The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Welsh in Great Britain

Category: Land + People

There is no other part of the British Isles where national spirit is stronger, national pride more intense or national traditions more ‘cherished than in Wales. The Welsh still proudly wear their national dress on festive occasions; the Welsh language is still very much a living force and is taught side by side with English in schools; and Welshmen, who have a highly developed artistic sense, have a distinguished record in the realm of poetry, song and drama. Welsh, as distinct from British history, really begins with the Anglo-Saxon victories in the sixth and seventh centuries which isolated the Welsh from the rest of their fellow-Britons. Henceforth the people of Wales were, vulnerable on two fronts: on the east they were constantly harried by the English chieftains, and until the eleventh century the vikings made frequent raids on the coasts. Then came the Normans who penetrated into the south of the country and established many strongholds, in spite of strong resistance organised by the Welsh. Eventually, however, the subjection of the people was completed by Edward I, who built many castles and made his son, afterwards Edward II, the first Prince of Wales.”

The population of Wales amounts to about two and a quarter million. The Welsh language is a Celtic branch of the Indo-European languages and has some roots in common with them. The Welsh call their country Cymru, and themselves they call Cymry, a word which has the same root as “camrador’’ (friend, or comrade).

Have you noticed the number of Welsh place-names that begin with “Llan’’ — Llanbers, Llandudno, Llangollen, Llantair? There are hundreds of them in Wales. In the dark days of the early Saxon occupation of England, Christianity still lived on among the Welsh, and specially chosen men, the first Celtic saints, went from place to place teaching the Christian faith, preaching, organising little groups of believers, and starting centres of worship. These centres were called “Ilans’’ (the word is generally translated “church’’), and the llans often took the name of the saint who started them or some other holy name; for example, Llandudno was the Ilan started by St Tudno, Llandewi was the Ilan of St Ddewi (David), Llanfair was the Ilan of Fair (Mary).

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the name of a station in Anglesey. The name means: “The church of St. Mary in a wood of hazel trees near a rapid whirlpool and near St Tysilio’s cave not far from a red cave.’’ The town is generally known as “Llanfair P.G.’’.

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