We're Still Here! Ry'n ni yma o hyd!
Out on the North Western Fringe of Europe
Last time (How to Crash the Fourth Richest Country in the World) I reminded people that the Island of Britain is not just an elitist Tory bubble centred on Westminster but in fact a collection of countries and areas that manifest their own characters and increasingly seek to control their own destinies. I mentioned Scotland, ably led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, determined to declare independence from England and rejoin the European Union. Across the narrow Irish Sea is the Island of Ireland, currently divided with Eire still most definitely European and Northern Ireland clinging to the Union. There's also the North of England, its major cities once the driving force of the industrial revolution and at one time far more important than London.
But here I will speak of Cymru, my homeland for the past forty six years. Wales is the name given by the Saxon migrants and means "foreign land". The origin of the name Cymru (pronounced more like cumry with a hard c) is less certain but my good friend Eurig ap Gwilym, sadly no longer with us, argued that it had similarities to cymrawd, or comrade, as in, the Land of the Comrades. It is also used to describe the people, so the Cymru are the people of Wales, a population of some 3.25 million. Cymru is a small land, just over 20,000 km2 /8,100 square miles, about the size of four million rugby pitches, or to use a more familiar measure, exactly the same size as Wales.
The Cymru are a most remarkable people; through modern DNA sampling their path can be traced through Europe during the second and first millennium BC, into Britain, across to Ireland and finally back to this island, giving it the name Prydain or Britain, Ynys Y Cedyrn, the Island of the Mighty. Here they have survived two thousand years of oppression including 400 years of Roman invasion and occupation- only about a hundred Roman words having transferred into Celtic and on into Cymraeg, the Welsh language, usually for new techniques, a tribute to their fiercely independent spirit.
The Romans were followed by the Saxon invaders and immigrants who pushed the Celtic tribes into the western fringes of our island, the Cernyw in Cornwall, the Cymru in Wales and other Celtic tribes in the Northern Kingdoms, including the Cumbri in Cumberland, where much of my blood is from.
Then there were the Irish who at one time controlled Ynys Môn, (Anglesey) and much of the north coast, driven out at last by the Sons of Cunedda from the Northern kingdoms. The Danes followed, sailing around Scotland and striking at both the western coasts of Britain and the Eastern side of Ireland.
Then the Normans, invading and conquering England, dominating the Welsh Marches and storming along the north and south coasts of Cymru, occasionally making attacks into the heartlands but it was the English who proved the most determined and destructive invaders and whose oppression was fiercest and most prolonged, resulting in the Act of Union when Cymru was, in law at least, absorbed into England.
Repeated rebellions were put down with increasing viciousness until the final revolt of Owen Glyndwr, resulting in the banning of the Cymru from all posts of authority. Changes to marriage laws, to bring them into line with English law, had made many welsh marriages illegal- the women being forced to leave their husbands and all their property being confiscated by the English crown. The traditional inheritance law of partibility, where the property of the father was shared equally between all the sons, including illegitimate ones, was abolished, replaced by inheritance passing only to the first son; many of the newly disenfranchised youth, now stripped of access to resources, gathered in robber-bands, such as the Gwylliaid Cochion (the Wild Reds) during the 1500s to cause much trouble.
And perhaps the last and worst invader of all and most destructive to the traditional, resilient, self-reliant communities of the Cymric heartlands, capitalism.
In 1931, the census for Llanfachreth Parish, that borders my own parish, with a population of 671, records 113 families as farming with 54 additional farm workers. The average farm size was just 5 acres, once you take the several thousand acres of land held by the local aristocrat out of the calculation. These were the Tyddynwyr (smallholders, cottagers, crofters, depending upon where you are on the Island of Britain- it is largely the same story). The true backbone of rural life, guardians of the culture, tenant farmers, living just above the subsistence level (what more do you really need?) yet producing the bulk of the food for their own parish from small surpluses. By 1971 the census lists only half that number of farmers with just 18 additional workers, testament to farm amalgamation and the drain of young people to cities, seeking work. Today it is even less with only a handful of farmers managing large acreages.
In the traditional, fully integrated, rural communities of the past, it was possible to live with very little actual cash. Much of what was needed could be had through traditional rights (access to woodland for firewood or pannage for pigs, grazing of a mountain or common) and the gift economy, where favours were exchanged; the gift economy was the foundation of all early human societies prior to the invention of money- only very occasionally was barter evident. Think on this carefully in regard to the future.
In the early 1990s, asked to do a talk on Permaculture Design for the people of Abergeirw, the next community up the valley from me and the last before the mountains with a reputation for anarchy- reputed to hold horse fairs on a Sunday! As part of the session I asked them to call out the events and activities that linked people together in the traditional community and was hard pressed to keep up with their offerings as I attempted to map it all on a blackboard! The result, I think, surprised even them, for they had not realised the beautiful complexity of the connections and it is the connections between members of a community that creates strength and resilience.
I present the map here as a model for the future; the events in the times to come may be different, but the connectivity, the integration, will be essential if we are to survive.
So, where are we now, here in Cymru? Well, not doing too badly compared to some. We have a GDP per capita (crudely put, that's the national income divided by the population) about the same as Spain. We have had a socialist government since the first elections of Y Cynulliad, the Welsh Assembly, in 1999, now known as Y Llywodraeth Cymreig, the Welsh Government and we are led today by our First Minister, Mark Drakeford, by name obviously and appropriately a Draig, a Dragon; a mild mannered man on the surface but capable of a most fiery breath as he recently displayed when he laid into a Tory who tried to blame the Dragon's government for Westminster's failure to adequately fund the NHS in Wales! Mark's calm, steady approach saw us through the pandemic better than most and made Johnson's unethical antics even more obvious. What's more, he's a keen allotment gardener and would you believe, a surfer? What more could you ask from a politician!
If Wales were assessed as a separate country, we would be third in the world for our recycling; Gwynedd Council set up a biodigester nearly ten years ago, generating electricity to power 750 homes and producing compost from all the county's food waste ever since. We produce over twice the electricity we use, meaning we don't need another nuclear reactor and if the Tory Government in London had supported us, we would have had the largest tidal barrage in Europe by now, producing a third of our energy needs and be leading the world in tidal technology; yet another reason why support for independence has grown massively in the last few years- the Conservative Overseers in London being the primary driver.
We have a social housing company that has invested heavily in insulating one of its estates, providing solar panels for all the houses and installing household batteries, meaning its residents have greatly reduced heating bills, a model for all developers in a time when energy and living costs are spiralling. And our Government has set up a nationalised renewable energy company to develop our own renewable energy systems- wind, water and solar, so that the people of Wales will benefit directly from any profits, rather than the overseas companies who control most of British renewable energy and hence take all the profits.
On top of that, we have The Future Generations Act, Wales, an act that is the envy of Europe. It requires that all businesses and organisations, both private and public sector, consider the future consequences of their actions and can be used to stop activities or plans that are deemed to have negative consequences for future generations. As an example, it was used to stop an extension to the M4. It is also one of the best kept secrets, because it is so powerful and all of us in Wales who consider ourselves to be activists would do well to learn how to make good use of it.
And finally, the second best kept secret is One Planet Development, (for which read Low Impact Development) a planning act which permits new dwellings in the open countryside to those who are prepared to commit to low impact, land-based, off-grid, low/zero carbon lifestyles.
Bizarrely, although my own attempts to push through a low impact development in the Roman- sorry, Snowdonia National Park (that is another story) met only with opposition, I found myself invited by the Welsh Government, together with friends and colleagues Tony Wrench (of Roundhouse fame) and Paul Winbush (Lammas low-impact development down in Pembroke) as expert witnesses (Ho ho! You couldn't make this up!) in the development of this new policy! Again, if you live in Cymru and want to tread more lightly on our blessed Earth, learn about this policy and make use of it- its not perfect but its better than anything in England!
To conclude, what can we say? Well, for a start, the Cymru deserve our gratitude and heartfelt thanks, that despite all the odds stacked against them, they have preserved their culture for over two thousand years, a pattern for living that serves as a fantastic model for the low energy, regenerative communities that will surely arise as Destructo-Culture falls apart around us. And the flower of that culture is the language; a language that is inherently integrative as opposed to the separation that lies at the heart of the English language. That is another story in itself. For now, if you live in Cymru, learn some Cymraeg- place names are a good starting point.
In the words of the Dafydd Iwan song, Ry'n ni yma o hyd- We're still here! Cymru am byth!
PS The Roman- sorry, Snowdonia National Park has recently decided that from now on, Snowden will only be referred to by it's Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa, and Snowdonia as Eryri, the place of Eagles. 'Bout time!