Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Our History

When I was a kid I don't think Radnorshire had a history at all. I guess someone must have been vaguely aware of one, since we pupils at the local high school wore a blue and yellow uniform, the colours of the Norman claimants to the county - the Mortimers. Come to think of it the school badge was the Mortimer coat of arms as well. A bit of a strange choice really.

Radnorshire didn't have a culture either, it's literary figures were all outsiders - Shelley's brief sojourn at Nantgwyllt, Wordsworth's distant connection with Hindwell. A few years later and Powys County Council was pushing the line that Radnorshire wasn't even Radnorshire, it was Kilvert Country.

Perhaps most insulting of all, Radnorshire in the eyes of many Welsh people from outside the county wasn't even Welsh. In the words of Iorwerth Peate we were: "a deracine people, a people fallen between two stools, a community of half-things." Nice.

Anyway that's the background from which I approach the recent Elystan Glodrydd jamboree in Llanbister. Reader Rob reproaches me for posting a link to that event, "please return to posting about the real Radnorshire of poaching, tai unnos and Rebecca, and ignore this sentimental crap." And of course what he says is true: toffs celebrating some remote link with a man who might never even have existed, God Bless the Prince of Wales toasts etc. But it's not the whole truth as the day seemingly also saw Dai Hawkins flogging copies of his translation of Ffransis Paine's Crwydro Sir Faesyfed and John Davies explaining that the Abbey at Cwmhir was founded by our local princes not the Mortimers. It's bound to have raised awareness of some actual history.

Since I was in school Radnorshire has certainly begun to rediscovered its own history and culture, a history and culture that is part and parcel of mainstream Wales. Our history doesn't have to be the sole possession of any foreign establishment, hyphenated or otherwise.


Rob said...
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Rob said...

Well, of course I was exaggerating to some extent for effect, but the main thrust stands.

Chware teg, however, to Dai for trying to inject some proper history into the event; it would be unfair of me not to acknowledge his efforts.

Anonymous said...

I think what the Elystan Glodrydd event at Llanbister last year showed was that there is not enough knowledge of the area's history, and many people outside Wales had not realised how intimately connected they were to Radnorshire, not that this area had been a rich centre of welsh culture or that there had been any local welsh rulers and princes, but assumed it was just pure marcher territory.

This is one of the many reasons why Dai Hawkins' translation of Ffrancis Payne's work is of such importance - he has unlocked a treasure-trove of knowledge and rich welsh culture that was only otherwise available to those who could read Payne's work in Welsh.

The princes and kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys and Deheubarth are all often quoted by historians, culture experts and tourism promoters, but Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, Mealienydd and Elfael are names almost completely unknown to the vast majority of people in Britain. Go into any major bookshop in Britain and look at the history section allotted to Wales - less than a dozen books are squeezed in, almost as an after-sight. Ireland and Scotland have overflowing shelves. This in part must speak to a lack of connectivity to Welsh roots. If you are a McTavish (etc), you know not only what clan you belong to but exactly where in the world your people came from - not just 'Scotland' but the precise locale. So, consciousness of Scottishness and kinship is easy to gain, and there is interest all over the world. Some may say "oh but its all such bunkum" etc. Some of it may be, but the numbers of people who came from across the planet to share in the celebration of the year of homecoming in Scotland is testament to the power of a sense of a belonging and identity, and the historical threads that bring people together. Each year in Scotland, clan gatherings occur, bringing people from the world to the place, powerfully harnessing history and family together in celebration, to enjoy the ties of kinship.

The day at Llanbister last October had a special quality about it, which only those who were there could fully appreciate. It was not designed to be mournful like the event at Cilmeri, nor nationalistic, but rather a simple celebration of a forgotten history and the bringing together of long-separated branches of a family to mark a thousand year anniversary. It was a chance for people to come from all over Britain, and places as far away as California to visit and learn about a place from where they sprung and have a great time doing so.

Most importantly it was a fun and thoroughly enjoyable warm-hearted, family gathering that connected people to a very old song that hadn't been sung for hundreds of years. When was the last time that the elegy to Cadwallon ap Madog, prince of Maelienydd, written by Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr had been read out in Welsh to such a gathering in Radnorshire? When else have any of the ‘5 Royal Tribes of Wales’ gathered happily together, without coming to blows! It was a quite historical gathering of related families, with a shared history.

We all had an enjoyable time and the day was full of smiles, pleasure, and joy at discovering how good it was to have a shared Welsh origin and a strong connection with a history that has been almost completely forgotten. It was positive, embracing and welcoming, leaving cheerful and pleasurable memories for people to hold forever. It enabled the misty history of the past to catch up with the present in a happy way.

In so doing, it played a part in bringing Radnorshire to the fore and the story of the place’s history to people from afar who had no idea how beautiful the place is, nor how fascinating its history and hospitable its local community.

I’m sure Rebecca didn’t mind that for just one day, the name of Elystan rang out joyfully in the hills around Llanbister, echoing along with the names of people like Cadwallon ap Madog, Einion Clud and Phylip Dorddu, and a wonderfully enjoyable and special day was shared by many.

old radnor said...

You make some excellent points and I've reposted your comments on the front page so that regular readers get to see them.

Susie said...

I should very much like to buy a copy of Dai hawkins translation. Where can I get it from?
Builth Wells

radnor redivivus said...
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