Chasing the dragon

the broader picture
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The Independent Culture
IN ANTICIPATION of the Welsh assembly elections, which take place on Thursday, the photographer Rolant Dafis toured the green, green valleys in search of that most promiscuous of icons - the red dragon. And there it was, everywhere: on the sign of a fish and chip shop in Cardigan Bay, pointing the way towards public conveniences in Cardiff, stencilled on to the cabs of long-distance lorries, tattooed on the arms of middle-aged men, on corporate logos, on beer bottles, on the shirts of the national football team. This is not to mention the endless souvenirs: the tea towels, mugs and "Greetings from Cymru" postcards.

The red dragon, or y ddraig goch, was introduced to Britain and used as an army standard by the Roman Emperor Trojan AD104. When the Roman authority was withdrawn AD410 the battalion commanders remained, with their dragon standards, as local chiefs. This means that the Welsh are in the rare position of exiting the millennium using the same emblem on their flag with which they entered it. The dragon was officially adopted as the Welsh flag in 1953; in 1969 it was placed on the familiar green and white background of the Tudors. It is used as a symbol of patriotism and pride more than anything else - and, interestingly, is more prevalent in the English-speaking south than in the remoter, more fiercely nationalistic north.