St. David’s Day is the Welsh equivalent of Ireland’s St. Patrick’s day, although celebrated in a much more restrained way, with some singing of Cwm Rhondda, the Welsh national song, otherwise known as Bread From Heaven and maybe drinking the local brew, Brains Beer.
It’s ten years this month since I moved to the UK, first working in London, and then in Wales, a country that’s not well-known, but can be described as the Appalachia of the UK. For many years, it had a strong coal mining economy, but during the Thatcher years, that all ended. As in Appalachia where there are hills and hollers, in Wales, families live in the Valleys, deep in the hills, where Welsh is still the preferred language.
Right after I arrived, Wales was playing Ireland in a massive rugby game, and we had tickets. Picture this if you can – a stadium filled with 70,000 rugby fans who had come from all over Wales and Ireland for this final match. And then picture the vast majority of these fans singing hymns and Tom Jones songs, while waving inflatable leeks and daffodils. They sing nearly the entire game, and it’s actually pretty fabulous to hear.
Wales has a huge history of singing. Every colliery, or mine, had its own men’s choir and at the end of the summer, there’s a huge festival of Welsh language and culture called an Eisteddfod where groups come from all over Wales to compete and sing. If you’ve ever seen the movie, “How Green Was My Valley” about a Welsh mining town, you will see how the men sing all the time.
Wales is surrounded by the “Ring of Iron” a series of more than 400 castles which protected it from the sea to the west and England to the east. Funnily, the most comprehensive list is maintained by someone in Baltimore. While most of these castles are now ruins or gone completely, some still remain, including the castle where I worked, St. Donat’s Castle, a 12th century castle on the top of cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel.
It was owned by newspaper mogul William Randolf Hearst, who expanded it to about three times its original size by buying buildings across the UK and Europe and glomming them onto St. Donat’s. You can see pictures of St. Donat’s here and here. You can see pictures of my ten favourite Welsh castles here.
Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!