The Gorsedd, the Football Team, and Welsh identity

The Eisteddfod Maes
There is something a little bit manufactured about the row over the Gorsedd of the Bard’s refusal to honour the Welsh football team.

Has anyone asked Gareth Bale and Co if they actually want to be druids? I’m a member of the Gorsedd, and being included was the greatest honour of my life. But it’s certainly not for everyone.

Although the yearly inductions are presented in the media as a kind of national reward for service, on par with the New Year’s honours, the Gorsedd is actually a community of Welsh-speakers.

This is because the primary aim of the Gorsedd is to promote the Welsh language and culture. It mostly rewards bards, novelists and singers.

The Welsh FA have done a cracking job of promoting the Welsh language. But I don’t expect inclusion in the Wales match-day squad just because I can speak Welsh. That's not the criteria.

The problem here is that the National Eisteddfod is frequently caught up in the inevitable conflict between Welsh identity and a language that 20% of the population of Wales can speak.

The Eisteddfod has to be allowed to be a Welsh-language festival first, and a national festival second.
This is because there are plenty of festivals in Wales, but only one large Welsh-language festival.

The Eisteddfod’s job is to promote the Welsh-language and its culture, not to promote Welshness as a whole, which is a much larger thing.

It’s true that, if the Welsh language did not exist, then the Welsh would probably never have been recognised as a people separate from their neighbours in the first place.

But a national identity doesn’t sit still, and today the Welsh language is just one facet of Welsh identity. It’s impossible to say today that Welshness and an ability to speak the Welsh language are the same thing.

Welshness can include both pride in the Welsh-language and Gareth Bale, but that doesn’t mean Gareth Bale has to be a Welsh-speaker, or indeed be a member of the Gorsedd.

A festival for promoting the Welsh language can’t be involved in every facet of Welsh life, because a lot of people in Wales can’t and in many cases don’t want to be able to speak the language.

The Welsh language can’t really win here. It’s called exclusive because people choose not to speak it. If it tries to encourage people to speak it, it’s accused of forcing itself down their throats.

But if the nation doesn’t want to be Welsh-speakers, then we can’t expect the Welsh language to always represent the nation.

Sometimes we need to be able to undo the bond between the Welsh language and the multi-faceted thing called Welsh identity, and let them do their own thing.

Comments

  1. Yr ymateb ore - diwedd y ddadl

    This draws a line under the argument. Well written Ifan

    Huw

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  2. Yr ymateb ore - diwedd y ddadl

    This draws a line under the argument. Well written Ifan

    Huw

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wise and succinct post. The language can't win. The lines between Cymraeg and Welsh culture as a whole have been blurred because the FAW elevated Welsh to a pan-Wales and also international level during the Euros and before.

    The problem is the language of the players "not being welcome". It's very hard to get past that comment and see the context, especially to the majority of our fellow citizens who do not know fully what the Gorsedd is. The discourse of people being not "welcome" is problematic and self-defeating. In the original Welsh the context is a bit clearer but still awkward.

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  4. The Welsh team did great, they didn't win anythng though

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  5. Agree with most of this but a couple of points.

    Firstly, very few people ever choose what languages they speak. It's a decision made for you, based on the schools you're sent to. The number of people who are able to learn the language as adults is tiny.

    So I don't think it's fair to say that people 'choose not to speak it'. It's a decision made for you. And people may start resenting the language becuase they can't speak it, but that's a different thing.

    Secondly, I understand the role the Eisteddfod plays in promoting and preserving the Welsh language. But it is the only national festival in Wales, there aren't 'plenty of other festivals' which provide a celebration of Welshness - there are no others.

    One of the problems for non-Welsh speakers is that we have so little to cling onto when it comes to Welsh identiy. There's sport, in a fairly superficial way, and...not a lot else really.

    The obvious solution to all this would be for every school to equip its pupils with the basic ability to communicate in Welsh.

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  6. Great post - hits the nail on the head. The previous comment about equipping all pupils with the language is difficult. It has been tried, but there is great resentment about it, so they do choose not to speak it (or not attempt to speak it). This is often an echo of parental attitudes. However, it is worthy of note that this resentment seems to have softened considerably over the decades. There will always be the media-fuelled diatribes about what a waste of money it all is, seeing the Welsh language in a zero-sum funding game with every other aspect of Welsh life. I sincerely hope that many more non-Welsh speakers will venture forth to the maes and be inspired to learn the language, under their own terms, without it being "forced down their throats".

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  7. Please can you let me know the other national Welsh festivals that celebrate our culture as I would love to go. I'm a Welsh learner, and have been to the eisteddfod a number of times and have received both warmth and rudeness for not being a speaker. Class fits into this too, speaking Welsh is for the middle classes unless you're from a rural community. I find your assumption that people don't speak it because they simply don't want to naive. Wouldn't it be nice if marginalised Welsh people just united and celebrated our welshness together, and language was celebrated and promoted but wasn't the only thing to bind us? This could be more of an open door club no?

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  8. Clywch, clywch Ifan. You have commented elsewhere that the Gorsedd needs younger blood, and the consensus seems to be that even if the story was manufactured by those who are hostile to the language, the result was a PR disaster.

    Here's what I would do:

    1. Invite Osian Roberts to become a member, both on his own merits and on behalf of the team.
    2. Create a new award for outstanding service to the language beyond the confines of the arts - individuals, companies, public bodies, sports bodies, etc. which have done something to raise awareness of the language, popularise it (especially among young people), or provided great service through the medium of Welsh (within the NHS, for example). The FAW would be an obvious candidate.

    No need to change the rules, but there has to be plenty of scope for fresh thinking and innovation.

    Perhaps if they get round to it, the Gorsedd might also want to rethink its Welsh Learner of the Year competition. It is beginning to look very stale, and someone needs to ask whether it has achieved what it was set up to do.

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  9. Richard. it's the Eisteddfod not the Gorsedd that's responsible for Dysgwr y Flwyddyn. See how easy it is to confuse the 2 organisations?

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  10. Synhwyrol. I think the chap from the Gorsedd needs a lesson in PR - this could have been handled more professionally. I though words were meant to be their thing? Very good point though - why should we even assume that everyone knows being a druid is a 'thing', and would want that honour?

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