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.