Friday, June 28, 2013

"A Radnorshire Farm Boy" - BBC, 28th June 2013

It's getting on for four decades years since Westminster decided to abolish the old county of Radnorshire but still it won't lie down.  When Dan Lydiate turns out for the Lions later today, it's unlikely that the BBC will refer to him as a Powys farm boy.  Being based upon the old gwlad of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren there is something organic about Radnorshire which that modern-day invention, Powys, fails to emulate.

So best wishes to Dan and while we're at it let's remember another Radnorshire rugby player who twice toured Australia with a British Isles team, the second occasion in 1908 as captain.  A F Harding may have been born in Shropshire but his father was a Welsh doctor who took up residence in New Radnor when young Arthur was just two years of age.  Harding snr. continued to serve as the village physician for a further 40 years, he was also a local JP and a Tory member of Radnorshire County Council.

Who knows, young Lydiate might one-day emulate his Radnorian predecessor and actually play in a Welsh side that beats the All Blacks!

We're the future, your future

That perspicacious blogger Jac o' the'North has been looking at the census figures and it's instructive to compare his figures on "Country of Birth" for the current Welsh counties with those for Radnorshire.

In 1981 the Welsh-born were the largest group in 20 of the 24 Radnorshire communities.  By 2001 the Welsh-born were still on top in 16 of the (by then) 27 communities, but by 2011 it had fallen to just 10 out of 27.  It's a fair assumption that by today Aberedw, Llanyre and Penybont will also have joined the ranks of those with an English majority, leaving, just 7 Radnorshire communities out of 27 with the Welsh as the largest grouping.

In the 30 years between 1981 and 2011 the population of Radnorshire has grown from 20902 to 25821, but the number born in Wales has fallen by over 13%, from 12254 to 10604.  Meanwhile the English born figure has risen from 8052 to 13938, an increase of over 70%.  Of course it can be argued that part of this increase is due to the use of maternity hospitals across the border, but in reality many of the largest increases are in communities in the west of the county.

It comes as something of a surprise to find that when we compare Welsh-only identifiers with the total Welsh-born population of the county we arrive at a figure of 87%.  Only Gwynedd is marginally higher.  Clearly the Welsh-born folk of  Radnorshire feel more Welsh than ever.  Here's a map showing the position in the various communities:.

Of course this is of little importance when the number of Welsh majority communities has fallen from 20 to just 7.  Before long it should be possible to drive from Kington to Cardigan Bay without crossing a single community where the Welsh are in the majority.  What price Wales then?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Take it down from the mast....

Flags matter, symbols matter, slogans matter.  Would I have been quite such a jolly welshman if I hadn't grown-up seeing all the "Free Wales" slogans painted on walls in Mid-Wales during the 1960s.  At least they showed that not everyone agreed with the status quo and that there was another point of view.  Even today my heart lifts a little when I see Owain Glyndwr's banner fluttering in the streets of a border town or outside a cottage in some unexpected corner of Radnorshire.  Indeed I wouldn't be surprised if one 1960s "Home Rule" slogan had more impact on the general population than any number of our modern-day blog posts.  So I don't decry the part-time patriots of the National Stadium or the dressing-up associated with St David's day, better that than nothing at all.

The flag at the top of this post is a proposed Radnorshire flag which is being pushed by some (thanks to poster Fferllys for bringing it to my attention).  It's a pretty design incorporating the boar's head of Elystan Glodrydd with the azure and gold colours of the Mortimer family.  And there you have the problem.  The Mortimers were petty conquistadores who attempted to steal the lands of the Radnorshire folk and murder their leaders and patriots.  Why on earth would any Radnorian want to celebrate these rogues?  Let them stay in Wigmore where they belong.  At least the banner flown by the good folk of Llwyth Elystan - it's based on the arms of Cadwgan ab Elystan - has none of this Mortimer nonsense.

Of course there's a good chance that the Mortimer design could be adopted, after all Pembrokeshire already has a county flag which is seemingly flown from public buildings, you can even buy one on ebay.  Oh and look how it's advertised

Isn't that the truth of the matter, these flags appeal to those who would prefer to live in the English county of Pembrokeshire?

Wales has a flag and let's not forget that it only achieved official recognition in 1959.  The enemies of Wales have always seen the value of symbols, which is why they fought a rearguard action against Y Ddraig Goch, even trying to foist this monstrosity on the country as recently as the mid 1950s.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

You're Welsh and you know you are....

..... it's a football chant that is sometimes used to wind-up the fans of Hereford United, and like all good insults it works because it has an element of truth.

Now why Herefordians, especially those from the south and west of the county, should be at all ashamed of  their Welsh roots is a puzzle.  After all native speakers of a Celtic language lived-on in Herefordshire for a hundred years after Cornish had died out.  Yet while the Cornish are rightly proud of their heritage, Herefordshire, even her local historians, seems to be in denial.

The author of this little book* - it was written in 2003, published in 2006 but I've only just got around to obtaining a copy - hopes that it will go some way to rectifying a situation where "the great majority" of those in Welsh Herefordshire are unaware of their history.

Does it succeed?  I think not. The book concentrates far too much on earlier times rather than the more recent past; and too much on general Welsh history rather than particular Herefordshire concerns.

The first 143 pages take us up to Owain Glyndwr, whereas the next 600 years merit just 28 pages.  You'll look in vain for the clash between the Welsh party and their English rivals in 15C Hereford.  There's no mention of Hergest and it's importance to Welsh literature nor of the Herefordshire patrons of the Welsh bardic tradition in the 15C and 16C.  Although the survival of the Welsh language into the 19C is mentioned there's no real detail; you'd be better off reading this blog: here for example. or here, or to save too much searching, here.

An annoying aspect of the book is the way in which the origins of some local placenames are guessed at because of their similarity to modern Welsh words. An old fault of the amateur historian which really shouldn't have a place in a 21C work.
* Herefordshire, the Welsh Connection, Carreg Gwalch, £6.90

Friday, June 21, 2013

Quiet flows the Teme

Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, the lands between the Severn and the Wye, they don't receive much consideration from our Welsh historians.  It's not as if they didn't play an important part in the history of our country - there's a reason why Llywelyn was killed at Cilmeri* and Owain Glyndwr's most important victory was won on the banks of the Lugg.  This area was the strategic key to Wales; if Maelienydd and Elfael resisted the enemy, and they usually did, then the territorial integrity of the Cymry was a tad more secure..

Everyone knows that the Severn and the Wye flow eastwards into England, but I wonder how many are conscious of those other Radnorshire rivers that head eastward into the English heartlands, the Teme, the Lugg and the Arrow.  The Teme in particular is a fairly important stream, I was surprised to discover that it is the 16th longest in the UK and longer, for example, than the Mersey, the Tyne, the Tees or the Dee.  Given the sparsity of population and its geographical openness to England, it's something of a minor miracle that the English language took a thousand years to extend its grip from Knighton to Rhayader.

* Or was it Aberedw?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Clutching at Straws

With mainstream nationalism having effectively given-up on a Welsh state, the dwindling band of patriots are placing a lot of faith in the forthcoming Scottish referendum.  If Scotland votes for independence can Wales be far behind seems to be the hope.  Actually I can't see Scotland voting "yes" and in any case what exactly are the Scots voting for?  Having dumped the idea of the euro the SNP now wants to use sterling.  Clearly they haven't much faith in the enthusiasm of the Scottish voters for real independence, for how can a country be truly free if it has no control over its fiscal policy?

Look at the case of Ireland, their economy only started to prosper when they broke the link with sterling in 1979.  Of course they eventually fell in with the euro and now the Irish taxpayer has ended up bailing-out the German banks.  You may disagree, but it seems to me that this is what happens when you break away from one imperium and sign-up to another, equally centralist, even less democratic project.

One advantage the Scots have is that their population is relatively homogeneous.  According to the 2001 census results - the Scots have yet to publish the 2011 figures - less than 9% of their population was born in England - in Wales it's closer to 21%.  As far as I can see no-one has suggested that there should be a residency qualification on who is allowed to vote in the referendum and it will be interesting to see what would happen if the yes campaign failed by a few votes.  Could Scottish independence be lost due to the votes of the - ugly term - "white settlers?"

Of course we are all far too politically correct to suggest that the constitutional position of Scotland or Wales should actually be decided by the Scots and the Welsh.  Infact there isn't a country in the world that doesn't apply some form of residency test on those allowed to vote in elections.  The Irish Republic is the most relaxed country  in Europe when it comes to allowing non-citizens to vote, but even they draw the line at referendums, only Irish citizens being allowed a vote in such contests.  Having no citizenship of their own Scotland and Wales could at least demand that anyone voting on constitutional matters have, say, a five year residency of the country.  Should the destiny of a nation be decided by the here-today-gone-tomorrow sorts or should it be left to those with a stake in the country?