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Interesting Facts About Wales

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Here are some reasons why you should visit Wales.

Here are some reasons why you should visit Wales.

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 with me in a little Welsh love and enjoy some interesting facts about Wales. Surely it will convince you to take the time to visit.

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.

Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly, Wales.

Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly, Wales.

Wales' Stephen Jones, one of the regular Welsh International rugby Jones, kicking to clear against England in 2006.

Wales' Stephen Jones, one of the regular Welsh International rugby Jones, kicking to clear against England in 2006.

Joneses in 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.

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
The red dragon of Wales; Henry Tudor carried this banner into battle at Bosworth Field and won his victory to become King of England

The red dragon of Wales; Henry Tudor carried this banner into battle at Bosworth Field and won his victory to become King of England

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.
It's easy to see why the Brecon Beacons are a National Park.  Henrhyd Falls, Coelbren.

It's easy to see why the Brecon Beacons are a National Park. Henrhyd Falls, Coelbren.

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.

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.

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.

Patagonian Welsh

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.