Sunday, May 10, 2015

Localism, the Left, UKIP and B&R


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.


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:
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:
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:

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.

Monday, March 02, 2015

In a Vale of Windows

Bryndraenog is only two fields away from England, although as Mr Payne pointed out the Teme hereabouts is no real border, either geographically or historically.

Around the time Bryndraenog was built - the timbers were felled in 1436 -  the bard Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal came to sing a praise poem to the new building and it's owner Llywelyn Fychan.  Llywelyn Fychan did not trace his ancestry to the main descent group in Maelienydd, that of Elystan Glodrydd, but rather to  one Hywel Athro.  Perhaps Llywelyn was rhingyll or reeve to the local estates of Richard of York who had inherited the Mortimer lands in 1425 - Bryndraenog is at the entrance of a small valley called Cwmyrhingyll.  This is all discussed in the RCAHM volume Houses & History in the March of Wales Radnorshire 1400-1800, a book that really should be in every Radnorian's library. The volume also includes a partial translation of Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal's poem, but as there seems to be no translation of the entire poem readily available here's my rough translation:

The night the generous Son of Grace was born a star appeared as a sign to drag a thousand from the fiery pit and the blind from their darkness.  And a second time after Jesus, the journeying star of Owain: it was brighter than, woe for many, a myriad of smaller stars.  There is a star in Maelienydd, a proud maid of lime and wood, daughter of the king of sunshine, this court is the countess of summer.  Bright daylight, all praise to her, is seen at night in our land.  The duke has many houses, none of them surpass this, many do not know whether this is the moon or daylight?

Llywelyn Fychan, my draught of mead, the son of Ieuan owns it, the stout, generous line of Ieuan of our land, in the eighth degree from the line of Hywel Athro.  Great is his praise on the top strings, the line of Meurig, miracle of the bards.  There's no praise of the privileged ranks without the topstring of Bugeildy.  How pleasant, by St Chad, to come to him through yonder Teme.  He'll win words of greeting, a famous man with a pleasant office; he'll know amusement, joking tales, he'll know the refined words of wise men. I'll study when I alight, eyeing the shining white lime and see, between me and home, a looking-glass from heaven's goldsmith.  There's patronage here for me, in a vale of windows.  Like the city of Rome, a countless number of patterned glass and stone.  None who comes could swear, was it a man or an angel who built his house?  If it was a man he built well.  Joints, trusses, a knot of Tristan, packed crossbeams, a virtuous Christian, the good craftsmanship of the new hall's sanctuary. a chapel amidst great bays, a court like the houses of Cheap, its face covered in lime.  A holy framework, by the rood, a young man's ancient fortress; the sun's candle, chieftain of the close, the wise son of Ieuan's Celliwig; heaven's kinswoman, white-smocked, a stone cloister, St David's glebe;  allow the lord, a collared hart, the life of Noah in his new hall.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nothing Special

A bit of autobiography

Growing-up in Radnorshire in the early 1950s you wouldn't have heard much Welsh.  Indeed I can actually remember the occasion when I became aware of  the existence of the language.  Travelling on a Crosville bus between Llandrindod and Crossgates, my mother plonked me down beside another little lad in order to gossip with the boy's mother on the opposite seat.  Being a friendly sort I tried to make conversation, without any success, prompting the mother to explain that her offspring didn't speak English - which she then proved by launching into an incomprehensible stream of sound to which the previously mute boy happily responded.

A little while after this incident I discovered  that I, too, was a Welsh child of sorts.  Our cottage might not have had electricity or even running water, except for a near-by council standpipe, but we did have a splendid battery powered Ever Ready radio - my family's first step on the road of consumerism.  Wikipedia tells me that the date was 22 October 1955 and my father went crazy when Derek Tapscott scored a goal.  The radio confirmed that Wales had beaten England 2-1 and as a suddenly aware young Welshman I was over the moon.

 Simple Faithful Folk

My mother was born in Abertysswg but moved to Radnorshire, where her mother had relatives, during the swift disaster of 1926.  Later the family moved-on to Harrow - described in 1932 as "largely Cymric" where she and her siblings joined the YCL - for the socials she told me.  The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact didn't prevent her joining the WAAFs, aged just 19, in the summer of 1939 and by 1940 she was serving at RAF Uxbridge.  Churchill and his wife were frequented visitors.  Her opinion of Winston - a drunk, and Clemmie - too interested in the younger officers.  I wish I'd talked to her more about her early life but isn't that always the case.

It's fascinating how as the older generation kick-the-bucket the elites, who now control so much of academia as well as the main stream media, feel able to rewrite the history of the Second World War.  Stalin is painted as worse than Hitler, the role of the Soviet Union diminished to the point where you would think their only contribution was the post-victory rape of every female in Berlin.  Just look at the comments on any Second World War You Tube video for a taster of how these views have entered the mainstream..  Let's forget Anglo-American bombing aimed primarily at the German working class - the main group who actually opposed the rise of Nazidom - and the callous nuclear weapons dropped on an already defeated Japan.

This is a picture of the Ford plant in wartime Cologne.  The factory - at the centre of the snap - remained undamaged while the slave-labour barracks (below it) had been thoroughly bombed.

We're told that this was as the result of the fortunes of war rather than any deliberate plan to preserve the Ford company's property.

Radical Wales seems to be particularly proud of the film Pride, based on a London based lesbian and gay group who raised funds for the mining families of Onllwyn during the great strike of 1984-85.  How safe, how cosy, but then we've always been partial to a pat on the back from our betters.  The main character is an American, which can't have hurt sales to the USA.  Wisely no mention was made of the fact that said hero was General Secretary of the YCL - which even in its revisionist 1980s guise wouldn't have been much of a selling point.

I seem to remember that the miners of Donbas collected millions of pounds for the striking miners, all forgotten now by a radical Wales that can't even be bothered to find out what is happening in present day Ukraine.  Please let's never again mention that Donetsk was founded by a Welshman, it will only serve to remind us of the parochialism and irrelevance of our modern day national movement.  Heaven knows what Gwyn Alf would have made of it all.

Welsh Jokes

I can't remember the Welsh being objects of ridicule in the past, although that certainly seems to be the case today.  Disliked perhaps, but never a joke.  Perhaps it was the influence of Lloyd George and Nye Bevan, seen as being responsible for two of the great social reforms of the 20C - pensions and free health care.  I think it is something different though, and I'm talking about the disregard of the nobs rather than some UKIP bloke from Wolverhampton.  No, I think the old-school-tie brigade have lost their fear of the Welsh working class.  Up until the last great miner's strike there was still a possibility that the established order might topple.  Nowadays that's - perhaps foolishly - not seen as being the case and the Welsh have suffered more than most from Hooray Henry disdain.

The Kurds

When the siege of Kobani started I thought the Americans were engaged in PR bombing to impress the media gathered on the Turkish border overlooking the town. In reality the American action was far more subtle, an average seven bombing runs a day was just enough not to dissuade ISIS reinforcements from reaching the town.  Like wasps attracted to a jam jar they were being lured to their death, pehaps as many as 2000.  Of course this meant that the YPG/YPJ fighters were also being used.  Still treated as terrorists by the US and the EU, they fought the war mainly with AK47s, being largely denied supplies of even anti-tank weapons and night-vision equipment.  Perhaps 500 Kurds died in Kobani, many of them the young women who temporarily became objects of media attention in the West.   Take a look at some of their faces here, they deserve that at least.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Writing the Welsh Out of Popular History

The other night's moon halo occurred exactly 554 years after the battle of Mortimer's Cross, an event marked by the appearance of a similar atmospheric phenomenon, a parhelion.

That battle resulted in the defeat of the Lancastrians and the subsequent execution of their commander Owain Tudur. The majority from what would later became Radnorshire fought on the victorious Yorkist side and their leaders benefited greatly as a result: Ieuan ap Philip was constable of Cefnllys, a fortress which he rebuilt and ruled with the help of a still existing copy of Hywel's laws.  Llywelyn ap Rhys was constable of New Radnor castle and Dafydd Goch - he was from Y Fron close to modern day Crossgates - was granted the small Marcher lordship of Stapleton by Presteigne. In this way the descendants of the old princes of Maelienydd continued to rule their ancestral lands, at least at the local level, maintaining the language, literature, law and traditions of the Welsh.

Check out popular English histories of the War of the Roses and you'll find little about the Welsh just as books on Tudor times rarely mention Wales; and this reminds me of something published the other day on the Daily Wales blogsite.  The article, see here, entertained its readers by including nearly every smidgen of historical balderdash ever dreamt-up about/by the Welsh.  Welsh Israelites - tick; Welsh Indians - tick; the Old British church - tick; Coelbren y Beirdd - tick.

Now what is interesting about this flummery - and  there's nothing new about any of it - is why these legends came about and what effect they had on reality.  Gwyn Alf Williams, for example, wrote a marvellous book about the Welsh Indians, see here although he certainly didn't belive that such a tribe ever existed outside the minds of men.  The Daily Wales article, however, sees the dismissal of these myths as part of some English plot to write the Welsh out of history - their fire may be wildly off target but their heart is in the right place.

Anyone who watches Time Team should play a game and count-up the number of occasions that great leveller Tony Robinson (sorry Sir Tony Robinson) mentions the Anglo-Saxons.  British survivals in Lindsey, Elmet, amongst the Magonsaete and as ancestors of the royal houses of Wessex and Mercia etc. are ignored.  Even when the programme makes a rare foray into Wales you'll more likely hear Baldrick droning-on about Anglo-Saxons.  It's a very one dimensional view of post-Roman Britain.

Then what about King Arthur?  The Matter of Britain is one of the foundation stones of vernacular literature from Germany to Portugal, yet despite obvious Welsh characters and backgrounds any Welsh transmission is downplayed, perhaps the result of lowly tavern minstrels. Never mind that a princess of Deheubarth was rolling around in the bed of the King of England, who by the way was really a Frenchman.

And so it goes on with the BBC the worst offender.  Here's a revealing factoid I've mentioned before in connection with Janina Ramirez' series on the Hundred Years War: Kent was the English shire asked to raise the most men - 280 - for the army that went to Crecy, for many English counties the number was less than 60.  The figure for the cantrefi that went to make up the future county of Radnorshire was 430.  Did the Welsh get a mention, did they hell.  As for Dimbleby's Seven Age's of Britain, who can forget his statement that Britain was pagan until a few Irish monks turned up in Scotland in the mid 500s.  Heaven knows where he thought St Patrick came from.

Fergal Keane's Story of Ireland was little better, the conquest of Ireland being achieved by the English or, at best, the Anglo-Normans. A better term for these half-Welsh conquerors, few of whom would have even been able to speak English, is Cambro-Normans. Frustrated by their failure to make progress in Wales these descendants of Princess Nest turned to a more profitable field of conquest. I suppose Irish pride is better served by blaming the English rather than admitting the role of men like Robert Fitz Stephen who boasted of his Trojan, that is his Welsh blood:

"We derive our descent, originally, in part from the blood of the Trojans, and partly we are of the French race. From the one we have our native courage, from the other the use of armour. Since, then, inheriting such generous blood on both sides, we are not only brave, but well armed."

And so it goes, Ieuan Brydydd Hir got it right some 240 years ago:

The false historians of a polished age
Show that the Saxon has not lost his rage,
Though tamed by arts his rancour still remains:
Beware of Saxons still, ye Cambrian swains.