Wales: A celebration
There is much for the Welsh to be proud of on this St David's Day. Cole Moreton, who has family in the valleys, reports
Sunday 01 March 2009
Somewhere in the world, Sir Tom Jones is always singing. Tonight he will be doing it in Boston, in the US, as Welsh people around the world celebrate St David's Day.
The Welsh are not the Irish, mind. There will be a small parade in Cardiff, Leeks and daffodils will be worn, and drink no doubt taken, but celebrations for St David never get as grand as they do for St Patrick.
This may not be surprising. David was an aristocrat from the west coast, who became head of the church. And that's about it. He didn't wrestle a dragon like St George. He didn't come to a grisly end like St Andrew. He didn't drive out any snakes like St Patrick. His greatest miracle was that the ground rose up while he was talking, so people could hear him better. It's a church administrator's kind of miracle. Not exactly inspirational.
The BBC says the Welsh Assembly "has already begun a packed programme of events". These amount to a party in Brussels and a new set of stamps. So it is left to the people to celebrate.
Luckily, the Welsh are well- equipped to do so. Fierce national pride is on tap. So is beer, to go with good food (today London will get its first Welsh market). Voices, like Sir Tom's, will be in song.
To get everyone singing from the same sheet, here are some of the great things Wales has given the world ...
What's occurin' with all the jokes about there having been no decent Welsh comedians since, er, Max Boyce? Ruth Jones, co-creator of Gavin and Stacey, is a genius. So is Rob Brydon. Griff Rhys Jones has a big place in modern comedy history. There ought to be a tiny shelf for John Sparkes, known in his home country (if nowhere else, yet) as Barry Welsh.
The last deep coal mine, Tower colliery, may have closed down last year, but its kind made the Industrial Revolution possible. More coal went through Cardiff than any other port. Gold, silver, copper and iron also came out of the ground by the ton. It's not what it was but some heavy industry survives even now. Your car engine may originate in Wales. So may the chips in your television or computer.
Paralympian Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson won 11 golds and held 30 world records. She is among Welsh athletes who have competed at the very highest levels, including Olympic cycling champion Nicole Cook, Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs, hurdler Colin Jackson and the greatest boxer around (see Fighters). Best not mention the rugby, except to remember the peerless days of Gareth Edwards.
Marble Arch and the Brighton Pavilion are as English as they come, aren't they? No. Both are the work of John Nash, creator of Regency London and the son of a Welsh millwright. Inigo Jones had the blood of Wales in his veins, as did Frank Lloyd Wright. The famous American architect, creator of the celebrated "Prairie" houses, named his home in Wisconsin after the bard Taliesin.
Sonorous, handsome, hard-drinking, hard-loving Richard Burton, tempestuous husband of Elizabeth Taylor, was born near Port Talbot and never forgot it. Those who came after have never been allowed to forget that Welsh means Burton. Not even Sir Anthony Hopkins, the better, broader actor, who has an Oscar. And where did he come from? Extraordinarily, also Port Talbot.
Mail order catalogues would not exist if Pryce Pryce-Jones had not first used the post to sell flannel from Montgomeryshire to far-away customers such as Queen Victoria. Telephones worked because of carbon microphones, invented by David Hughes; and there would have been no internet or mobiles without Donald Davies and his packet switching.
The archers at Agincourt, and their weapons, were Welsh. But the band of battlers through the ages initiated by Owain Glyndwr also includes pirates Black Bart Roberts and Captain Morgan and boxing great Joe Calzaghe.
How about free healthcare for all, from the cradle to the grave? Aneurin Bevan MP, the son of a miner from Tredegar, was the minister who introduced the then-revolutionary National Health Service in 1948. His rival as the greatest Welsh influence on modern Britain is David Lloyd George, a reforming Chancellor and then the Prime Minister who led the UK to victory in the First World War.
Nothing is more Welsh than Under Milk Wood, written by Dylan Thomas, although he won worldwide acclaim for his fierce, sensuous but crafted work. Wales remains closer to the poetic tradition than any other part of Britain, producing the likes of David Jones and R S Thomas and now national poet Gwyneth Lewis. For racy thrills, try Dick Francis; and does anyone not love Roald Dahl?
What is it about the place that makes people want to sing? Bangor-born Duffy has won three Brits and a Grammy in her debut year, to join a host as heavenly as any nation's bread can muster. So let's hear it for the hymns and arias of Dame Shirley Bassey, Charlotte Church, Katherine Jenkins, Cerys Matthews, Aled Jones, Sir Tom Jones and the Treorchy Male Choir, to name but a few.
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