All articles written & copyright by John Good
Graphic design by Mark Foshee
Rugby - A Welsh Love Affair
Sunshine and Rain - St. Patrick's Day in Arizona
The Long March from Midnight
The True Meaning of 'British'
"My fellow Ameri...", Part One
"My fellow Ameri...", Part Two
Revised June 2020
Ninnau, Spring 2017
Desert Shamrock, 200?
Desert Shamrock, Spring 2003
Desert Shamrock, Spring 2003
A Welsh Love Affair
Rugby is the national sport of Wales. More than that, it is a passion of a great many inhabiting the valleys, hills and vales; the "green, green grass of home", as Tom Jones sang. Among these, there might be mentioned bank managers, coal miners, professors, know-it-alls, film actors, the delusional, the very young, their great grannies, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Even more than that, for thousands of Taffies (Welshfolk), rugby is a lifelong, torrid love affair; sometimes swelteringly hot, sometimes full of care, seconds later jubilant, quickly followed by dejection and gnashing of teeth. It's strange enough that a whole country should dote on a game, if not invented then surely formalized into its present-day shape by an upper class, English school. But the true mystery is in the reason behind the whole affair. Why rugby? Why Wales? Before we venture into the muddy, bloody world of scrums, lineouts, tries and rolling mauls, indulge me with a little light history.
People in and outside Wales have been playing team sports and games since--if not before--Old King Cole was in kindergarten. Most people like to compete at least a little, and better yet with your mates alongside, egging you on. Before the second quarter of the 19th Century, the precursor of rugby resembled a pitched battle, and was almost as dangerous. The ball size and shape depended on the dimensions of the poor old pig that donated its bladder for the occasion. The field (or rather fields) where the game was set to take place might have trees, hedges, sheep and ditches. There might be several hundred participants, and the match was to be played lasting no more than five days. Kicking other players' shins was optional but considered a good idea. The ball could be handled, but was advanced by kicking, and a "try" (touchdown) was scored after someone tried and succeeded in kicking the ball over a designated tree. In other words, rules of play were at best sketchy and player welfare had to wait 75 or so years in the wings as the emergency rooms of the day filled up.
The big change came in 1823, while the ball game outlined above was being played at Rugby School, in Warwickshire, England. William Webb Ellis, one of the students on the field that day, picked up the pigskin and ran with it. So from its very inception, rugby institutionalized the breaking of rules, as the ball-handling novelty was applauded, and soon became part of the modern rules that were initially penned by the schoolboys themselves. As a footnote, the game got its name from the school (duh!), and these days the winner of the World Cup of Rugby competition, played every four years, gets a cup which is inscribed with this young and adventurous lad's name, the Webb Ellis Cup. Who says breaking rules doesn't pay… or something like that!
For Welsh rugby, the date and place to remember is March 12th, 1881, The Castle Hotel, Neath, South Wales. The game, played according to Rugby School rules, was already gaining popularity in Wales, but on that day, and in that place, for the first time, The Welsh Rugby Union met to organize itself and the sport in Wales. Not long after that international games were played, and rugby took on national significance. More about that shortly. By the way, the hotel is still there, in the middle of town, just ‘round the corner from the castle itself, and is open for all the needs of the weary, hungry, thirsty, not to mention the avid Welsh rugby fans on pilgrimage, to see where it all began.
Jumping forward from great granddad's time to our own, the sport is now worldwide, has several offshoot versions (including Australian Rules, American and Canadian Football, as well as a Seven-a-Side version), and shows no sign of losing its appeal. In Wales, with the frequent excellence of its players and success of its teams, mythic is the word that comes to mind to encompass the pantheon of hero/players, the likes of Gareth Edwards, voted the best rugby player of all time… anywhere! Of household names like Barry John, Gerald Davies, J.J. Williams, or more recently Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Alan Wyn Jones; men who in the folk memory stand alongside Prince Llywelyn, Richard Burton, Aneurin Bevan and Shirley Bassey. But the why of all this keeps bringing us back to earth from utopian euphoria.
Why on a Saturday, mid-winter in Cardiff, are all these smiling people dressed up as daffodils and sheep, with inflatable leeks? An ocean of red floods in and out of the overflowing pubs, along the dragon-festooned streets. People are packed in standing-room-only special trains and buses, soon to fill the iconic Principality Stadium itself; voted best rugby venue in the world. Why, in the name of Dewi, are there 100,000 plus energized, expectant people milling around the metropolis convinced Wales will win, even though the bookies say no way Taffy boy? Not inappropriately for Gwlad y Gân (The Land of Song), the answer is in the singing.
Google "Welsh National Anthem rugby"; I have just regained control of myself after doing exactly that. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers) never sounded better. If you were there on the day, you might hear fine, crowd source versions of Tom Jones' Delilah, the Llanelli "national" anthem Sospan Fach (Little Saucepan), William Williams' Bread of Heaven or David Iwan's Yma o Hyd (Still Here). But it all leads up to the deafening roar and pyrotechnics when the Welsh team takes the field, line up, and the jubilant 75,000 in attendance become quiescent, as the band plays the introductory notes to our battle hymn. Wales is a relatively small country, but at that moment she is indefatigable; at that moment all disputes are forgotten, for once we agree; at that moment our shield wall is unbreakable; we are one. That's why the national sport is what it is; it's a symbol and catalyst of unity, patriotic defiance and, in the best sense of the word, much needed pride and self confidence in these often dysfunctional and regularly threatening times. See you in Cardiff!
Stadium photographs (inside and out) copyright Julie Good
Welsh National Anthem - YouTube, just before Wales beat England, 16 March 2013.
Sunshine and Rain
St. Patrick's Day in Arizona
It has become something of an open secret amongst the wandering Celtic tribes, that St. Patrick's Day, as a social occasion, is celebrated much more enthusiastically in America than in the Emerald Isle itself; perhaps more enthusiastically than anywhere else in the world! Everyone is as Irish as corned beef and cabbage for the day, or at least until the Tullamore Dew runs out. Just about every city, great and small, has some combination of a parade, step dancing, an infestation of shamrocks, leprechauns, bagpipes and enough Guinness to fill the River Liffey. But the celebration of the venerable holy one in the desert, could that be true? The specter of a sea of green washing up against a forest of cacti, could that be real? It certainly is.
As a Welshman who's Welsh-speaking grandmother's birthday was on March 17th, I expected to celebrate, but not with marauding hordes of very thirsty celebrants. As a musician, having just moved to Phoenix area, it came as a shock that my traditional Welsh-American band Tramor (Overseas), was more busy than ever on that day; breathlessly running from festival to pub, concert hall to cooperate headquarters, and private party to retirement home. All under the watchful patronage of a very early Celtic saint. It wasn't hard to get carried along by the tides of humanity enjoying the sunny day. The video below was shot on a particularly warm March 17th. As you can see, tree, umbrella shade and sunglasses were requisite, adding even more to the surreal feeling of a tearful Danny Boy, in an 80-degree plus botanical garden, amongst the Saguaros.
|On the other hand,
Arizona was also the location of the wettest St. Pat's celebration in
living memory this side of Limerick. The weather had been threatening
for days, leading up to the festival to be held in and around the
Phoenix Irish Cultural Center. Everyone--musicians, dancers, vendors,
5000 or so perspective festival goers, volunteers and organizer--were
hoping for a bit of the luck of the Irish. Well, sometime after midnight
the heavens opened. I don't know if the holy saint was annoyed at us
for a little too much celebration the year before, but more rain than
the desert usually sees in a year fell in a couple of hours, and kept on
falling. Things looked grim. All involved would turn up at the center,
but with 2 inches of water on the festival field and lightening in the
forecast, it was hard to be optimistic. The authorities stepped in and
voiced what everyone was thinking. It was too dangerous to open the
gates. The festival was off.
After the announcement, there was a prolonged silence, and then someone took out a fiddle and started to play a jig. Soon, a whistle then bagpipe and flute joined in, and before you knew it a full blown session was under way; spinning in the increasingly hopeful air. A space opened up in the middle of the Great Hall floor and dancers, not be left out, stepped and kicked, circled and weaved in time to the hand clapping that spread around the old place, as everyone's spirit rose. And talking of spirits, the bar was opened, the Jameson's and Harp larger poured and the whole place lifted into untold heights of relieved festivity. There would be a St. Patrick's Day Commemoration after all, and one of the best in living memory.
I doubt if there were many who remember what time the festivities ended. It was late for sure, and maybe, just maybe, this very special, rainy day celebration was aided by one of the great man's lesser miracles. It certainly was welcome and memorable.
You might also enjoy:
Retro Recordings - a photographic and musical timeline.
Live Tonight! - vintage posters, handbills and fliers.
The Long March from Midnight
The piece of ground you stand on, where you live and breathe, wherever that is, should be precious to you and treated with the respect and care it needs and deserves. But in my experience, whether a person is a recent or longtime expatriate or American-born soul of Welsh decent, just about everyone of that multifaceted and sometimes motley crew have big enough hearts to save a little room for love of Yr Henwlad (The Old country). And every time they rise up to sing the immortal hymns of William Williams Pantycelyn, Ann Griffiths, or even the delightful song lyrics of John Ceiriog Hughes; each time they say diolch (thanks), croeso (welcome), or call a loved one cariad (love); each time there's a brightening of the light in their eyes as they speak of Wales and the Welsh welcome. On each of these occasions they are bringing attention to and, in a sense, lending a helping hand to a small country whose culture, language, uniqueness, dignity and even existence has been under threat for 2,000 years. Yes, I love America, my house on this hill, wife, family, friends, dogs and life, but I will never stop loving Wales.
No nation, or for that matter no living thing that I can think of, has managed to avoid a setback or two, at one time or another, be they wealthy, wise, weak or strong. It is in the natural order of things that "the haughtiness of men shall be brought low"; that all things animate and even inanimate are unable to avoid the occasional clatshen (blow to the head). Or, expressed in simple terms, "what goes up will come down." Having said this, there are certain personal and national reversals that define our character and outlook in a deeper sense; events so traumatic that they usher in long periods of doubt, soul searching and feelings of irrevocable loss.
I doubt if anyone reading this article has not experienced this type of grief, be it of the personal or national variety. In terms of the United States, to a contemporary, the Civil War or more recently 9/11, may represent such a national nadir. Others might say the Covid pandemic is such a low point; or the vitriolic, political dysfunction and deadlock in Washington, combined with a seemingly irreconcilably, deeply divided nation, from sea to shining sea, may qualify. Fill in the offending name(s) to suit yourselves: politicians, presidents, crazy uncles! By definition, all convictions of this kind, even those of opposite persuasion, are right, as these judgments/feelings/intuitions are derived from personal perceptions of our collective moment in time. To misquote Rene Descartes, "If you think it is so, it is", at least until you change your mind!
Needless to say Ireland, Scotland and Wales have experienced moments of such utter despair, when it has looked to the majority very much as if the final lines of our troubled histories were being written; the eulogy for our once gilt and ancient glittering cultures was being composed; as if the last rites were being read over a sad and passionate love story. But all three peoples have managed to scribble a few more lines and verses in their epics, with considerable promise of new, if not heroic, then at least self-confident and self-determined chapters. Regional self-governance and self-determinism, even if limited, is a living, breathing reality.
Casting a glance over history's shoulder, three fatal places/times come to mind: Culloden (1746), Battle of the Boyne (1690) and way back to Cilmeri (1282). Three sometime and would-be heads of state rise with the tide, all present at those places in those desperate times: Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), James The Second (King of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales) and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (Ein Llyw Olaf/Our Last Leader). One common enemy emerges, the English monarchy and government, with the same consequence for the Celts: dispossession of land, rights, power and the widespread destruction of hope.
Listen to Robbie Burns:
Strathallan's Lament (1767)
Thickest night, surround my dwelling!
Howling tempests, o'er me rave!
Turbid torrents wintry-swelling,
Roaring by my lonely cave…
Ruin's wheel has driven o'er us;
Not a hope that dare attend,
The wide world is all before us,
But a world without a friend.
Or, as Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch (Griffith Son of the Red Judge) wrote after the death of Llywelyn:
Marwnad Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
Heart cold in the breast with terror, grieving
For a king, oak door of Aberffraw.
Bright gold was bestowed by his hand,
A gold chaplet befitted him.
Oer calon dan fron o fraw--allwynin
Am frenin, dderwin ddor, Aberffraw.
Aur dilyfn a dalai o'i law,
Aur dalaith oedd deilwng iddaw.
After these resounding defeats, Culloden, Boyne and Cilmeri, none of these leaders fared well. James was condemned by the Irish as a coward in rather more colorful language, having fled to the continent. His remains, buried in Paris, were dug up and unceremoniously scattered during the French Revolution. Charles, although finding a final resting place in the Vatican, sought and apparently found consolation between the sheets and in the bottle. Llywelyn, separated from his bodyguard by trick or treason, was then slain and decapitated. His headless body supposedly interred in Cwmhir Abbey; his head displayed on the gate of the Tower of London for 15 years! (His bother Dafydd's head next to his.)
But the real tragedy was back home in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. With the exception of the many eventually unsuccessful uprisings, we would all have to wait until the 20th and 21st centuries to see a still incomplete restoration of anything resembling sovereignty and national hope. Yes, heroic Scottish resistance to The Clearances, Irish resistance to evictions, along with decades of unrest, and Owain Glyndwr (c.1400) briefly taking back much of Wales, before disappearing into the mists of the ages, would keep the sputtering flame burning. But we would have to wait for The Easter Rising to show us that the aggressively mighty could be at least in part bruised badly and forced to make very considerable concessions.
It has been indeed a long march from midnight, especially for the Welsh. But Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley have sat down at the same table in Ireland, and the Unionist have declared that they speak an Irish dialect. Scotland is making its own laws and Wales is, in part, doing the same, as well as going through something of a cultural/linguistic revival and surge in self-confidence. I am increasingly hopeful that I will live to see these Celtic cousins take their full and rightful seats at the global table. Yes, we are relatively small, but are quite distinct from our neighbors, and bring our own particular genius to the interactions of nations. The long march is almost over, and with a long-learnt vigilance, light will shine on the path ahead.
In relation to Llywelyn and the modern day Prince of Wales, I would like to clear up a misconception. The present day Charles, Prince of Wales, is not and never has been Welsh. Following the defeat of Llywelyn and his brother Dafydd in 1301, Edward the 1st King of England, promised the Welsh that he would give them "a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English". He did this by presenting us with his own son and heir Edward (The Second) who had been born in Caernarfon Castle and, when made Prince of Wales, was too young to speak any language at all, being only a couple of months old! Not a good start to better relations.
This investiture of a so-called Prince of Wales became a tradition, and subsequent heirs to the English throne were and still are partially educated in Wales, including some Welsh Language lessons. By the Way, James the Second of Boyne fame was a onetime Prince of Wales. The present "Prince" Charles is not only disliked by a great number of intelligent and thoughtful human beings in Wales and world-wide, but several years ago, when he attended a Llanelli Rugby game, was soundly booed when introduced. Many Welsh long for the day when this absurd, mediaeval, royal sham is discontinued. For the Welsh, that day will symbolize the end of a more than 700-year night. A long march indeed!
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I developed a pernicious addiction to paper. Well, to be precise, second-hand paper, covered in funny little symbols representing ideas, images, emotions and conversations. In other words, words. I couldn't seem to pass even the most ramshackle shack of a used book store. I just had to go in. I've found myself doing more than the occasional, borderline legal U-turn just to bathe in the musty, venerable air, and browse--the more disorganized the better--floor-to-ceiling, overflowing shelves of other peoples' literary cast offs. I'm aware I'm not the only one to have or to have had the same problem, a kind of intellectual self-medication. I'm sure that lots of others have lined the walls of many a spare room, home office, attic, entire abode with their precious trove of tantalizingly inexpensive, must-have, reading materials.
Is there a cure? A clinic for those addicted to vintage ink? Twelve Steps for the incorrigible bibliophiliac? Well, maybe. In my case, I started to realize I was increasingly falling further behind in my reading. I was bringing so many faded treasures home, while still having to put food in the fridge, keep a roof over my library and the climate control running to protect the rare collection, that there were more and more books never read. The sheer volume (sic) of tomes was threatening to overwhelm body, mind and soul, not to mention a very patient, understanding wife. Since childhood in South Wales, I have always read a lot--even by torchlight under the proverbial covers--but now I was well and truly hooked on books!
It was past time to take stock. Well actually go through the "stock" and cull the herd, especially as we were weeks away from moving house. Paper is heavy and a home full of weighty paper is good news for a chiropractic practice, but daunting to the unpracticed, amateur house mover. Luckily for me, I found out that the local library was having a book sale and looking for donations. Putting my precious Welsh and forever-books to one side, I started sifting through my general collection, weeding out those once-upon-a-time, must-have, must-read gems that were never read. I soon found myself, in a fit of uncharacteristic, zealous penance, adding to the why-did-I-ever-buy-that-book pile; many a cover I would, in all probability, never read or read again. Ten or so very full and leaden boxes later, I pulled away from the amazed and grateful librarians, with my home, vehicle and life enlightened and my bodily self almost lightheaded after the bloodletting. I was cured!
As with all seemingly significant moments in life, I began to mull over the whole books never-read saga. Not for the first time, my errant mind led me into a maze of byways and never travelled, imaginary trails. Come and take a stroll with me.
From books never read, to paths not taken was a short vault in my mental gymnasium. Everyone, either by intent or accident, has shaped their own and, to some extent, other people's lives. For example, in my mid-twenties, by intent, I waved goodbye to my mother, father, brothers and Wales, and came to America. More by accident than intent, I'm still here some 40 or so years later, having lived in The Bay Area, L.A. and Phoenix and about to move to the mountains of Arizona. Looking back, there's an accidental element to all these moves, past and future. In a similar vein, what about people? Friends, work associates, even my wife, all were met and developed into short or long term relationships in great part by chance. And what about the places I might have lived and never did? What if I'd stayed in Wales? What about relationships that never developed? Work I never took? They all seem to me today to be very much like books never-read. I'll never know of course what might have been, so why disturb the dust on the rose bowl--to paraphrase T.S. Eliot--which brings me back to books.
Everyone, at least occasionally, wanders around in their own what-if, wonder world. "If I'd been a day sooner or week later? If I'd stayed a little longer or never stayed at all. If I'd turned left at the junction instead of right. If I'd been a little more patient. If only I'd... " For me, there is a point to all this fantasizing. For a long time, I've found it useful to have a good understanding of where I am in life; why I do and did certain things; why I don't and didn't do others and so on. Armed with this personal history, I make better decisions about the things I can control in the here and now, while it makes me more likely to smile about the frequently serendipitous and accept the inevitable.
It's somewhat like writing and simultaneously reading a novel in which you yourself are a main character. At the end of the day it's all fantasy, but just like reading a well worked, thoughtful story, fiction has lessons for real life situations. What if I'd stayed in Cardiff, at the university, instead of joining a jazz band in San Fran? But no, it was a great adventure and academic bureaucracy has never been to my liking or taken a liking to me. What if I'd gone to live in New Orleans as I once thought of doing? But no, the perpetual party on the bayous would have taken its toll and steamy swamps are steamy swamps. Or if I'd only kept in closer touch with my school friends in Aberafan and South Wales, or with other friends met in London, Brighton and beyond.
There's a tinge of regret with some of this wonder-wandering, but looking back, there's also the lesson of taking better care of valuables in the future and making the ongoing effort that friendship and love deserve.
Do you see what I'm getting at? Reading books never-read has its place. Strangely enough, there's something of a riddle in this thought, something like, What things never were but still are? It's the strange idea that what wasn't done can have as much to tell us as what was done. Well, I've told my tangled tail and now I really have to go. There's so many books I've never read...
|I came to the
United States from Great Britain on October 6th, 1975. I was 26 years
old. On the same date in 2001, I had been here for 26 years. The
mathematically nimble amongst us will have noted, at that point in time,
I had spent as much time abroad as I had spent at home in the UK. This
mile stone called for considerable soul searching and begged the
question, "Who and what am I?" Having been the grateful beneficiary of
the wide-ranging advantages available in the Land of the Free--a wife
and second family, my own house, security, great friends, a career in
the creative arts, respect of my peers and continuing hope--I have,
since that time, gradually felt more and more at ease being and thinking
of myself as a Welsh American; a lucky man who has had a great life in two extraordinary countries.
For many a day, I have thought very little about proving who I am--identification/uniaethiad/ I.D.--only when going somewhere by aeroplane, and for a good long while I haven't been suspected of being underage when buying a pint of cider. A, let us say, well-travelled, late middle-age face is all the proof needed by the keeper of the kegs! To tell the truth, when I first came to the United States in the mid 1970's, other than my British passport, I didn't have any I.D. at all, either with or without my youthful likeness.
Somewhere in a dresser drawer upstairs in my Mam's house was my birth certificate, with the Welsh and English details cursively and quite exquisitely handwritten, in flowing black ink. The registrar must have had a lot of practice, patience and pride to produce something so officially aesthetic, especially when he or she may have been using an ink well and pen. My old school copybooks would willingly and graphically attest to that scribe's superior bureaucratic artistry.
Somewhere even deeper in the caves of forgetfulness, in some dusty shoebox were my music degrees. Not of much use to an expatriate playing and singing in West Coast, Summer-of-Love, folk, jazz and rock bands. So, as you might expect, thoughts of proving my identity or my fitness to write a fugue in the style of J.S.B., were buried deep in the other id--my subconscious. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da life goes on", as John, Paul, George and Ringo told us. But not so long ago, by an understandable yet more than moderately sleepy oversight, my ego was rudely jolted into wide-awake attentiveness. I was forced to again ask the existentially fundamental "Who are you Johnny?" This will take a little explaining.
Reticent to fully recognise my longstanding, ongoing expatriateness and give up even a minuscule vestige of birthright and cherished Welshness, I have never applied for American citizenship. I have possessed a so-called Green Card for many a year. In truth, it used to be called the Resident Alien Card--a title not without its unintended extraterrestrial humor and blunt clarity. More recently these cards were renamed the kindlier and terrestrial Permanent Resident Card, and therein lies the rub.
Somewhere in the shale bed of the swirling shallows of my unconscious I took this to be, as advertised, a semantic fact. No need to trouble myself, even occasionally rereading this piece of compressively informative plastic. To me, it says and meant "Permanent". The awakening came late last year, in my brother and sister-in-law's cozy front room in deepest South Wales. I was trying to get a routine, on-line boarding pass/seat assignment the night before returning to America. Dim shwd lwc. No such luck. The Permanent Resident Card, allowing re-entry into the USA, had a ten year shelf life and was a month or two beyond its sell-by-date. Or more prosaically, it had expired!
Considering the hourly-changing, official U.S. stance regarding borders and those wishing to cross them, I spent an uneasy night, short on sleep, and a couple of edgy Sunday hours on the Heathrow-bound carriageway of the M4 motorway. With my very best attempt at assuming an innocent, slightly unworldly demeanor, and after several brow-knitting conversations with uniformed officials, I gratefully took my precious and space-inadequate seat on the crowded 747. With nothing but time on my hands, I pondered what, ten or so hours later, I would say to the American immigration authorities.
|I'll come back to
my mid-air cogitations a little later, but to return to the plot...
After a humorless hour under the neon lights in Homeland Security "Room
13", the wrong side of re-entry into the Phoenix night, I promised to
put things right the very next day. I then picked up my bags and, with a winning smile on my egg covered face, headed for the west side of town.
Coming back to my cogitations during the continental limbo of my transatlantic flight, I was compelled to think again of what nationality meant, having been in more than one way between countries, if not continents. Firstly there was the imminent legal matter of the out of date I.D., then the documented fact of my foreign birth, and finally the badge of honor, object of pride and love I carry for the old country. If I'd been turned back at the entry point, the old country would have become the new.
After reaching my sleepy subdivision, on the outskirts of town, and taking a few days to reset the body clock and culturally adjust, the inner debate actually gathered steam and rolled along brand new lines. What is it to be Welsh? I asked. The Irish have their step dance, jigs and reels, Yeats, Mrs. Brown's Boys and Guinness; the Scots have kilts, bagpipes, haggis and Burns. What about us, of Welsh heritage? What binds and readily identifies our own Cymric tribes? Sheep, rugby, a national vegetable, William Williams P., Dame Shirley, Iaith y Nefoedd/The Language of Heaven?
Well that was a good solid start. But looking into the unknown depths of not being Welsh anymore and acknowledging my long-time residency, through seeking American citizenship, would need a head-first dive into unchartered ocean fathoms. Some of my friends back home already jokingly called me a "Yankee", but could I actually become one? Would this happy-go-lucky, patriotic, Welsh whistling fool irrevocably become sullen... morose? End up grumpy and regretful; avoided by polite society; a casualty of terminal Hireath/homesickness?
The dilemma was resolved at least temporarily by the authorities. To become a citizen, your Resident Card must be current and, although I was granted a lengthy extension, the final process, these days, might take as much as six months or more. To tell the truth, it felt like a reprieve, but the deeper question of identity was becoming clearer. I'm sure many reading this will identify with my take on what it means being of Welsh heritage. I invite a dialogue, so I'll get the ball rolling with my tri chynnig i Gymro/three tries for a Welshman. It's more about why than what. We all have affection for at least one or two out of Sir Tom, The Red Dragon, Gavin and Stacey, Welsh cakes, and Dylan Marlais T., but why?
Let an unashamed Welsh Nationalist start out by saying that Wales is no worse or better than anywhere else. Different? I believe so. Unique? Absolutely. My love of the green, green grass, industrial artifacts, and four-part singing in the bath, not to mention blackberried hills and valleys, is not fuelled by reason or science. "Love conquers all" meets very little resistance from logic, facts and statistics, and has intellect under siege. I can't tell you why it does, but it does.
I can name a long list of things starting with family, friends, memories, scenery, pies and pasties, pub society and music. I could list Welsh people's widespread attributes of kindliness, hospitality and a ready humor; then there's the language, poetry, history, heritage and culture; not to forget documented courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and tribal unity when faced by outside threats, especially rugby teams from across The Ditch. This list is very incomplete and your list would surely be at least somewhat different, though people from completely different countries might very well have a similar-in-kind list to mine, of why they adore their homeland. Which only goes to show--fact of birth and upbringing aside--that love of your country of origin is delightfully spontaneous and in many ways accidental.
Don't get me wrong, I would be the first to man the barricades, if needed, routinely defend and promote the cultural uniqueness and extol what is best in the land, where the sea washes up on those glorious rocky shores and fills those storied brackish estuaries. Having said that, I am aware that my national passion actually grows by recognising the validity of other peoples' perceived identities, no matter where they come from. Otherness is not a threat if, in this sense, we are all other, and identity is neither plastic nor necessarily factual. When it comes down to it, deep down, I am Welsh because I feel Welsh and can't imagine being anything else... ever. That's all the reason I need! Hwyl am y tro/bye for now.
|Considering the mayhem soup (cawlach)
surrounding and particularly following the coining of the word and
voting on Brexit, I thought I'd heat up and stir my insidious, verbal
cauldron and re-serve my take on...
The True Meaning of 'British'
For some time I have found myself wanting to interrupt people when I hear them use the terms 'Britain' and 'British'. Celtic people in general and expatriates in particular are anxious for others to be aware of the pride they feel in their ancestry and, to this end, I will try to set the record (as it appears to me) straight and I'll weigh in with the heavyweights, the university professors.
The dictionary tells us that 'British' comes from Middle English 'Bruttische', Old English 'Brettisc', Saxon 'Brettas'; a form of Latin 'Britannia'; originally of Celtic origin, akin to Welsh Brython (Briton). We also learn that the Brythonic (British) group of languages includes Breton, Cornish (fighting back from extinction at the moment), and Welsh (proponents fighting each other for centuries). They are all linguistic descendants of the Celtic language of the ancient Britons of Caesar's day. Joseph Shipley, Dictionary of Word Origins, goes further, saying, "The British draw their name from Celtic (Welsh) brython, meaning tattooed." In fact the modern Welsh word for a Pict (ancient tattooed inhabitant of Scotland) is still Brithwr. Brithyll is a speckled trout and brithwaith is a mosaic; all related to the word brith, meaning spotted.
Oliver Padel, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (University of Cambridge), wrote to tell me pretty much the same thing, that 'Britain' came from 'Britannia', Greek 'Pretannikoi' and before that Celtic 'Prydein' (Modern Welsh Prydain). While Anthony Harvey, Editor, Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (Royal Irish Academy), added that "a B rather than a P (is found in Latin) because that is how the Romans heard it when they came, thence generating the Latin word 'Britannia', which was then borrowed back into Celtic... the word 'British' has been (in reverse order) English, Celtic, Latin, Celtic." Prydain could also be traced back to Pryderi, a son of Rhiannon (Pagan, Welsh Goddess). He became Lord of Dyfed (South West Wales) and as the Mabanogi relates, "under an enchantment he was trapped in the Otherworld (Annwn)." Down through Welsh history there have been many Pryderis, some real, some mythical, but more on this later.
To sum up, a Briton was a Celt who arrived on the island, perhaps beginning as early as the 7th or 6th century BC, and undoubtedly mixed with its latter-day Stone Age aborigines. At the same time, the Irish were doing something very similar in what was to become Erin and would be known as Gaels. In Ireland they spoke Gaelic, in Wales and the mainland, Brittonic (proto Welsh).
Caesar's invasion (55 BC) was intended to prevent the Britons from aiding their kinsmen in Gaul. Julius writes in the third person, "And so it was about 10 a.m. when Caesar arrived off Britain with the leading ships. Armed men could be seen stationed on all the heights, and the nature of the place was such, with the shore edged by sheer cliffs, that missiles could be hurled onto the beach from the top. Caesar considered this a totally unsuitable place for disembarkation, and waited at anchor till 3 p.m."
Later we find his famous and rare description of the inhabitants, "Most Britons are dyed by blue woad and this makes them look fiercer as warriors. They have long hair and shave everywhere except their heads and moustaches." Yes, the Britons fought in their birthday suits! Other than the Picts in Scotland, these "Britanni", as he calls them, were the only inhabitants of what is now Britain. Britannia means 'beyond the sea' in Latin. Claudius, the island's final conqueror, even called his son Britannicus, in honor of his victory.
The Saxons (English-to-be) began to arrive in the Fifth Century and, in response, St. Gildas wrote his The Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae), AD 456. Despite being educated in Wales, he had nothing good to say about us and even less about the Saxons. The Venerable Bede wrote A History of the English Church and People, circa 625. As the title suggests, he was pro-Saxon and even more prejudiced against his British neighbors in Wales, Cornwall and the north of England.
|During this period,
Brynley Roberts tells us, "The duty of the poets as a learned class
(was) to conserve and transmit the traditional history of the Welsh,
(making) references to elusive characters like Prydain fab Aedd,
probably an eponymous founder of Britain." Ceri Lewis is quite specific,
"Entirely different in mood is The Prophecy of Britain (Armes Prydein);
a poem of just under 200 lines, written around 930 probably by a member
of a monastic community in South Wales, who was bitterly opposed to the
policy pursued by his king, Hywel Dda (Howel the Good, no relation), of
recognizing the overlordship of the king of England, of living on
peaceful terms with the English, and of paying an oppressive annual
tribute of gold, silver, cattle, hounds and hawks."
Lewis continues, "Negotiations were in progress between certain of the Celtic and Norse inhabitants of the British Isles, the Irish, the Danes of Dublin, and the peoples of Wales, Scotland, Strathclyde, Cornwall and Brittany (a Cornish-Welsh colony in N.W. France), with a view to forming a pan-Celtic coalition that might resolutely oppose the aggressive policy of Athelstan. On one of his coins and in many of his charters he is proudly described as 'King of the English and ruler of all Britain'."
From Armes Prydein:
In forest, in field, in hill, in dale,
A candle will march for us in darkness,
Cynan leading the charge in each assault,
Saxons will sing their lamentations before the Britons.
The last line, in Welsh, reads "Saesson rac Brython gwae a genyn" and "Saeson" (Saxon) is still the Welsh word for an Englishman. Cynan is the son of prophecy (mab darogan), who will return from the past to lead this Celtic federation under the banner of Saint David. Unfortunately, in 937, Athelstan won a decisive victory at Brunanburh.
Even the Irish got into the 'British' sweepstakes. "All of them (Nemedians) the sea engulphed / Save only three times ten." (Poem by Eochy 0' Flann, c. 960.) Britan, their chief, settled in Britain, giving his name to the country; while two others returned to Ireland, after many wanderings, as the Firbolgs and People of Dana. If this is true, 'British' is Irish in origin!
1066 saw the appearance of Haley's comet and Norman troops in Hastings. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who's History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae) appeared about 1136, claimed that Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas, was the first king of Britain. Brutus came from the Mediterranean and was said to have led the enslaved Trojans to the Island of Albion, as the British Isles was known; suggesting that the original Britons were from Troy. Brutus is reported to have defeated many giants including 'Gog' and 'Magog', "then called the island Britain from his own name, and his companions he called Britons. His intention was that his memory should be perpetuated... A little later the language of the people, which had up to then been known as Trojan or Crooked Greek, was renamed British, for the same reason."
All this was taken, according to the author, from an "old book in the British language." But mythical or not, the Historia filled a gap in British history; providing the Normans with a history of their adopted land, confirmation of their superiority and the Welsh, their first coherent history of themselves. Geoffrey ended his book with the comment that he was leaving the history of the "English" to fellow historians, William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon.
Of more recent times, the superb historian John Davies tells us, "In 1577, John Dee, a London Welshman, claimed that King Arthur had won a vast empire in the north Atlantic, and that the voyages of Madog... had confirmed the title of the Welsh to those territories. By the Age of Elizabeth, he asserted, they were under the sovereignty of the queen as successor to the Welsh princes. It was Dee, it would appear, who coined the term British Empire; British in the sense of Brythonic. Gwyn A. Williams, in his uniquely provocative way, has argued that it is "fitting that the term was coined by a Welshman. Inventing the British Empire would be a sufficient source of pride or shame."
Elizabeth the First was fond of the Welsh. Some say her grandfather, Henry the Seventh, had spoken the language. He was crowned on Bosworth Field mainly because of the heroism of soldiers from Wales, the land of his birth. That day was also the first recorded occasion when the modern Welsh flag--Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon)-- led an army to victory.
I'll give the last word to Antone Minard, University of Wales, Aberystwyth (Center for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies). "'British' and 'Welsh' was the same thing until the 1800's... but it hasn't been for centuries. Now, I hear people (even people from Wales) saying 'British', meaning people from England only!" So if you see any naked, tattooed, blue Welsh people wandering around the neighborhood, be kind to them, they might be Ancient Britons.
Figure 1. Tal-y-Llyn Plaque (copyright Amgueddfa Cymru)
Figure 3. Book of Taliesin (copyright Nat. Library of Wales)
"My fellow Ameri..."
Madog, Prince of Wales and Alabama? Once upon a time there was a very powerful ruler of Wales, Owain Gwynedd. He kept the Normans out of much of the country for his entire reign but, what is even more surprising, in 1170, he died in his bed. As was common in the middle ages, his passing initiated a blood bath, particularity amongst his fourteen offspring. One of these, a mild, tall, handsome, natural son, who had already made a mark for himself as an adventurer, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and hoisted his sail for destinations West:
Madog am I, the son of Owain Gwynedd,
With stature large and comely grace adorned,
No lands at home, nor store of wealth me pleased,
My mind was whole to search the ocean seas.
Madog wych, mwyedig wedd
lawn genau Owain Gwynedd
Ni fynnai dir, f'eniad oedd,
Na da mawr ond y moroedd.
A tad later a Roger Morris tells us Madog was a "great sailor, much given to voyaging far afield," and he built "a ship without nails but fastened with stag horns so that the sea would not swallow it." He called it the "Gwennan Corn". (The White Horn?)
Like the Vikings, he probably had a crude compass and although many argue that without a magnetic instrument transatlantic voyages were impossible, he nevertheless seems to have followed in the footsteps of St. Brandon and Leif Ericsson in the general direction of Coney Island.
Sir Thomas Herbert around 1634 tells us: "Anno 1170 he [Madog] left his countrie, and after long saile and no less patience, blest with some happy winds, at last descried land in the Gulph of Mexico not farre from Florida." A little lower than Ellis Island but not bad for 1171! Following in Madog's footsteps, three hundred years later, Columbus seems to have recognized his predecessor by writing on his West Indies maps: Questo he mar de Cambrio (These are Welsh waters).
Madog, returning to Gwynedd the same year, convinced one of his brothers, Riryd -- married to an Irish princess and living in Ireland -- convinced him to gather his people and join the as many as thirteen shipfulls of hopeful Welsh getting ready to sail into the sunset. For Madog this was his historical sunset: nothing more was ever heard about him, his brother and brave comrades. Although in 1645, a James Howel tells us that he came upon a tomb in the West Indies with an inscription that read:
"Weary of a life of bloodshed and rapine in Gwynedd, I sailed with ten ships and three hundred men towards a country much recited in the annals of our Druids; a distant world which lay in the west. After thirteen weeks, battered, famished and disheartened, we reached it at last. There for twice thirty years I and my people lived in happiness and peace, possessing wealth not dreamed of in hungry Wales."
|There are also persistent legends among the Aztecs that a bearded
Welshman named Madog became a quasi-divine king in South America. More
of facial hair later but we digress. The last clue to Madog's epic
voyage was discovered by the Reverend E. F. Synnott amongst some Twelfth
Century official seafaring papers:
Guignon Gorn, Madauc
Pedr Sant, Riryd, filius
Basically it tells us that in 1171 Madog, Riryd and the Gwennan corn were lost at sea.
The Crimson Tide and Spain
Hernando de Soto, Amerigo Vespucci, not to mention Columbus himself -- the great, latter-day explorers -- seem to have been aware of dear old Wales and it's discovery. "In 1519, Diego Ribeiro, a Portuguese cartographer in the employ of Spain, drew a map of the known world with the words Tierra de los Gales (Land of the Welsh) upon a thin line pointing to what is now called Mobile Bay. At right angles to this line, another short one points slightly upward-northward." This was written by Ellen Pugh in her extraordinary book 'Brave his Soul' (ISBN 0-396-06190-7), upon which I based this article.
Ellen goes on, "John Sevier, frontiersman and statesman, who fought Indians in the Tennessee Valley for over thirty years, then served two terms as the first and
third Governor of Tennessee" tells us that in 1810 there was an "ancient book in the hands of a Cherokee woman... written in the Welsh characters, said to be given to her by an Indian from the west side of the Mississippi, and which was afterwards burned with her house. In 1782 I was on campaign against some part of the Cherokee... I had discovered traces of very ancient, though irregular fortifications."
Fort Mountain State Park
"Inquiring of a venerable old chief called Oconostota" he said, "It is handed down by the Forefathers that the works had been made by the White people who had formerly inhabited the area" and that a woman in his nation, named Peg, had an old book given her by an Indian living high up in the Missouri, and that he thought he was one of the Welsh tribe. Unfortunately before I had an opportunity of seeing the book the old woman's house and its contents were consumed by fire.
|In Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee there are at least three heavy stone
fortifications which were built a few hundred years before Columbus
arrived. It is also agreed that they are totally unlike any known Indian
defense works." Another account tells us, "On top of this peninsula are
the remains of what is esteemed to be fortifications which consist of a
stone wall built on the
very brow of this tremendous ledge. The whole length of the wall is
thirty-seven rods and eight feet, including about two acres of ground."
Dolwyddelan Castle, Wales
Further research has suggested the ruins resemble Dolwyddelan Castle, Madog's birthplace. In the area is a river, originally called Mad Dog (Madog?) And talking about water, it appears that three hundred years before 1482, that a Welsh prince or the descendants of his party landed at Mobile and began to move north up the many waterways through Tennessee and Kentucky, leaving stone forts behind them. Persistent legends tell us that they eventually settled high up on the Missouri river; considering the interconnectedness of the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers, this is entirely possible.
Historic Plaque, Mobile, Alabama
Three Roman coins were unearthed in the area of the forts: "The coin seems to have been a denarius of Antonius Pius. A piece closely answering the description is in the catalogue of the British Museum. The coins were of the second century." And in 1799 "six skeletons, wearing Brass breastplates engraved with a design reminiscent of the Welsh coat of arms, were dug up at Jeffersonville, near the (Soto) Falls, on the Indian side of the river. Also, that a tombstone, or part of one, bearing the date 1186, was
uncovered there. If so, this along with the breastplates has long since vanished."
There is an interesting account by a Reverend Morgan who, as late as 1666 was captured by the Sachem Indian tribe and preparing to meet his maker spoke his worldly farewell in his mother tongue. He was summarily amazed to be released followed by a conversation with his captors in the "Language of Heaven": Welsh!
To be continued.
|The story so far...
In 1171 a Welsh Prince, Madog Ap Owain Gwynedd sailed westward from Wales, away from the murderous Saxons, Normans (and his equally murderous Welsh relations), landed at Mobile Bay, Alabama and established a Welsh Colony that left archeological evidence -- coins, armor, stone forts -- behind them. These Celtic colonists (including an Irish Princess!) then moved north along the great waterways of America. The Spanish "discoverers" acknowledged their predecessors, attested to the above facts in writing and, as late as the 1600's, adventurers reported form a variety of locations, having met friendly, Welsh-speaking Indians. Now read on!
The Plot Thickens
In the late 1700's a very colorful character named William Augustus Bowles turned up in London. With his turban, feathers, jewelry and incredible Indian stories he mesmerized higher London society. He styled himself: "Director General and Commander-In-Chief of the Muskogee Nation." Was he true chief or just another Okie from Mus.....? Well, even royalty had him 'round for a cuppa, scones and a peace pipe. Largely based on Bowles' melodramatic evidence and ancient Celtic legend, a London-Welsh society -- The Gweneddigion --formed a committee (one talent the Welsh share with the Irish!), raised a little money (one they do not!!) and packed off a young man called John Evans, to search for white native Americans who sang as they played rugby on their way to the nearest pub.
W. A. Bowles
I Spy With My Little Eye
Evans subsequent research, after arriving in America, inclined him to believe the Welsh Indians were now to be found far up the Missouri River. He made inquiries in St Louis, telling people of his quest for great grandad Madog and the boys and, the Spanish authorities recognizing him immediately as either dangerously deranged, an obvious yet clever British spy or both, clapped him in irons. Evans spent two years under lock and key but, the wily Spaniards received information about a tribe called the Mandan that seemed to support the crazy Welshman's story. So -- anything to counter English and French claims on the territory -- they sent Evans off to map the upper reaches of the Missouri and claim the Midwest for Wales (under the ever-watchful eye of Madrid).
|A little later,
still being paid a small fortune by Spain; now considered a Spanish
agent; unable to return home and unhappy with the continuing lack of
financial support from the Welsh, he completely denied the existence of
any Indians with uncles in Cardiff, Bangor or even the little village of
Although, a latter day acquaintance was to say, "...when heavily in strong liquor [Evans] bragged to his friends in St. Louis that the Welsh Indians would keep their secret to their graves because he had been handsomely paid to keep quiet on the subject. He added that within a few more years there would be no more trace of any Paleface Indians."
Accidental Celtic Cleansing
He was right, one of Europe's most endearing gifts to the New World--smallpox--took care of almost all of this strange tribe. But from this man and other explorers we have reports of "women (who) have not the Indian physiognomy"; of pale, Welsh-speaking natives with blonde or reddish hair, blue and gray eyes, who wore beards and who's hair turned white and gray with age: some very un-American-Indian traits.
Mink, Mandan girl, by George Catlin
Another boy from home, Merriweather Lewis and his cohort, William Clark spent time amongst the Mandan nation but, for us, more importantly, so did the artist George Catlin (1833-34), who left us a firsthand account and paintings:
"But this much I can safely aver, that at the moment I first saw these people (the Mandan Indians) I was so struck with the peculiarity of their appearance, that I was under the instant conviction that they were an amalgam of a native with some civilized race; and from what I have seen of them and of the remains of the Missouri and Ohio rivers, I feel fully convinced that these people have emigrated from the latter stream; and that they have... with many of their customs, been preserved from the almost total destruction of the bold colonists of Madawc, who, I believe, settled upon and occupied for a century or so, the rich and fertile banks of the Ohio."
|He also noted that
"They fished in a boat which was unlike any used by other Indian tribes
in America. It was made of willow or other flexible boughs which formed a
frame shaped like a round tub. Buffalo skins were stretched underneath
the frame" and that "the paddle bore a claw at the top of its loom" This
could be an exact description of the coracle used on the river Teifi in
West Wales but, of course, for Buffalo skins substitute English hides.
Mandan War Chief by George Catlin
A Fish called Pysg?
Most remarkable of all the evidence are the 350 Mandan words that were collected in the 1700's. Take a look at some of these! I give the English, then Mandan, then Cymraeg (Welsh):
coracle koorig corwg
paddle ree rhwyf
fishing area burra bwrw
fishing net ruydrat rhwyd rhwth
fish ( noun) pisg pysg
beautiful prydfa prydferth
blue glas glas
bread bara bara
bridge pont pont
estuary aber aber
foot troed troed
great mawr mawr
he efo efo
I am yr-effi yr wyfi
in the boat in y kook yn y cwch
So next week when George Jr. (George W. Bush) steps up to the microphone and opens with: "My fellow AmeriWelsh..." he hasn't tripped over his lips again, he's just recognizing cousin Madog from mobile!
Hyd y tro nesaf, Hwyl, Sion Dda.
Until the next time, good luck.
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