Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jubilee, Grip and Eretz England

So Jubilee and Grip, a couple of ravens at the Tower of London have been killed by an urban fox.  I'm not sure why it needed a Freedom of Information request to extract this information, although we are talking about Eretz England - a state which is happily ditching its last remnants of  press freedom.

You can read the official version as to why George Osborne is willing to cough up £4000 per annum to provide bed and board for these London dossers here.  Personally I have my doubts.  After all the English are very good at writing the Welsh out of the history of these islands.

Take the Tudors, the BBC is forever churning out programmes with posh birds chuntering on about Henry, Mary and Elizabeth.   One thing they'll never mention is the Welsh ... oh they might refer to the wonder of a Welshman from the "lower orders" being the grandfather of a king but that's about it.   Dramatised versions are no better, apart from a denigrating joke in A Man for all Seasons and a Welsh extra whispering in Glenda Jackson's ear you're more likely to come across a Martian than a Cymro.

Of course the reality was far different, with Welsh folk, for example, surrounding England's greatest queen.  A. L Rowse even called Bess a "red-haired Welsh harridan"  - but then he was Cornish.

Poor old Rhys ap Gruffudd is one Tudor taff who has been consigned to the dustbin of history.  Rhys was married to that well-connected lass Catherine Howard - sister of Anne Boleyn's mother and aunt and namesake of Henry VIII's fifth wife.   Rhys got the chop for plotting to make himself Prince of Wales in fulfilment of certain ancient Welsh prophesies.  One of the main charges against him was that he had adopted the surname Fitz Urien - a name with some significance in the vaticinatory poetry called brud.

You get a clue to what these prophesies were in a poem by Lewis Glyn Cothi  to Rhys's great uncle Morgan ap Tomas:

Mae digon o sôn gan Sais
Am Rolant Abermarlais.
Maent hwy fal mintai Owain
O fewn brud yn ofni brain.
Mae'n ddarogan i'r frân fry
Grasu wybr Lloegrwys obry.

Dy gigfrain dros lundain lân
ac ar hyd Lloegr y hedan'

There's plenty of talk from the English about the Roland of Abermarlais.  They, like the troop of Owain in brut, fear the ravens. It's prophesied that the ravens will beat down the firmament of the English .... Your ravens will fly over fair London and all of England.
Of course all this draws on Owain ab Urien in the Dream of Rhonabwy, who our pal Rhys ap Gruffudd claimed as an ancestor.  The English - a more superstitious race than the Cymry* - would no doubt have taken all this seriously.  What better revenge than to behead Fitz Urien at the Tower and let the hapless ravens feast on his flesh.

Rhys's uncle James ap Gruffudd of Castell Maelgwn, another Welshman who deserves to be better know, escaped to the continent, where he pursued his nation's cause in the courts of Europe for a  fruitless decade and more.

So there they remain, the ravens of Owain ab Urien, their wings clipped and subject to gawping tourists and mangy vermin.  Occasionally one escapes this fate, like Branwen - "he was a bit of a brute"** - who was shipped off to Somerset for attacking the gawpers.

Surely it's time to release the ravens, let Eretz England fall and allow a new England to emerge - one that might aspire to being a good neighbour rather than the destroyer of nations.

*  If you don't believe me just check out how many witches each nation was responsible for executing.

** Yes, I know

Friday, October 25, 2013

Radnorshire from above

A new book of Radnorshire interest.

More details here.

The Dublin Franchise

"Irish fascists? - get away with you."  "Anti-semitism! - don't be stupid."  My interlocutor remained unconvinced by my references to the Blueshirts or Denis Fahey.  If he'd know that my maternal grandfather was from Pontlottyn, he'd have surely put my ignorance down to an innate prejudice born of the Anti-Irish riots of the 19C.

Perhaps I should lend him my recently acquired copy of Professor Ray Douglas's Architects of Revolution, subtitled Ailtiri na hAiseirghe and the fascist 'new order' in Ireland. It's a good read, although I did find myself getting bogged-down with the multitude of unfamiliar Gaelicised personal names.

In truth hAiseirghe and it's would-be Fuhrer, Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, might have deserved an extended essay rather than a 320 page book but the background against which the movement grew, and finally failed was fascinating.

hAiseirghe's policies seem crazy now, but at the time that was not the case.  Hitler was fighting, and seemingly winning, a war to make the world safe for totalitarianism.  hAiseirghe and Ó Cuinneagáin saw themselves as obvious candidates to take on the Dublin franchise.

Many Irish people supported the Germans and anti-Semitic views were widespread.  Democracy had shallow roots, let's remember that Britain had ignored the result of election after election and even locked up most of the victors of 1918.  The 26 Counties had been liberated by the gun rather than the ballot box and many were disappointed with the party bickering that had soured the hopes of independence.  The economy stagnated and emigration reached ridiculous levels - four out of every five born in the 26 counties between 1931 and 1941, for example, would eventually leave the country.  A youthful movement that:

despised democracy;
sided with hated England's German enemy;
wanted to expel the Jews;
hoped to form a standing army of a 100,000 to march on the north;
planned to organise an economy based on the corporate state;
advocated that emigration be made illegal - this was also contemplated by De Valera,
declared it would pass laws against the public use of English
and that ultimately aimed to create a "missionary-ideological" Catholic state acting on the world stage

Well it wasn't quite so wildly out of touch with contemporary Irish realities as we might nowadays imagine.

To be a little controversial I'd say that in some ways hAiseirghe resembled the 1970s Welsh group Mudiad Adfer.  Both had grown out of the mainstream language movement, both appealed to idealistic young men and women and both rejected Anglo-American culture in its entirety.  Of course there were huge differences, stemming from time and place and the religious and cultural backgrounds of their members.

A couple of surprises.  Ó Cuinneagáin, who was no soldier, turned to the British general Dorman-Smith for advice on invading the North.  An interesting character I'd not come across before.   On another occasion  in the cause of Celtic solidarity hAiseirghe plastered South Dublin with posters proclaiming Rhyddid i Gymru!

In the end the author says hAiseirghe missed the boat, largely because of  Ó Cuinneagáin's failings, and that with better leadership they could have garnered the electoral success that went to Clann na Poblachta in the 1948 Election.

Welsh-Speaking Radnorians in the 1911 Census

According to some of our leading historians the Welsh language died out in Radnorshire centuries ago. Take Glanmor Williams for example, who wrote of "border counties like Radnorshire which have been English in speech for some centuries" or Geraint H. Jenkins who, referring to the mid 18C, explained that "the language had receded westwards so rapidly in Radnorshire that it had vanished from the lips of all but the most aged inhabitants of the county."

Well there must be something about the Radnorshire air because some of those "aged inhabitants" were still alive and kicking  at the time of the 1911 Census, a handful were even teenagers.

Regular readers will know I'm going over old ground here.  It's quite correct that the Welsh language disappeared at an alarming rate in Radnorshire, as quickly as in Ireland where three generations could see a parish move from a 100% Irish speaking to virtually nil.  Where the experts - beguiled by the language of church services - go wrong, is in placing that process of language shift a hundred years or more too soon.

One wet afternoon I spent a couple of hours noting down Radnorshire-born Welsh speakers in the 1911 Census, I gave up at around 600.   Not all that 600 actually lived in Radnorshire, although there were still a fair number of locally born, let's call them indigenous, Welsh-speakers in the parishes of Cwmteuddwr, Rhaeadr and St Harmon - with the occasional Ned Maddrell and Dolly Pentreath in parishes further east.

Anyway let's get to the point of the post.  There's a theory which gets repeated now and then that language shift in Radnorshire was facilitated by incomers, sometimes said to be Cromwellian soldiery settled in the county after our neighbour's Civil War.  I don't think this theory stands up to much examination.  Firstly because some of the most common 'English surnames' pre-date the civil war, while others belong to the very real 16C plantation in West Montgomeryshire.  Look back at tax returns, wills etc and you'll find that the numbers of incomers settling in Radnorshire parishes were nowhere near enough to facilitate a language shift of their own accord.

And here my couple of hours spent noting down those 1911 Welsh-speaking, Radnorshire-born citizens might have had a purpose.  Amongst the 600 we find long-established local surnames of English origin like Bound, Bufton, Bywater, Hamer, Hope, Ingram, Mantle, Mason, Webb, Wilding, Worthing and Wozencraft.  Oh and Scott, descendants of a Renfrewshire family who turned up in the county in the early 19C and were perhaps the last incomers to be Cymricised in Radnorshire before the current revival.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Something for the Weekend

A Very Old Radnor

OAPs (those aged 65 and over) make up some 18% of the population of Wales, while Conwy on the Costa Geriatrica is the authority with the most old codgers at nearly 25%.  If Radnorshire County Council still existed then it would overwhelm a sprightly Conwy with the sheer number of its zimmer-framed masses.

17 of the county's 27 communities exceed that Conwy total  - Llandrindod, for example, with over 25%, Rhayader a whopping 30% and Diserth, topping the poll, with 34.2%.  Now you don't really need the census to work out that at least half these oldies come from across the border. Without them we'd be nearly as youthful as Cardiff - just 13% potential Dignitas customers there.

Cliches Galore

The Tory conference provided a few belly laughs with every speech containing the phrase "hard working people."  Now it's Cameron's turn, wait for it, here he goes "hard working people."  It must have gone down well at some focus group, but now it's just a joke.

Meanwhile BBC TV goes overboard with programmes trumpeting Britishness.  Just this week we've had:  Britain's Big Wildlife Revival, James Martin's Food Map of Britain, The Great British Bake-Off, Great British Railway Journeys, Fabric of Britain, Great British Menu, A Very British Murder, Britain on Film, The Great British Year, Britain Caught on Camera, For Britain and the Hell of It, oh,  and Science Britannica.

How the Beeb hierarchy must be yearning to get this Scottish referendum out of the way. Then they can get back to making programmes about Tuscany and Provence and places that really interest them.  

Workers of the World Unite?

Labour may not be very good at running an economy but - hats off to them -  they certainly know how to get their own slant on history accepted as gospel.  We're coming-up to the centenary of the Senghennydd disaster and I'd be interested to learn how the left might explain the following snippet:

At the subsequent council elections, the Senghennydd seat was won by the Universal Pit's then manager one William Kestell, standing as an Independent but with Tory support.  He gained 1132 votes.  Labour were a distant second with 368, while the Workingman's Candidate trailed in third with 290.

Little Donkey

Readers of this blog will know that I'm somewhat in awe of the Rebeccaites of Victorian Radnorshire and their low-intensity war against the county establishment.  One of their least attractive features - certainly to our modern minds - was the practise of  mutilating animals belonging to any landlord who over-stepped the mark.

One such event occurred in November 1876 with an attack on St Winifred's church in Cwmteuddwr.  Chairs were smashed, the harmonium broken and the sacistry table placed outside.  To add to the mayhem the throat of the vicar's donkey was cut - newspapers report that the unfortunate beast survived.

Now it seems this was no act of petty vandalism, rather it was a Rebeccaite attack aimed at the local vicar. He was deemed to have insulted the community by allowing his donkey to graze the churchyard, and had ignored previous warnings to desist.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Musical Interlude

Wikipedia tells us that Mandy Rice Davies was born in Pontiets, although her birth certificate is more likely to read Wiltshire.  Ms Davies was, though, a product of that largely forgotten diaspora of half a million Welsh folk who left our country in the "locust years" of the 1920s and 1930s.

Back in the headlines, I've been reading some of the old reports of her court appearances in 1963.  What a clever and spunky eighteen year old Mandy was; fair play to the education she must have received on those occasions when she actually turned-up at her Birmingham Sec Mod.

Nowadays we might have insisted that MRD give her evidence via a video-link, being legally a child when many of the shenanigans were on-going, whether this would be for her protection or that of the court is another matter.