When on holiday recently I posted my most popular Facebook comment:
“Driving through Belgium pulled over for a cuppa. Found a lovely place by the river. So I hired a boat and rowed up stream. I pulled over for a rest at a graveyard and found the graves of the fallen Welsh that died here 1915 during the first world war.
Turns out I’m at Ypres, center of the western front during WWI. Passchendaele is just around the corner. So I’ve adventured around the town and I’m left feeling very humble and grateful.”
I think the reason that the comment above generated so many likes is that it’s Nationalistic and appeals to peoples sense of Patriotism. This stirred mixed emotions in me. I’ve always been very anti nationalistic, and I see it used all too often as a hook on which to hang prejudices and an excuse for racism and xenophobia. It was George Orwell, who said that nationalism is ‘the worst enemy of peace’, and I whole heartedly agree!
So what was this strange emotion I felt in the graveyard when I realised that many of the graves were of Welshmen?
The answer is a sense of connection / a commonality, two strangers in a strange land with the same geographic origins. It may sound strange to some but this is the first time I understood that Patriotism can mean a bond, something to bind us together - an empathy that brings people together. This is opposite to what I feel Nationalism is: something that divides / separates - focuses on what differences we have from one another.
So am I a new reformed patriotic Welshman thats: “Proud to be Welsh!?”
Am afraid that I still have some way to go to be able to truthfully endorse this statement. Why you ask?
What exactly is Welshness
The first time I ever experiences prejudice was when I lived in Plymouth. Being Welsh and living in England suddenly there was something different between me and those around me. To most I encountered this was inconsequential, but to some it was an issue. One of my good friends proudly stated that he hated the Welsh, but I was OK. For some reason I was exempt from his blanket condemnation, I was his pet Taff ;-) So I asked him to define the difference between us, was it a pure geographical issue or was there something more? After all we were both musicians, brought us listening to the same bands, watching the same films, TV programs, read the same books, newspapers and magazines. What was it about the Welsh that deserved his disdain?
Cakes and Dragons
This wasn’t just a way to get him to think about his ridiculous perspective, it was something that was important to me. The reason it’s an important question is that it helps define Welshness, what is it to be Welsh. Why is being Welsh and different from being Cornish, English, Scottish, Irish. How can you be proud to be something if you cant even define what it is! The stereotype would demand I’m a rugby playing, sheep shagger, who sings in a male voice choir. None of these things could be further from who I am. It is that we make small biscuit type cakes that taste nice with butter (welshcakes), or the fact that we like the colour red and dragons and daffodils. I’m still not feeling it.
Then perhaps its the noises we make with our vocal chords when we want to communicate our thoughts with others. I now live in west Wales many here to speak welsh, and I get the impression that I’m considered less Welsh because I don’t. Language has to be a huge part of a country’s culture I don’t contest that, but am I less welsh because I don’t. I was born in Wales to two welsh parents, in my book that makes me 100% Welsh.
So is Wellshness purely a geographical attribution, comparable to a postcode? Can it be deconstructed to nothing more that I’m proud to be CF44 or SA66? Logically I want to say yes, but emotionally I feel there has to be more to it.
The Land of my Fathers
As the Welsh National anthem goes: “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”, this is translated as “Land of My Fathers”. Perhaps ancestry is the real key to Patriotism, a blend of people, land and time. As we are made from and love the blood line who came before us, we are also made from and love the land that has nourished us (so today we should love the countries of producers of our goods purchased from supermarkets).
None of the above has given me a solid understanding of Welshness. Perhaps this is a good thing, if I cant define the differences in rational logical thinking then there is also no genuine reason for anyone to single us out - so thats a good thing. So it logically follows that I also have no good reason to be Proud to be Welsh, to love my country - but I do!!!
Go figure :)
After posting this I had some feedback on Facebook. One was from a Welsh speaking American who now lives here. Her comment was:
I’d like to point out that linking ‘Welshness’ purely with genetic ties does mean that immigrants can never be Welsh - and perhaps by extension that would mean that immigrants can’t be British, American, or other?
I wasn’t born in Wales, but I have a Welsh mother. As a child, I was always told I was half Welsh and it was a part of my identity growing up. And I rowed for Wales as an adult. I’m definitely Welsh even though I lived the first 33 years of my life outside Wales.
They are of course both correct, so my conclusion is: being Welsh is believing your Welsh - feeling you have an affinity with Wales - a connection with the land and its people. Any other definition is either discriminatory or panders to stereotypes.