Wales: There's Lovely!
From dragons to coal miners, castles to rugby, I love Wales. A Welsh male voice choir can reduce me to tears and an international rugby match featuring the Welsh can make me hoarse from shouting at the TV. I don't know how I would cope if I was actually Welsh (I am half Welsh) or if I had actually ever lived there (I was brought up just across the Bristol Channel).
For some it's the land of song, or the land of my fathers ("Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau"); for me, it's the land of my mothers (my mother and both my grandmothers being Welsh). Indulge yourself with me in a little Welsh love and enjoy some interesting facts about Wales.
Jones the Rugby
During the past decade there have often been occasions when the Welsh rugby team has fielded five Joneses, none of whom are related, in its starting line-up.
Facts About Welsh Surnames
Back in medieval Wales people used their forename linked to their father's name by the word "ap" or "ab", meaning "son of" (ie a patronym). So, John, the son of Rhys would be John ap Rhys. This could result in very long strings of names as each generation added on another name to the long line going before them. It was a living form of family history though!
By Tudor times the Welsh increasingly adopted fixed surnames, but sometimes this reflected the last patronym. In the example above, John ap Rhys would become John Aprhys, which became Anglicized to John Price. Other examples of formerly patronymic Welsh surnames are:
- Bowen (ab Owen)
- Powell (ap Hywel)
- Upjohn (ap John)
Of course the most common Welsh surname is Jones. Welsh villages used to have so many Joneses that they would distinguish them by adding an occupation to the name: Jones the Shop, Jones the Steam, Jones the Post etc. The name derives from the forename John, as do the other common Welsh names Thomas, Williams and Davies.
Famous Welsh Men and Women
- Aneurin Bevin - father of the National Health Service
- David Lloyd George - British Prime Minister
- St David - a Welshman who became Wales' patron saint.
- Dylan Thomas - poet
- Henry Morgan - privateer
- Richard Burton - actor
- Catherine Zeta-Jones - actress
- John Dee - alchemist
- Charlotte Church - singer
- Katherine Jenkins - singer
Flag of Wales
Facts About Welsh History
It was the Romans who first started recording the history of Wales in 48 BC, but of course the Welsh had been around long before then. Wales has been inhabited perhaps as far back as 230,000 BC. Over many centuries Wales was settled by migrant groups, most significantly by the Celts in the Bronze Age.
Since the Norman Conquest in 1066 much of Wales' history has been of struggle to prevent invasion by the English.
- The Romans managed to conquer Wales in 78 AD (the conquest began in 48 AD). The remained until 383 AD.
- One Welsh town was founded by the Romans: Caerwent.
- After the Romans left, Wales was divided into several kingdoms, including Gwynedd, Powys, Dyfed and Gwent.
- Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great) was King of Gwynedd from around 820 to 878 AD and managed to unite most of Wales.
- Llewellyn ap Gruffydd was the last great of Welsh resistance to the English; he was defeated by Edward I of England.
- Edward I consolidated his victory by building many great castles in Wales and by giving his son the title of Prince of Wales in 1301.
- There were many rebellions against English rule; one rebellious leader was Owain Glyndwr (Owen Glendower). He was the last Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales (not by dint of being eldest son of the English monarch, but because he was crowned by a Welsh parliament or Cynulliad).
- In 1455 Henry Tudor, Welsh by descent, wrested the throne of England from Richard III and became Henry VII.
- Wales became largely Nonconformist during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Presbyterian Church of Wales was formally established in 1823, following a split from the Anglican Church in 1811.
- Wales was heavily industrialised during the 18th and 19th centuries, with many communities in South Wales relying on the coal mining industry. When the Conservative government began to cutback the nationalised industry in 1981, they backed down in the face of a strong challenge from the NUM (National Union of Miners). However, by 1983 the government pushed ahead and the Welsh miners came out on strike on 5 March 1984; they returned to work on 3 March 1985.
Waterfall in the Brecon Beacons
Facts About the Geography of Wales
Wales has England to the east and the Atlantic Ocean, and Ireland beyond, to the west. The country has a long coastline of some 736 miles and some modest mountain ranges. It's also a country with some spectacular scenery in its national parks and several areas of outstanding natural beauty. This beauty is countered in some urban areas by the remnants of Wales' mining past.
- Wales has six cities: Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, St David's, Bangor and St Asaph.
- There are three main mountainous regions in Wales: Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and the Cambrian Mountains.
- Wales has three National Parks: Brecon Beacons National Park, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and Snowdonia National Park.
- The Gower Peninsula was the first area of Great Britain to be declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956.
- Wales' largest island is Anglesey.
- Mount Snowdon is the highest peak at 3,560 feet.
- Llyn Tegid, or Bala Lake, in Gwynedd, is the largest natural lake, at 1,196 acres.
Welsh National Anthem Sung at Millennium Park, Cardiff
The Welsh National Anthem
Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, or Land of my Fathers, was composed in 1856 by a father and son in Pontypridd. Evan James wrote the lyrics, his son John composed the music. The song was originally titled Glan Rhondda (Banks of the Rhondda) and was first performed publicly by Elizabeth John in Pontypridd.
Treorchy Male Choir Sing "Myfanwy"
Wales and Music
Wales is often referred to as the "land of song" and it has a fine tradition of male voice choirs, chapel choirs, Eisteddfods as well as more recently pop and rock singers and massed singing at sporting events. Favourite Welsh songs include the Welsh national anthem (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau), Men of Harlech, Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah and Myfanwy.
- The holding of an Eisteddfod dates back to the 12th century. It is a celebration of music, literature and performances. In modern Wales the most important Eisteddfod is the National Eisteddfod, held annually in the first week of August. Proceedings are held entirely in Welsh.
- The Welsh have bagpipes too! The generic term for pipes, which can include bagpipes, is pibau. A Welsh piper is called a pibydd or a pibgodwr.
- Brass bands grew up in mining and industrial areas throughout Wales and remain popular today. Many bands started out as drum and fife bands, but Blaina Band claims to be the first to convert to all-brass in 1832.
- Giraldus Cambrensis wrote about the wonderful sound of Welsh choral music back in 1198 but it wasn't until chapels sprang up in the 18th Century that Welsh choirs really took off. In 1872 Welsh supremacy in choral music was sealed when Griffith Rhys Jones, a colliery blacksmith, led the South Wales Choral Union in their triumph at the National Music Union Brass Band and Choral Event in London.
- Sir Tom Jones (born Thomas John Woodward) was born in Pontypridd, Wales and has been one of the world's most popular vocalists since the 1960s.
- In 1999 the Welsh band Super Furry Animals released an album (Mwng) that was entirely in Welsh. It was the first all-Welsh album to reach the Top 20 and the NME (New Musical Express) voted it number 11 in their top albums of the year 2000.
Welsh is also spoken in areas of Argentina and Chile (Y Wladfa - The Colony). Welsh settlers brought the language with them in 1865 and their descendants continue to speak Welsh (combined with some Spanish words too). The original settlers were Welsh nationalists who emigrated because they felt that their culture and language were under threat in their native land.
Listen to Welsh Speakers
The Welsh Language
Welsh is a Celtic language. Like Cornish and Breton it is of the Brythonic branch of Celtic; Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx belong to the other branch, Goidelic. Brythonic languages are thought to be akin to the original British language spoken below the Firth of Forth. Welsh has always been spoken in Wales, but it did become a minority language in the early 20th Century and continued a slow decline. However, the number of Welsh speakers is now gradually increasing.
- BBC Radio Cymru, a Welsh language radio station, was launched in 1977.
- S4C is a Welsh language TV channel, was first broadcast in 1982.
- In 2004 the Welsh Language Use Survey found that 21.7% of the population spoke Welsh.
- Schools in Wales have been obliged to teach Welsh since 2000.
- There is only one Welsh newspaper, published weekly: Y Cymro (The Welshman).
- Welsh is different in North and South Wales; it not only sounds different, but there is different vocabulary.
Judi Brown (author) from UK on April 29, 2014:
Thank you TAHITITI - glad you enjoyed reading this :-)
Carla Jones from Spring Hill, Florida on April 29, 2014:
Lovely, thank you for this Judi Bee!
Judi Brown (author) from UK on March 19, 2013:
Hi Mr Deltoid - just dug up your comment from the spam folder (no idea why it was there!) Start saving, Wales is well worth a visit. Thanks very much for your comments, I appreciate them.
Rich from New Jersey on March 02, 2013:
Cool hub, it's always been one of the many places I would love to see.......if I won the lottery or robbed a vegas casino.....or....just saved up.
Judi Brown (author) from UK on December 21, 2012:
Hi bac2basics - as you can tell, I have a very soft spot for Wales too! So glad you enjoyed reading the hub and listening to the singing.
Thanks very much for your comments, I appreciate them.
Anne from Spain on December 20, 2012:
Hi Judi. What a very interesting hub. I love Wales and spent a huge amount of time there holidaying in Criccieth when I lived in the UK. Listening to the singing always brings a tear to my eye or a smile, Myfanwy is so beautiful how could anyone failed to be moved by it. Voted up and all the rest and very pleased I discovered you here :)
Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 20, 2012:
Hi Susan - I've not heard that rhyme; could be Scottish though, I've got no Scottish relatives (so far Scotland's the only country in the UK and Ireland that I can't claim any link to), so wouldn't know it.
Glad you enjoyed reading about Wales, it's close to my heart - thanks so much for your comments.
Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on November 19, 2012:
Judi, I've been meaning to ask you about this ... My grandmother was from Scotland and she'd always do this little rhyme and I've always wondered if this was something everyone knew or not. It's kind of silly but here goes anyway ..
"Scotland, England, Ireland, Whales .... All tied up in a Monkeys Tail."
Anyway aside from that I found your hub quite interesting as I love learning about the other side of the pond :)
Judi Brown (author) from UK on November 19, 2012:
Hi GoodLady - you are so lucky have lived in such a beautiful place, what a memory to treasure! Dramatic Welsh stories - there are a few of those in my family too...
Thanks for sharing your memories, great to hear from you.
Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on November 19, 2012:
Where you can see the sea, is where my farm used to be, Llannerch. And in this photograph (header) you can see the bay that was in front of us, where Portmadoc is. (PorthMadog). You can't see our mountain Morfa Bychan because it's too small and in the clouds. You make me homesick. I can't go home though. It's a long story, one of those dramatic Welsh stories. It's all inside, I can hear it and seeing this picture brings every breath of living there back.
Judi Brown (author) from UK on September 30, 2012:
Hi Natasha - my Mum was born in Cardiff, although she left when she was very young. I used to enjoy visiting the Brecon Beacons as a child - it was just about a day trip from where I lived. Beautiful country, I hope you get to visit again - and I had no idea that the International Baccalaureate Programme was based in Cardiff.
Thanks for reading and commenting, always appreciated.
Natasha from Hawaii on September 30, 2012:
I've been to Wales a couple of times. Some of the town names kind of confused me, though - I couldn't figure out how to pronounce them! I'd love to visit again as an adult. I've also had a lot of school work sent to Cardiff - I graduated from the International Baccalaureate Programme and they are headquartered there.
Judi Brown (author) from UK on September 17, 2012:
Hi SimeyC - I replied to you yesterday, but the reply's gone! So, once again, thank you!
Hi TrishM - two of my great-grandfathers were done the pit too. Can't say that anyone met Tom Jones though!
Hi TeacherJoe - yes, I've heard Wales called the "land of castles" too - very apt indeed.
Hi Nell - I've become quite interested in the Celtic language - do I see a hub on the horizon?
Hi Alicia - I think it's great that Welsh is being taught in schools as a matter of course. I am sure that a few Cornish people would like Cornish reintroduced.
Hi Martin - sorry, shouldn't have shouted about it, BUT I JUST COULDN'T HELP IT!!!!
Hi Glimmer Twin Fan - I find the name thing really interesting too. I guess it's part of people's spelling being so fluid in the past.
Thanks to everyone for your kind comments, I really appreciate them!
Claudia Mitchell on September 17, 2012:
Interesting hub! I loved the name lineage about how names changed with the patronym. I'd never heard of that before. Now I'll be thinking of last names all day and wondering if they were once something else. Voted up!
Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 16, 2012:
Shhh... (Martin whispering) We don't want everyone to know how beautiful Wales is. Thank you
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 16, 2012:
This is a very interesting hub, Judi. I enjoyed learning new facts about Wales and being reminded of some lovely memories from my childhood, such as singing the National Anthem, which I find very moving. It was interesting to learn that schools in Wales weren't required to teach Welsh until 2000. I'm happy that I studied Welsh in all the schools that I attended in Wales. I've forgotten a lot of what I learned, although I review some if it occasionally.
Nell Rose from England on September 16, 2012:
This was a fantastic look at Wales, I never realised how the Welsh changed their surnames from the ap Rhys to aprhys and then to price for example, and its great to see that they are bringing back the language, evidently certain parts of England spoke the same dialect for centuries, and I believe I read somewhere that the Irish and Scots are something called Q celtic, and the Southern English and Welsh are P celtic, can't remember what that stands for though! lol! wonderful! nell
teacherjoe52 on September 16, 2012:
My ancestors emigrated from Wales over a hundred years ago.
I had a wonderful time visiting Wales (which I was taught was "The land of Castles." Perhaps it was just a different definition).
My second cousin was in the Welsh Boy Chior and travelled to Canada once.
It would be nice to go back, as I found the Welsh to be very friendly people.
Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on September 16, 2012:
'There's Lovely! 'indeed!
My Mum is Welsh, too ~ so I certainly recognise your descriptions, etc. :) :)
My Grandad and his father + brothers were miners.
Being from Pontypridd, Mum met Tom Jones, when he was a boy, and she knew some of his relatives very well.
And I love the male voice choir!
Simon Cook from NJ, USA on September 16, 2012:
Very good hub! Interesting about all those Jones's in the rugby team! I'll add a link to this in my Cardiff article.
Judi Brown (author) from UK on September 16, 2012:
Hi suziecat7 - I loved writing this hub and "auditioning" the YouTube clips before I chose them. Hope you get to visit, it's a beautiful country.
Hi theraggededge - my Mum always said that Welsh and Cornish are very much the same (and yes, some of the Cornish would consider themselves anything before they considered themselves English!). Glad you enjoyed this!
Thanks very much to both of your for taking the time to comment, always appreciated.
Bev G from Wales, UK on September 16, 2012:
Woohoo! Thanks for this, Judi-Bee. I have lived in Wales for over 30 years. Previously I lived in Cornwall, where people considered themselves to be more Welsh than English. And I agree with you, a Welsh male-voice choir singing 'Myfanwy', the crowd at the Millennium Stadium belting out the National anthem, or even the sight of Mike Phillips' thighs as he chucks the ball into the scrum will set the hairs on my neck standing on end and bring tears to my eyes!
suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on September 16, 2012:
Loved this Hub and enjoyed the choir very much. Would enjoy visiting someday. Voted up!