They’re Celts:

Perfectly true, in that the Celts are recognised as being a people whose native tongue is or was one of the Celtic branch of Indo-European languages. The six member nations of the Celtic League are Wales, Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany, all on the western seaboard of Europe where the sea lanes between them even in ancient times ensured they stayed in touch culturally, linguistically and commercially. There has been some agitation, probably justified, for the Galicians of the Iberian peninsula to be also considered among the Celts’ numbers.

They All Sound The Same To Me:

We don’t all have Rhod Gilbert accents. Nor do we sing like Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey. Wales boasts a myriad of accents, like most countries, that being true in both Welsh and English. And that hoary old chestnut about Welsh speakers in the north and the south not understanding each other is about as accurate as saying that Brits and Americans or Aussies need interpreters to communicate. We all have our separate regional accents and slight variations in vocabulary, thankfully. And you’re as likely to hear “look you” and “indeed to goodness” uttered as you are to hear “hoots mon” or “och aye the noo’” in Scotland or “jolly good show” in England.

They’ll Be Singing In The Valleys Tonight:

And the rest of the country too when one of our national sports teams wins. The Valleys as a term refers to a number of post-industrial valleys inland of the southern coastline, comprising only some 15% of the nation’s land mass.

So Wales Is A Principality, Then?

No, it is a constituent country, along with Scotland, England, a part of Ireland, and Cornwall according to some Cornish patriots, forming the political entity known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that was created in its current form in 1921. Wales ceased to be a principality on its annexation by England in 1536. However it was only briefly a single principality, but rather over the centuries a conglomeration of separate kingdoms and principalities. The last Prince of Wales was Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, slain at Cilmeri near Builth Wells on December 12th, 1282. His red and yellow quartered Royal Standard is still commonly seen throughout the country, Owain Glyndŵr having also laid claim to it in the 15th century when he briefly re-established Welsh sovereignty. Wales is not represented on the Union Jack, the UK state flag, which comprises of the superimposed flags of the patron saints of England, Ireland and Scotland. The flag of St David, Wales’ patron saint, consists of a yellow cross on a black background.

There Are No Vowels In Welsh:

There are actually 20 main vowel sounds in Welsh, represented by the letters: a, â, à, á, e, ê, ë, i, î, ï, o, ô, ö, u, û, ü, w, ŵ, y, ŷ.

English has five, like French, while Abkhaz has only two. Swedish has 17, while Danish has all of 32.

Llanfairmathafarneithaf on Anglesey has nine vowels in its name. Wyau – meaning eggs – is one of the longest Welsh words consisting solely of vowels. English can better that with the similar sounding euouae, a medieval musical term.

Wales Is Full Of Sheep:

There are 11,000,000 sheep in Wales, which is admittedly a lot. However we fare badly in the international who has the most sheep competition. A recent head count showed that there were 15,535,215 in England, the counter having managed to stay awake throughout the operation. Meanwhile New Zealand has a stunning 48m. Poor old Canada has a paltry 825,300.

Welsh Is A Dialect Of English:

Nothing could be further from the truth, with not even sentence structure remotely similar, let alone vocabulary. Welsh is a Celtic language closely related to Breton and Cornish, and more remotely to Irish, Gaelic and Manx. English is a Germanic language closely related to German, Dutch, Frisian and Afrikaans, and more remotely to Icelandic, Norwegian and Faroese.

It Always Rains In Wales:

It all depends on how you decide to interpret statistics. As someone once said: “78.64 per cent of statistics are made up”. Or was it 86.83 per cent? However, let’s try this interpretation of the Met Office’s recent precipitation figures for these islands for the month of April.

  • WALES: Anglesey 17.2mm, Cardiff 28.7mm, Aberporth 30.4mm.
  • ENGLAND: Lowestoft 18.8mm, Heathrow 23.2mm, Chivenor 27.2mm, Newton Rigg 31.0mm, Camborne 35.6mm, Yeovilton, 37.8mm.
  • SCOTLAND: Tiree 57.0mm.
  • IRELAND: Armagh 33.6mm.
  • ISLE OF MAN: Ballaugh 38.0mm.

They’re All Coal Miners:

Fewer than 300 work in the coal mining industry in Wales nowadays. Contrary to popular belief, there was at one time a significant coal field in the north east as well as the much larger one in the southern valleys. In fact, the last working Welsh pit owned by the National Coal Board was on the northern coast at Point of Ayr, which closed in 1996.

Everybody’s Called Jones:

While it is certainly the most common surname in Wales, with 6.057% of the population going by that name, nearly 94% have other surnames. The next most used surnames are Williams (3.781%), Davies (3.676%), Evans (2.466%) and Thomas (2.297%).

Everybody Plays Rugby In Wales:

The Welsh Rugby Union has fewer than 300 registered clubs. The Football Association of Wales has more than 900 clubs.

They All Sing In Male Voice Choirs:

There are currently exactly 100 choirs who are members of the Welsh Association of Male Choirs, 82 of them from Wales and the rest from elsewhere, including Canada, Ireland, England, South Africa, Guernsey, New Zealand and the USA. However it should be borne in mind that not all male voice choirs are members, and that there are also countless ladies’ choirs, mixed choirs and youth choirs up and down the country. Choral singing is certainly popular, but Welsh music – in both languages – encompasses the entire spectrum including classical and opera to blues, folk, jazz, pop, electronica and rock.

They Like Dressing Up As Druids:

The Druids who make up Gorsedd Cymru are druids in strictly the ceremonial sense, mostly associated with the National Eisteddfod, not the pseudo-religious druids who assemble at ancient sites of worship such as Stonehenge for the equinox. Rowan Williams was inducted into the Gorsedd while he was worldwide head of the Anglican Church. The Gorsedd’s robes are probably just as distinguished or just as silly, according to your point of view, as the uniforms worn by England’s Beefeaters or the Vatican City State’s Swiss Guard.

You Can’t Get A Drink On A Sunday:

The Sunday Closing Act was enacted in 1881, but repealed in 1961. From 1961 onwards a series of local referenda saw the number of districts where pubs had to close on Sundays in rapid decline, the ones on the western seaboard being the last to succumb. However members’ clubs did serve alcohol in the ‘dry’ areas and obviously thrived. It was also not unknown for pubs to try to compete on a very uneven playing field by opening their back doors, away from the prying eyes of temperance enthusiasts and the local constabulary. By 1989 the north west’s Llŷn peninsula alone continued with the practice. The re-organisation of local government in 1996 finally brought an end to the anomaly, and many of the members’ clubs, finding themselves redundant, saw their shutters closing for the last time.

I Walked Into This Pub And People Started Speaking Welsh:

Some speak Welsh, some speak English, some a mixture of both, and some other languages altogether. The Welsh language has existed for 1,500 years because people have continued to communicate in it, not because they need some secret code to annoy visitors. And isn’t it a bit rude to be eavesdropping on other people’s conversations anyhow? According to the London government’s Office of National Statistics, 874,700 people in Wales speak Welsh, that’s about 37% of the native-born population. The world-wide figure is well in excess of 1m, including an enclave in southern Argentina where Welsh settlers first arrived in 1865 that has miraculously maintained its use of the language – in commerce, schools, religion, place names, eisteddfodau, news publications and radio programmes.

Beautiful Place, The Llŷn:

This stunning peninsula in the north west stretching out into the Irish Sea is called Llŷn (pronounced very roughly as l-h-een: see below), and locals bristle with indignation when they hear it referred to as The Llŷn, or sometimes – even more demeaningly – The Clean. It is a Celtic name derived from the same root as that of the ancient Irish kingdom of Laighin, Leinster in English, which lies directly to the west. The definite article is as uncalled for as it would be were you to talk about The Manchester, The Alabama or The Sweden.

I Can’t Get My Tongue Around All These Ll’s:

‘Ll’ or ‘ll’ – as seen twice in the place name Llanllyfni, for example – is known as a digraph as it is a single letter consisting of two characters, representing a single phoneme or sound. It is a separate letter from ‘l’ in the Welsh alphabet. Other digraphs are ‘ch’, ‘dd’, ‘ff’, ‘ng’, ‘ph’, ‘rh’ and ‘th’. You’d place each of them in a single box in a crossword puzzle. You’ll find three different digraphs in the place name Rhosllannerchrugog. Other languages that utilize digraphs include Norwegian, Hungarian, Dutch, Czech, Catalan and Breton. In grammatical terms ‘ll’ is called a voiceless lateral fricative, sounded by placing your tongue to pronounce ‘l’ and breathing out. It is NOT pronounced as ‘cl’, ‘thl’ or ‘l’. In addition to Welsh, it occurs in Navajo, Cherokee, Icelandic, Greenlandic, Faroese, Berber, Zulu and Taiwanese. The soft ‘ch’ in the German ‘ich’ approximates fairly closely to it.

Snowdon:

Snowdon is not the highest mountain in England & Wales, as it’s often erroneously referred to. It is the highest in Wales. Snowdon – Yr Wyddfa in Welsh – at an elevation of 1085m, just the height of the Great Sphinx higher than Carnedd Llywelyn at 1064m, is higher than any mountain in the British Isles outside of the Scottish highlands. To refer to it as the highest in England and Wales is as meaningless as describing it as the highest in Wales and Belgium. Or even the Netherlands. Neither should it be referred to as the naff sounding Mount Snowdon: the prefix is not required. Plain old Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa, will suffice just nicely. The highest mountain in England, incidentally, is Mount Scafell Pike at 978m. Sorry, that should read Scafell Pike.

Featured Image: Photo by National Assembly For Wales / Cynulliad Cymru on Foter.com / CC BY

Ian Parri
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