Welsh Rabid

An odd thing happened on Twitter this morning. Oliver Kamm posted a link to this article  in The Times:

Anyone can make a mistake but Welsh viewers are entitled to expect media figures to do their homework. It’s not just a matter of pedantry or even manners. There’s a history of incomprehension and outsiders should be sensitive to it.

It is more than half a millennium since Henry Tudor, a Welshman, was crowned King of England. His son, Henry VIII, initiated the Act of Union between England and Wales in 1536. Yet in the centuries since, Wales has not always been perceived as the equal partner it should be.

The media screws up everything it touches, and one of the things that grates me most about what I see of the modern Welsh is how quickly they claim victimhood for the slightest transgression. I was born in Wales and grew up there, and I find it irritating how ultra-defensive the Welsh get if they perceive someone has slighted them in any way. The other thing that irritates me is the narrative that Welsh heritage was ubiquitous, and ignores the fact there were pockets – such as South Pembrokeshire where I grew up – which were as much English as Welsh, and that much of what is associated with Wales is a recent invention: the flag was adopted in 1959, and the national costume dates from the Victorian era. I’m of the opinion if the Welsh want outsiders to take them more seriously – which they do – they need to stop writing their history on the fly. So I made this point:

This caused a riot on my timeline, mainly with people telling me the name Hwlfordd – the town’s Welsh name – is attested to the 14th century. Maybe it is, but it seems to be a corruption of the English name and nobody’s presented any evidence anyone called it that. There are also plenty of other place names in South Pembrokeshire which are English with no historical Welsh translation, but I am told:

I grew up in this place and never heard that; this sounds to me like Welsh history being re-written for an age where everyone must be a victim. What was revealing about my timeline is the viciousness of the responses; the slightest criticism of this increasingly ahistorical narrative about Welsh heritage unleashes a barrage of abuse. Bizarrely, I was then asked to defend the practice of translating Welsh names into English with even a BBC presenter wading in:

One of the things I noticed is the assumption I can’t be really be from Wales because I dare to criticise the dual-naming policy. I can’t find it any more, but I once saw a video of a prominent Welshman in the 1960s expressing his disappointment at the increase of Welsh nationalism. He believed Welshmen should go out and conquer the world, and that the results of government efforts to “restore” Welsh heritage would end up with the country becoming parochial, inward-looking, and ultimately unwelcoming. Was he wrong? I don’t think so.


I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a BBC presenter is being disingenuous in ascribing to me an argument I have not made:



53 thoughts on “Welsh Rabid

  1. @PCar,

    Fair enough, thanks. I value your contributions on here, so it did grate a little.

  2. By far the most impressionable Welshman that I had the pleasure of meeting was the late Alun Richards. We used to gather around the fireplace with a few drinks in hand as he relayed many intriguing stories whilst smoking and tapping on his pipe. His only rule which he told me when we first met was that he wouldn’t discuss politics, sex or drugs. The strange bit is that these fireplace storytelling experiences were given in the setting of an old Victorian grand house perched on the top of Teneriffe Hill in Brisbane, Australia.

    Alun Richards

    Welsh writer who opened his native land to the wider world


    Also, Gareth Jones to me was a gifted writer that was way, way ahead of his time, his intellect unfortunately meant that he knew too much about the world of his day, which led to his murder.

    The Western Mail 16th August 1933
    John Buchan Comes to Learn About Wales

    “Always Felt at Home With Welshmen”

    What would a distinguished Scottish thinker, writer, politician novelist think of the Welsh people? I wondered as I drove out from Brecon to Ffrwdgrech to chat with Col. John Buchan, member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities, author of innumerable histories and novels, a man of unrivalled experience of character and places and now a summer resident in Breconshire.

    “Perhaps there is history being made to-day in Wales with the growth of nationalism,” I suggested. “What do you think of Welsh nationalism?”
    Col. Buchan wanted to learn more about the Welsh Nationalist movement before stating an opinion, but finally he said: “Where nationalism is concerned, as in Scotland or Wales, I think that at the present moment, when things are in the melting-pot, the deepest foundation is not political, but cultural.”

    Col. Buchan was more anxious to talk about the beauties of Wales than of politics, and be showed a remarkable appreciation of our landscapes. “I am tremendously attracted by Mid-Wales and Breconshire because it is like my home on the upper Tweed, where even the names, such as those beginning with ‘Tre,’ are similar.”

    He is keen on preserving unspoilt the beauty of the Welsh coast. “The coast from Aberystwyth to South Wales is beautiful,” he said. “I once saw there a hundred seals in one day. Where else could you see that?”
    When I asked him what would be the best way to save the coast he replied: “The great thing about preserving the coast is to preserve the headlands, and I do hope that they will be protected in Wales.”

  3. For more fun of this kind, start talking about the name “Mumbai” as distinct from “Bombay” with Indian people. “Bombay” is traditionally considered to be an Anglicised form of “bom baim”, which meant “good bay” in 16th century Portuguese. “Mumbai” is the long standing name for the city in the Marathi language, and it is officially derived from the name of the goddess Mumba, patron goddess of the local Marathi speaking Koli people.

    And yet, the two names are quite similar, and there appear to be some 16th century variants of the Portuguese name that are things like “Mombain”, so there is a good chance that “Mumbai” is actually a corruption of a European name. (And to be fair, it doesn’t have to be one or the other – it is not unknown for two similar names or words with different origins to converge to become a single word). It is also sometimes claimed that Mumbai was the original name and that “Bombay” is a corruption of that name rather than a European name, although evidence for this is weak.

    This all mixes up with post-colonial issues and internal Indian ethnic politics (Mumbai is a city full of immigrants from other parts of India in which a huge number of languages are spoken and in which Marathi is not the most common language, although Marathi is the traditional language of the area and Mumbai is surrounded by Marathi speakers). It’s all highly controversial, and what you likely believe is more dependent on where you come from and what language you speak than it is on what might actually be true. Certainly you will be denounced on Twitter at length for expressing pretty much any opinion on the subject, including some of those I have expressed above.

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