The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Throughout my life I have been surrounded by the idea that the Welsh identity, sense of heritage and culture was under threat and at risk of being lost. Partnered with that, there has always been a quiet sense of feeling less than others, an underdog mentality, and an inner tension of having been done wrong somehow in the past.
Wales was conquered by England in 1282, marking the end of Welsh independence, and putting the country high in the running for the title of England’s first colony. Over the next seven hundred years followed a long series of subjugation, exploitation, and discrimination. These systematic attempts to subdue Wales and its people have left a mark on the culture, landscape, and national psyche.
Although pushed to the western edges of the UK, Ireland and France, a small Celtic speaking minority has remained along the fringes of the continent, wedged between the mountains and the sea. It is in one of these areas, known as ‘Y Fro Gymraeg’, that the language of Welsh is still spoken and remains a part of everyday life. It is in this area the traditions, myths and culture still stand strong, for now.
This land is criss-crossed with constant reminders of our place as second-class citizens throughout time. English castles dominate our towns, the remnants of extractive industry blight our hillsides, and our coastal villages lay empty for most of the year, fallen victim to holiday homes, while local people want for houses.
With little opportunities to be found here, the inhabitants of this area mainly work in care, construction, services or tourism, catering for the needs of new, wealthier incomers from across the border. Each year, in the struggle to sustain ourselves, we lose a little more of who we are. We are a land and people defined by the oppression of our larger neighbour, now forced to live in its shadow, and the shadow cast is long and wide.