Wales – The Land of Song
Welsh national identity didn’t really emerge until after the Romans withdrew from Britain, and even then, the country was only occasionally a united one with several kingdoms fighting amongst themselves to become the dominant one.
By the time they sorted themselves out they had their English neighbours to contend with, and although the English ultimately became the dominant force, the flame of Welsh identity has never been fully extinguished.
It was Offa, the Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia that initially separated the two countries when he built a barrier between his kingdom and the Welsh: This barrier, known as Offa’s Dyke, runs for 150 miles from north to south and still forms much of the Wales/England border today.
In between the border and the 1,680 miles of coastline is a land of contrasts. In the middle, the landscape consists largely of rolling hills and lush green fields populated by more sheep than humans; to the north are the rugged mountains of Snowdonia, and in the south below the Brecon Beacons are the valleys and industrial towns and villages that make up 60% of the country’s population.
It’s also a land rich in prehistoric sites and crumbling castles, but Wales is as much about the people as it is the landscape.
One of the things I admire about them is their ability to sing; I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody from Wales who can’t sing. Even when the chips are down, they still seem to be able to clear their throat and give a rendition of ‘Land of my Fathers’ or something: It’s no wonder that Wales is known as the ‘Land of Song’.
During the years of post-industrial Britain, the closure of the coal mines and associated industries of South Wales had a dramatic impact on the local communities – and a profound effect on me. Although I lived on the English side of the River Severn, I witnessed first-hand how people’s lives changed for the worse, but through it all they still had this incredible ability to sing.
I remember one occasion when the Treorchy Male Voice Choir sang something that was very personal to me and some friends of mine; it was something that will stay with me forever. How could I possibly forget? Welsh choirs can have that effect on you.
Not everyone will have personal experiences like that perhaps, but even through times of adversity, the people of Wales never seem to lose their voice – and I hope they never do.