not the helpless natives of the contemporary imagination. If Calfucura, the Napoleon of the Pampas, had not been operating hundreds of miles to the north then Y Wladfa would not have survived for long.

Of course the friendly relationship between early settlers and original inhabitants does not usually long survive population influx and a thirst for land.  The Welsh in Patagonia, as a de facto independent state power, lasted only a decade or so before Argentina asserted its rule over the colony.  From that time on the Welsh in Patagonia, like the Welsh in North America and Australia, were just one immigrant community among many.  Unlike them the Patagonians are of great significance to contemporary Wales, a proof that - even at the height of its power - some at least were able to resist Britishness.  Little wonder that others might seek to undermine their naive but heroic adventure.

On July 27th the president of Argentina along with other state dignitaries will be in the Chubut province to celebrate the arrival of the Mimosa in Patagonia.  Ms Kirchner will be representing a state that is mainly comprised of the descendants of European immigrants, although with a substantial admixture of native American genes.  Should she apologise for the existence of her state and its people because it offends the recently acquired sensibilities of US and European intellectuals? 

The question radical Wales - if it ever existed - needs to answer is not to apologise for the past but to decide where it stands on the great questions of today. Even something as banal as the recent Fifa vote illustrates the battlelines being drawn up in the modern world.  On one side we have the anglosphere (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) together with their European Union and Pacific Rim allies; on the other the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) together with most of South America, Africa and much of Asia

The self-styled "international community" sees these opponents of their unipolar worldview as essentially murderous and corrupt, savages who need to be colonised by Western values.  The West itself is obviously a white hat committed to freedom, democracy and the virtues of neo-liberalism.  Conveniently the millions of victims of the West have been flushed down the memory hole.  There's little evidence of radical Wales being willing to question these "western values."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Localism, the Left, UKIP and B&R

Localism

The new localist parties didn't have much of an election, for example Yorkshire First, a party which was able to field some well-qualified candidates, only managed to top a thousand votes in just one constituency.  This was predictable given the tight nature of the campaign and the lack of coverage for these regional parties in the mainstream media.  

The county council route would seem to be the way ahead for the new parties, the Lincolnshire Independents, for example, winning 8 seats and 10.3% of the vote last Thursday.  Most successful of all was the Herefordshire party It's Our County who ignored the general election and fought 41 of the 53 Hereford seats, winning 12.  They ended up as the second largest party gathering close to 25000 votes.

Next year's Assembly election would seem tailor-made for a localist party to undermine both Labour and UKIP on the South Wales regional lists.

The Left

There was a time when the Left wanted to win power for the working class.  Nowadays as far as the mainstream left-wing parties are concerned, and I include Plaid Cymru in this, its more like charity for the poor.  A handful of far-left parties still battle on and around half the voters in Wales had an opportunity to support them.  The Scargillite Socialist Labour Party's best performance was 697 votes in Torfaen while the late Bob Crow's TUSC fought 12 seats and averaged a measly 148 votes per lost deposit.  Trade Union, Socialist you'd think it would ring a bell with voters in a country whose intellectuals claim it to be inherently radical?  Finally what about the successor to the old CPGB, it even has the backing of a daily newspaper, well  Rob Griffiths gained just 186 votes in Merthyr Tydfil.

UKIP

Paul Mason hit the nail on the head in his Channel 4 blog  where he acknowledged that working class voters in Wales and the English north are unconvinced by the benefits of the free movement of labour.  I'd throw in globalisation and global warming. 

While tweeters generally blamed elderly English incomers for the UKIP vote or said they were ashamed to be Welsh, few seemed to bother with the facts - not many retired blimps in Blaenau Gwent (17.9% UKIP vote), or Merthyr (18.7%) or Caerphilly (19.3%) or Islwyn (19.6%).  These voters weren't racists they were more likely to be concerned with the economic realities affecting their lives.  Even here in rural Radnorshire we've seen low-paid factory jobs move to Eastern Europe, local care work wages depressed by a ready supply of immigrant labour and middle-class home after middle-class home sporting solar panels.  Panels which advertise to the poor that although you can't afford to install them yourself, you're still going to have to pay-out to subsidise the energy bills of those who can.

Who were these disaffected voters going to vote for?  Plaid Cymru, which continually boasts its pro-EU, pro-free movement, pro-wind farm sentiments?  Now as it happens I can't see UKIP surviving for long, by the next election it will be as forgotten as the Referendum party of 1997. The question is who will step-up to address these working-class concerns and pick-up their votes.  The neo-liberal answer which many in Plaid and Labour support - even if they don't know it - is essentially to get on your bike and find a job in London.

Brecon and Radnor

One tweeter, no doubt annoyed by the Tory victory in B&R, suggested that Powys be sold off to England.  While enjoying this faint echo of the anti-Radnorshire feeling which was once so apparent in Welsh-speaking circles let's look at Plaid's performance in the two counties.

Plaid first stood in Brecon and Radnor in 1964, achieving its highest vote to date in 1966 when the candidate Trefor Morgan, garnered 2410 votes (6.05%).  Morgan was a type which seems to have disappeared from Wales, a successful businessman who, if the rumours are true, wasn't averse to a little direct action.  In those days the Liberals didn't stand in B&R, so the best ever performance was in 1970 when W G Jenkins gained 2349 votes despite the fact that it was a four-cornered fight with Geraint Howells representing the Liberal cause.  

Youthful chwysgi entrepreneur Dafydd Gittins maintained the share of the vote in the two 1974 elections before Jan Power stood in 1979 and saw her vote more than halved.  I continued to vote for the party, without any enthusiasm, well it was the only Welsh based choice, throughout the 80s and 90s, when the vote never touched 2%.

Freddie Greaves managed a respectable 4.4% in this year's tight general election, hopefully he'll hang around to stand again and not end-up in the Tory party like the last Assembly candidate.  Meanwhile a party official complained of folk who criticised while never stuffing an envelope on the party's behalf.  It's certainly a problem for those of us who support an independent Wales while not going along with a good many of the party's policies.  Perhaps we need a national movement rather than a national party?

So the Tories won the seat, as they do on occasions, and, truth to tell, Plaid Cymru were as far away from making a breakthrough as they were in 1964.
And make no mistake, a significant section of working class labour voters are still not convinced on freedom of movement. That – not Euroscepticism – is what is driving the Ukip vote in the north and in Wales. - See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/labour-failed-win-worse/3671#more-3671
And make no mistake, a significant section of working class labour voters are still not convinced on freedom of movement. That – not Euroscepticism – is what is driving the Ukip vote in the north and in Wales. - See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/labour-failed-win-worse/3671#more-3671
And make no mistake, a significant section of working class labour voters are still not convinced on freedom of movement. That – not Euroscepticism – is what is driving the Ukip vote in the north and in Wales. - See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/labour-failed-win-worse/3671#more-3671

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

American Exceptionalism

It's one of those ironies of history that the phrase "American Exceptionalism" was coined by Joe Stalin.  Similarly the concept's cleverest disciples are the neoconservatives whose intellectual roots can be traced back to the Trotskyite Max Schachtman. For permanent revolution read the endless chaos of America's wars, oh and throw in a little Gramsci - the capturing of newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian for the war party.  With the neocon approved Hillary Clinton - her granny was from Merthyr* - a shoo-in for the Presidency, a $2.5 billion war chest should see to that, the world can look forward to interesting times.

Meanwhile  let's enjoy some real American Exceptionalism:



* The family had actually arrived in the US a few months before mam-gu's birth.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

England was on red alert

Having a bit of difficulty finding a picture of Idi Amin, her man in Kampala, meeting Betty Battenburg on one of his state visits to Engerland.  Surely HM hasn't taken advantage of those new European data protection laws to get them flushed down the memory hole?

Anyway will have to make-do with this fine piece of 20th century poetry from the Mighty Sparrow.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Army Tweeters

One thing you're not going to hear very much about during the election campaign is foreign affairs.  After all the main parties are broadly in agreement on membership of NATO and the EU and the necessity for British nuclear weapons.  Even the SNP wants an independent Scotland to be part of NATO and while Trident is said to be a redline would that matter given Tory support for any Miliband government vote on renewal.

Of course foreign affairs do matter and it's not as if we are living in uninteresting times.  The US seeks to destabilise Russia as a first step to destabilising China.  A lesser understood imperative being perhaps to isolate Germany from the Eurasian landmass - see the neo-con George Friedman's recent press conference in Chicago.  Meanwhile the UK takes the lead in dispatching troops to Mykolaiv, a strategic southern Ukrainian city with a large Russian speaking minority.  Who knows how this will end?  At best a frozen conflict, at worst a nuclear war?

Listen to the American journalist Robert Parry discussing the near total journalistic groupthink about Ukraine in the US: 



In the UK things are even worse, with only one or two mainstream journalists not caught up in a black hat/white hat narrative, much of it based on downright lies and distortions.

How naive we are to think that this corruption of journalism doesn't affect us?  Do we really think that the UK will go down before Nicola Sturgeon without putting up a dirty fight?  Already we've had that weird story about a battalion of British soldiers being recruited to fight on the social media front. Politicians who can't be bought or intimidated will be smeared, incidents will occur, ballots will be mislaid, a public that thinks Putin is the new Hitler will swallow something similar about Salmond.


Friday, March 20, 2015

What about Ffred Fflintstone?

The Welsh according to the Financial Times are stone age.  It's hard to disagree until you realise the paper isn't referring to the Assembly or local government or the state of our national media.  Instead it's a response to the latest scientific offering regarding British DNA, albeit research that's a step-up from the Dafydd Iwan is descended from an old Welsh King of England hooey currently entertaining the public on S4C.

Meanwhile according to the Guardian the Oxford University study reveals that "30% of white British DNA has German Ancestry" (No it doesn't, it merely shows that in the dim and distant past many present day Germans and Britons shared common ancestors.) The Daily Mail says something similar about the French while the BBC gleefully trumpets the fact that the "Celts are not a unique genetic group."

Let's take a layman's look at the sample that allowed the researchers to conclude that the UK's population could be divided into 17 distinct groups, while recognizing that genetic variety in Western Europe is both very homogeneous and very recent.   Here's a large scale map.

It looks to me that some of the sampling was designed to prove a point.  The large number of samples in Devon and Cornwall, in Pembrokeshire and in North East Scotland (Picts) for example.  At the same time other interesting possibilities are ignored.  Mid Wales, Carmarthenshire and the South are hardly covered at all, a large area north of London - which stood out in Victorian examinations of negrescence - is empty of samples, as are large areas of Scotland and significant areas of the Welsh border (West Herefordshire and all of Shropshire).

What does the map say about Wales?  Well the North Wales grouping is certainly distinct but how far south does it spread?  This might have told us something about the extent of the Ordovici lands and there are also no samples from Lleyn (possible Gangani).  Blood groups long ago told us something about the differences within Pembrokeshire and no doubt the current study will revive the Little England meme, but is it true?  In reality the S Pembrokeshire cluster doesn't appear to coincide with S Pembrokeshire at all, it spreads north and west.  There is no obvious link with Devon or Flanders, the usual suspects in the populating of the area and I wouldn't be surprised if the two groupings ie North and South Pembrokeshire both predate the Roman never mind the Norman invasion.  If a wider sample had been taken in North Ceredigion, Carmarthen, Glamorgan and Gwent we might have a better understanding of the actual demographic history.

The Welsh border grouping seems heavily weighted to the Forest of Dean while excluding sampling in West Herefordshire and Shropshire. It's a puzzle why the southern (Dobunni?) area should then reappear in Cheshire.  Again Wales has been somewhat short-changed by limited sampling in a survey which has been described as perhaps the richest genetic survey of any country to date.

I'm surprised that anyone is surprised that there is no single Celtic grouping.  The Anglo-Saxon invasion lasted no more than a few decades yet it has left a distinct 10-40% trace - according to the survey - amongst the central and southern English.  The period from the re-populating of Britain following the Ice Age to the Belgae arriving just ahead of the Romans was around 9000 years, for sure there would have been many other population movements during this timespan and subsequently various groupings waiting to be discovered -  a single "Celtic" grouping would be highly unlikely.

A large part of the sampling was carried out in Continental Europe, see map, but again there seem to be some omissions.  Why nothing from Friesland, after all Frisian is the language most closely related to English?  Why no testing in southern Ireland, population movements are not all one way, see the Deisi.  There was also limited testing from much of Denmark.  Still the absence of what the survey calls FRA17 from all three Welsh groupings, and only the Welsh groupings, does indeed seem significant and nails the South Pembrokeshire is Little England meme - the absence of FRA17 and GER3 suggesting that all three observed Welsh groupings were amongst the earliest inhabitants of post-Ice Age Britain.

As far as Wales and the Welsh are concerned there is still much to learn about historical demographic events and this large survey is far from being the last word.

Monday, March 09, 2015

My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.

Morrissey is playing Cardiff on the 18th of this month but never mind that, one of the support acts is supposedly Buffy Sainte Marie - well if Bob Dylan can release an album of Sinatra covers then I guess Buffy can support Morrissey.   She's 74 now but here she is nearly half a century ago with her memorable curse against the exceptional, indispensable, inexcusable nation.  The Kinzua mud she mentions is a reference to a reservoir in Pennsylvania which saw the Seneca people dispossessed from lands granted to them by another broken treaty.  It was built during the period 1960-65.



Now that your big eyes have finally opened
Now that you're wondering how must they feel
Meaning them that you've chased across America's movie screens
Now that you're wondering "how can it be real?"
That the ones you've called colourful, noble and proud
In your school propaganda
They starve in their splendor?
You've asked for my comment I simply will render

My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.

Now that the longhouses breed superstition
You force us to send our toddlers away
To your schools where they're taught to despise their traditions.
Forbid them their languages, then further say
That American history really began
When Columbus set sail out of Europe, and stress
That the nation of leeches that conquered this land
Are the biggest and bravest and boldest and best.
And yet where in your history books is the tale
Of the genocide basic to this country's birth,
Of the preachers who lied, how the Bill of Rights failed,
How a nation of patriots returned to their earth?
And where will it tell of the Liberty Bell
As it rang with a thud
Over Kinzua mud
And of brave Uncle Sam in Alaska this year?

My country 'tis of thy people you're dying

Hear how the bargain was made for the West:
With her shivering children in zero degrees,
Blankets for your land, so the treaties attest,
Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored,
A hundred years of your statesmen have felt it's better this way.
And yet a few of the conquered have somehow survived,
Their blood runs the redder though genes have been paled.
From the Grand Canyon's caverns to craven sad hills
The wounded, the losers, the robbed sing their tale.
From Los Angeles County to upstate New York
The white nation fattens while others grow lean;
Ah the tricked and evicted they know what I mean.

My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.

The past it just crumbled, the future just threatens;
Our life blood shut up in your chemical tanks.
And now here you come, bill of sale in your hands
And surprise in your eyes that we're lacking in thanks
For the blessings of civilization you've brought us,
The lessons you've taught us, the ruin you've wrought us
Oh see what our trust in America's bought us.

My country 'tis of thy people you're dying.

Now that the pride of the sires receives charity,
Now that we're harmless and safe behind laws,
Now that my life's to be known as your heritage,
Now that even the graves have been robbed,
Now that our own chosen way is a novelty
Hands on our hearts we salute you your victory,
Choke on your blue white and scarlet hypocrisy
Pitying the blindness for you've never seen
That the eagles of war whose wings lent you glory
They were never no more than carrion crows,
Pushed the wrens from their nest, stole their eggs, changed their story;
The mockingbird sings it, it's all that she knows.
"Ah what can I do?" say a powerless few
With a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye
Can't you see that their poverty's profiting you.

My country 'tis of thy people you're dying

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Abbey Cwmhir History, Homes and People

According to the 2011 census the community of Abbeycwmhir consists of 96 households with a total population of 235.  Of these, 48 individuals regard themselves as English-only, 109 chose a Welsh-only identity, 15 claimed to be both Welsh and British and 59 British-only.  126 inhabitants were born in Wales and 101 in England.  Of the working population 39% were still engaged in agriculture while around 13% claimed to  have some knowledge of Welsh.

Given these figures it comes as something of a surprise to discover that these 96 households have managed to produce a 320 page book, size 9¾" x 7½" illustrated throughout and mainly in colour.  If Cwmhir can do it, so can any community in Wales.

The first half of the book is largely historical, with the second half given over to pieces submitted by the inhabitants of the households themselves - autobiographies, house and family histories in the main with the occasional mild rant against modernity.  Most were provided as part of a millennium project, although some were updated in 2008.  Here, for example, we come across the 12 year-old Dan Lydiate of Tynyberth, who was rather good at Rugby.  The book costs £18, which given the profusion of illustrations is fair value for money.

The history is a little bit too Gwynedd orientated for my taste but does at least recognize that the Abbey was founded in 1176 by the princes of Maelienydd.  In places the story gets confusing, I could have done with a tree to sort out the comings and goings of the various 19C and 20C Phillipses - the local squires.  The family kept a tight rein on the local community, most of whom were their tenants.  Children were provided with a school but in return were expected to curtsy and bow to their betters. Perhaps this paternalism is why the parish doesn't figure greatly in the rebellious annals of the West Radnorshire Rebeccaites.  Incidentally an uncle of mine was painting at the hall sometime after the Second World War.  Perhaps unfairly he felt the lady of the house was trying to overawe the workmen with her knowledge of a foreign tongue. Unfortunately she wasn't making much progress in getting her message across to a recently arrived maid with little English.  My uncle stepped forward and explained things in Eighth-Army Italian.  He wasn't thanked.

Reading this history is like panning for gold, luckily there are plenty of nuggets to be found.  A major gripe are the doubts cast on the Abbey being the burial place of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.  Certainly Archbishop Peckham and a contemporary chronicler believed this to be the case.   The doubts cast on the story are opinions rather than facts - for example why should the English fear that the Abbey might become a shrine?  Llywelyn wasn't being returned to Gwynedd, rather to his cousin Mortimer's lands - who might well have feared for his own soul if he denied the prince a Christian burial.  The Americans may have feared to bury Bin Laden but perhaps he was more in touch with the medieval mind when he said that people prefer a strong horse.  Llywelyn had proved himself a weak horse, the English may have feared his bloodline but not his memory.

I could find nothing about the decline of the Welsh language in the parish, no-one was on hand to record the demise of the community's last Ned Maddrell.  In the 1901 census I once found three elderly Welsh speakers, born in the parish to parents who themselves had been born in the parish and who never appeared to have lived away from home.  They may well have been the last native speakers of the traditional dialect of the cantref of Maelienydd.

Getting on for 90 households have provided material for the second half of the book, which will certainly be of interest to social historians and, perhaps, gossips.  I can't claim to have any connection to the parish so I searched for the names of folk who I'd known from secondary school days.  Like nearly all my contemporaries they'd mostly left Wales, some barely remembered, others long forgotten.

Dai Hawkins' meanings of local farm names is a useful appendix, although he doesn't say why his explanations of Cefn Pawl and Hirddywel differ from those in Richard Morgan's little book on Radnorshire Place-Names.  There are sections on geology, pre-history, and the pub with the most annoying name in Wales - for some of us anyway -The Happy Union.

I'd say a must buy for anyone with Cwmhir connections and a worthwhile read for those interested in a rather atypical - it had no council houses - community in rural, English-speaking Radnorshire.