September 16, 2011 - Glyndwr Day – Wales

On this date in 1400, Owain Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales. He'd led the Welsh rebellion against Henry IV and English rule—and an independent Wales thanked him with the throne. Just nine years later Henry IV and the English reconquered Wales, though.

You probably know that Wales is still joined with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom (and Wales, England, and Scotland make up Great Britain). You may not realize that the heir-apparent of the U.K. (usually the first-born son of the ruling king or queen), although not Welsh-born, is dubbed “Prince of Wales.” The current Prince of Wales is Queen Elizabeth's son Prince Charles.

In the year 2000 (the 600th anniversary of Glyndwr's rule), there were festivals and events in honor of the long-ago Glyndwr throughout Wales. A special sculpture was unveiled in Machynlleth, and there was a candlelight procession and a medieval banquet. People flew the Welsh flag from their homes, two groups of Welsh-language poets met after taking tours of north and south Wales and had a poetry reading. The site of Glyndwr's home at Glyndyfrydwy was opened to the public.

Love those Welsh names!

Welsh is a minority language, even within Wales. Still, more than 600,000 people speak Welsh, and hundreds of thousands converse in the language daily. (None of them speak only Welsh, however. English is the dominant language.) The Welsh Language Board has been working to preserve the language, and since the Welsh Language Act of 1993, Welsh has accompanied English on signs and in the public sector.

Welsh has 28 letters. Some letters are “digraphs,” which means two letters written together and treated as a single letter (with a sound different from the letters that make it up). Both “w” and “y” are vowels. Here are the letters:

a, b, c, ch, d, dd, e, f, ff, g, ng, h, i, l, ll, m, n, o, p, ph, r, rh, s, t, th, u, w, and y

Even though there are many letters from the English language that are not part of the Welsh language, they are sometimes used in words borrowed from English or in technical terms. Here are some examples:

  • j     jam
  • k    kilogram    (also spelled “cilogram”)
  • v    volt             (also spelled “folt”)
  • x    xeroser      (also spelled “seroser”)
  • z    zero           (also spelled “sero”)

Because “W” can be a vowel in Welsh, there are some words that look unpronounceable to me. For example, the word for a gap between two hills (in other words, a pass) is “bwlch,” and valley is “cwm.” Even the words that include “Y” as a vowel look pretty strange to me: for example, “dyffryn” is another word for valley, and “eglwys” means church.

Enjoy Welsh tales!

There are five great books, written by Lloyd Alexander, that are very loosely based on Welsh mythology. The names and places in the books definitely have a Welsh flavor. For example, the characters often go from one fortified castle to another – and each has a place name involving the word “Caer,” which is the Welsh word for “fort.” Here are names of the Chronicles of Prydain:

  1. The Book of Three
  2. The Black Cauldron
  3. The Castle of Llyr
  4. Taran Wanderer
  5. The High King (a Newberry Award winner)

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