Thursday, 20 September 2007

Thoughts on Nationalism

What is it that gives rise to nationalism, and is nationalism justified in the case of Wales? Surely, nationalism arises from oppression and injustice perpetrated on a people who have common purpose and identity. If we consider the previous posting by Gwyn Hopkins and the one on the struggle of Guiseppe Mazzini in Italy, and if we think of the history of the people of Ireland we can see that these two factors - oppression and injustice - are predominant and instrumental in the movements which we term nationalism. Nationalism takes different forms, and it is not necessarily the bogeyman which detractors of these movements often claim it to be. The type of nationalism which grew up in Wales in the second quarter of the past century under the direction of Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and D.J. Williams was inspired by the desire to end the oppressive and unjust treatment received by Wales from an uncaring and insensitive government in England.
It developed into a movement based on socialist and egalitarian principles based on community values and traditional culture. Later, under the principled leadership of Gwynfor Evans, it proclaimed its advocacy of non-violence and assumed an international outlook, which saw Wales as a free and unbridled nation taking its place among the other nations of Europe and the world. It espoused the values of Welsh community life and vowed to safeguard the language - "o bydded i'r hen iaith barhau".
This Welsh nationalism rose above purely ideological considerations and reached across the barriers which had been set up by years of indoctrination and conditioning. It is a very inoffensive, yet determined and persistent, variety of nationalism, and it seeks to achieve its goals through argument and persuasion, not violent struggle as depicted in the Irish model. The epic struggles of Owain Glyndwr ceased many centuries ago after it was understood that the nation was faced by insuperable odds. It is in this present age that a new spirit of nationhood has imbued the people of Wales and drawn the nation together in a renewed effort to press for self-government. We now look forward to the prospect of a full Parliament for Wales.

Saunders Lewis
To his devotees, Saunders Lewis’ legacy is immense. Alongside his literary output - he wrote plays, poems and novels - he had a profound influence on 20th century Welsh politics. A founder of Plaid Cymru, he was a hero to nationalists while remaining equally unloved by those who did not share his views. Lewis was born in Cheshire in 1893 and brought up amongst the Welsh community on Merseyside. But it was his experience of the First World War, especially fighting alongside Irishmen, that seems to have had the most significant effect on him. It helped to shape his convictions about the importance of Welsh national identity although - unlike hard line Irish republicans - he stopped short of advocating violence against representatives of the British state.In 1936 Lewis, together with two other activists, set fire to the new RAF base at Penyberth in Gwynedd. They gave themselves up to the police, claiming justification on nationalist and pacifist grounds.In the aftermath of the Penyberth arson, Lewis lost his university lecturing post and in controversial circumstances went on trial at the Old Bailey in London. He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.In a radio lecture of 1962 he said "Restoring the Welsh language in Wales is nothing less than a revolution. It is only through revolutionary means that we can succeed." The broadcast led to the creation of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) and inspired its campaigns of direct action over the following decades.Cymdeithas protests undoubtedly played a part in the establishment of S4C, the Welsh language television channel, in 1982 and the Welsh Language Act of 1993.

Twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Lewis was a deeply religious man and a convert to Catholicism. Not even his sternest critics would deny his lasting impact on the intellectual debate over the future of Welsh society.

Lewis Edward Valentine (June 1, 1893-March 1986) was a Baptist pastor, author, editor and political activist.
He was born in Llanddulas, Denbighshire, son of Samuel Valentine, a limestone quarryman, and his wife Mary. He began studying to go into the ministry of the Baptist church at the University College of North Wales, Bangor but his studies were curtailed due to the First World War.
His experience as a medical orderly during the First World War made him a Welsh nationalist and a pacifist. He became the first president of Plaid Cymru and its first parliamentary candidate in the 1929 General Election, when he stood in the Caernarfonshire constituency. In 1936, along with Saunders Lewis and D. J. Williams, Valentine took part in the symbolic burning of a bombing school at Penyberth in north-west Wales. He was sentenced to nine months in prison for this action.
As a pastor he served church in north Wales and edited the Baptist quarterly magazine, Seren Gomer, from 1951 to 1975. He also wrote of his experience in the war in Dyddiadur milwr (=A soldier's diary), 1988.
He is also famed as the writer of the hymn Gweddi dros Gymru (=A prayer for Wales), usually sung to the tune of Jean Sibelius's Finlandia Hymn, and generally thought of as the second Welsh national anthem.
He died in March, 1986.

D. J. Williams (David John Williams) (June 26, 18851970) was one of the foremost Welsh-language writers of the twentieth-century. He was also a prominent Welsh nationalist.
Williams was born in Rhydcymerau, Carmarthenshire. He studied English at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and Jesus College, Oxford. For most of his life he taught English at the grammar school in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire.
A socialist, he was one of the founders of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh National Party, in 1925. He took part, with Saunders Lewis and Lewis Valentine, in the symbolic burning of a bombing school at Penyberth in north-west Wales in 1936. As a result he spent nine months in Wormwood Scrubs prison.
Williams was a short story writer of renown and also the author of two volumes of autobiography. All his work is inspired by his vision of his native locality, of a close-knit community where common values give worth to all.
He died in 1970 at Rhydcymerau, Carmarthenshire.


Anonymous said...

So you admire terrorists; says it all.

Fionnchú said...

Bore da, Mr Jones, sut dych chi heddiw? "Fionnchú" dw i. Dw i'n dysgu Cymraeg typin.

Maidin maith agus cad é mar atá tú, a dhuine uasal Jones? Is mise Fionnchú. Tá mé ag foghlaim gíota beag Bhreatnais.

But, pardon me now for my more fluent English! Those are the first sentences I ever wrote anybody in Welsh. I wanted to thank you for your entry and introduce myself as a fellow Blogspot resident. I also have a few academically oriented questions.

I am an adult learner for many years of Irish, born and raised in Los Angeles of Irish parentage, with an interest, like yourself, in Celtic nationalism, languages, and cultural issues. My interests are both personal (my own past involvement in campaigns, my contributions since 2001 for The Blanket in Belfast, my own great-grandfather a Land Leaguer) and intellectual. I too have taught ESL; having earned a Ph.D. in English lit, I'm teaching (due to the parlous job market) Humanities at an equivalent of what pre-Thatcher you'd call a polytechnic.

Anyway, I have presented papers, done archival research, and published articles on Irish republicanism among other literary and cultural Irish topics. Lately I have found myself reviving a dormant but always present interest in Welsh parallels, especially to the 1960s efforts for the language and both the less explosive musical, literary, and cultural movements and the more active militancy. I only visited Wales once, a weekend in 1979, but there I heard the language spoken to me (by mistake!) in Abergaun/ Fishguard and that impelled me into my own interests and quests.

(You can see my blog, do a search under "Wales" or "Welsh," and see a few basic posts lately; also, for Irish language issues and the like, I have many entries. On Amazon US I have reviewed nearly 800 books and recordings, many of which have Irish or Celtic contexts.)

I have a very small shelf of the recent popular national histories, as well as more specific studies (they are not easy to come by here): the Y Lolfa paperbacks by Ned Thomas and Roy Clewes, Laura McAllister's history of Plaid, and Gwynfor Evans' "Fighting for Wales." I'm using my winter break to read up on background. However, I was wondering if you could recommend other material? As an "independent scholar who happens to teach"--and forty-eight weeks a year at that, incessantly--my time and budget are limited compared to my tenured colleagues.

I also am looking for a helpful examination of Irish & Welsh national and cultural connections; although Peter Berresford Ellis' "Celtic Revolution" & updated "Celtic Dawn" give the basics, and there's a book on the Irish immigration to 19c Wales, my hunch is there's more in-depth sources out there, perhaps in more obscure periodicals? Planet, I know, may be promising, but I don't have access to any copies in California; same for many such publications, which limits my hands-on investigation.

One related matter: in learning a bit of Welsh, my interest is as much as possible to link whatever form I'd study to shared roots with Irish whenever possible to aid my mutual comprehension (and perhaps confusion similar to my mixing up my Spanish and my Latin; my hunch is that the South Walian form might be a tad easier. Any comments or advice for a self-taught learner?

My web search for "Welsh nationalism" led me to your post, deep in Google around page 15! I started Justin Wintle's controversial study of R.S. Thomas last night, by the way. I plan to follow that with Byron Rogers' biography. I suppose Thomas represents an inspiration for me, a struggling language learner, given his own later mastery of Welsh. I love grappling with Irish, but I find it unremittingly daunting; the jury's out on whether Welsh proves easier (pronunciation) or harder (mutations)! I suspect the latter.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Slán go foill. Shona Nollaig agus san athbhliain dhuit. Da boch chi.
Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda.

John L. Murphy/ Seaghán Ó Murchú