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wales: welcome I designed this article for the Fall 2013 issue of Stowaway magazine.


he main goal of a castle is to defend from intruders. From its outer curtain walls to its keep, its whole function was to protect those on the inside from the invading outsiders. Wales contains hundreds of castles. Some were built by invaders, used to enforce their laws upon the Welsh people. Some of the castles were made by the Welsh themselves to attempt to defend themselves from outside rule. They are scars of their harsh history of oppression,

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reminders that the rolling green hills that mark their land have not always been so peaceful, reminders that their beloved hills still aren’t completely their own. But, as it often is with scars, these castles have become part of the land, part of the people. Upon closer examination, the Welsh people have come to embody these rugged sentinels, fortifying themselves against outsiders. Wales is England’s lesser-known, cheeky neighbor, offering not only many more castles, but a historical

character that spans back farther than the English, who find their roots in the later Norman and German invaders. So take a journey through Wales and come to understand their castle and their defenses in order to invade the hard outer layers of the Welsh and reach the keep—the heart—of who they are.

The Curtain Wall: The Welsh Fight for Independence


A castle’s curtain wall is its outermost defense. Tall, thick, and strong, it defines the shape of the castle and protects the inner bailey and keep. Just as a curtain wall defends and protects, the Welsh protect their identity most fiercely by defending it. In 1400, Owain Glyndŵr was pronounced a traitor to the English throne and was denied the rights to his land. Furious, Glyndŵr raised a rebellion of Welsh followers and retook northern and central Wales. The Welsh flocked to his banner and

English presence on Welsh soil was reduced drastically. Glyndŵr took over numerous formally English castles when his supplies began to be cut off from Wales in 1407. Eventually, Glyndŵr’s wife and two of his daughters were captured by the English and taken to the Tower of London, where they died. Glyndŵr’s rebellion crumbled, but Glyndŵr lived on in legacy and was never captured or betrayed. He virtually disappeared after 1412. Glyndŵr is one of the numerous heroes of Wales, one of the many who

continually tried revolting against the oppressor. One of the defining characteristics of the Welsh is their stubborn longing to have their own identity and independence. Throughout the ages, they have experienced long periods of invasion and oppression—by the Normans, Vikings, Romans, Saxons—and for much of the time they have been the conquered, but even so, they have never fully let go of their fight for their country. Long before the Angles and ◀ 53

Saxons invaded the island of Britain, the Romano-British people who lived on the western “bump” of the island were gaining their Welsh identity. Having survived the invasion of the Romans, these hardy people were once again subdued by the Normans, who built castles to keep the Welsh in check. Wales still hasn’t given up on its dream for sovereignty yet. According to Tom Taylor, professor of Welsh at Brigham Young University, “The notion of a United Kingdom in many people’s mind is very static, but it’s not. . . . There’s shifts all the time, and less than 100 years ago that they had a country depart.” Wales voted for their own government in 1999, and are still considering complete independence from the United Kingdom. “Some believe they want to be part of England, but others don’t,” says Jonathan, a student studying in America who grew up west of Cardiff.

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Although the Welsh are somewhat torn in their allegiances to English, they certainly sing a different tune than their eastern neighbors. To understand Wales’s continuing fight for independence, take a tour of the Senedd (Welsh National Assembly building). Watch the Welsh senate in action as they make decision that will affect the people. Although the living history of the Senedd demonstrates the current push for independence, there is perhaps no better way to understand the Welsh history than to see one of the many castles, the landmarks that have shaped Wales. Some of the most picturesque include Beaumaris, Chepstow, Harlech, Raglan, Caernarvon, and Criccieth castles. Walking along the outer walls of these castles and looking out onto the shining rivers, grassy hills, and azure ocean, you will understand why the Welsh have fought so long and hard

for their land—their outer wall of defense will fall and you will be faced with the inner bailey.

The Inner Bailey: The Welsh Language Once you have successfully invaded the hard outer layer of the Welsh, you reach the inner bailey, or inner wall, of the castle. But, unlike the outer wall, the bailey enclosed the living area of the castle. One aspect of the Welsh culture that has alienated and fortified them against outsiders but is closer to their hearts is their language. The Welsh language has often been subjected to oppression and ridicule. But, according to Taylor, it is the language that “has really bound them together and kept a sense of nationhood, of pride, of nationalism for thousands of years.” Thus, it is no surprise that they are cautious to fully

accept their English neighbors when they cannot banter in Cymraeg, or Welsh. After all, Wales is the English name for Cymru, and means “outsiders.” If you want to be an insider in Wales, try a little of their language. After you spend a day scaling Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales and England, take an evening walking along the picturesque, garden-lined lanes of Llanberis in Gwynedd, North Wales. While much of southern Wales speaks English, northern Wales remains persistently Welsh. When you say hello to the locals, they may stubbornly answer in their own languge by saying noswaith dda—good evening. Surprise them by asking sut mae—how are you? They will smile and be pleased that you are attempting to use their language.

The Keep: The Welsh and Their Artistic Tradition

The most heavily fortified part of a castle is its keep. It is the central tower of a castle, and was used to protect the most prominent people within the castle. Like the keep, what the Welsh have consistently treasured the most has been their artistic tradition of song, poetry, and art. The Welsh have been blessed with the gift of voice. If there is one stereotype that has actually defined the country, it would be its peoples’ singing. It is this memory of song that remains in Jonathan’s mind. He recalls that as he left Wales, his church congregation sang him the Welsh farewell song “We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside.” The song explains perfectly the Welsh people’s enduring love of song: “This land you knew will still be singing when you come home again to Wales.” If you want to reach this keep of Wales, attend the annual national Eisteddfod, or festival of poetry and song. When you attend the Eisteddfod, you might not understand everything that is being

said—much of the barddoniaeth (poetry) and proceedings are conducted in Cymraeg—but you will look at the strange, draped bard costumes and listen to the poetry and see the grand, hand-carved chair that is given to the winner of the proceedings and know that you are at the heart and keep of something that is distinctly Welsh. After the festival is over, you will have participated in a tradition that dates back to the 1100s and have experienced some of the best singing, art, dancing, and poetry that Wales has to offer. You will have come to understand the community that is Wales.

The Community of Wales

If you understand the defenses of the Welsh and successfully “invade” their hearts, you may be lucky enough to be accepted into the Welsh community. The Welsh, once you get past their quirks and outer defenses, are a loving and communal people. Taylor explains, “In the Great Depression, the valleys had an unemployment rate that was far above almost anywhere else in the country. But there was almost no violence, people helped each other out, and there was just a real sense of community that went very deep.” The Welsh tend to their own, and that sense of community continues even today. Jonathan explains that, although he was born to an English mother and and Irish father, he feels like he is Welsh, just by having grown up in Wales. While on your trip to Wales, interact with the Welsh people. Perhaps, at the end of your visit, you’ll even be lucky enough to hear the song that Jonathan was sung, and “This land of song will keep a welcome and with a love that never fails.” You’ll be greatful that they will keep a welcome for you, for you will realize that while invading the “castle” of Wales, you have unconsciously been invaded by the Welsh people with “a love that never fails.” ◀ 55

Wales: They'll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside