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The Welsh flag
Wales is a principality which is a part of the United Kingdom. It occupies the peninsula of land between the Bristol Channel and the River Dee, on the west side of southern Great Britain. Anglesey, Holy Island, and the bardic island of Bardsey are also part of Wales.


Much of Wales is mountainous; the Cambrian Mountains run the length of the country, from Snowdonia in the north. Several geological periods are named after the ancient Welsh tribes that lived in regions where strata characteristic of the period are to be found; the Ordovician (Ordovices), the Silurian (Silures), and the Cambrian period is named for Cambria, the Latin for Wales.


The largest city in Wales is Cardiff, which was declared to be the capital city in 1955, against competition from Swansea. Other important locales include the ports of Holyhead and Milford Haven; the mining and industrial centres of Llanelli, Neath, Pontypridd, Rhondda, Merthyr Tydfil and Wrexham; the ecclesiastical cities of St. Asaph and St. Davids; the resorts of Pwllheli, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl and Prestatyn; the university towns of Bangor and Aberystwyth; and the villages of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (the longest place name in Britain) and Llanddewi Brefi.


English is universally spoken in Wales - however, the ancestral Celtic language of Welsh is still spoken as a first or second language by approximately a quarter of the population (In 2001, Apporximately 600,000 people claimed some knowledge of welsh). The long-term decline in Welsh-speakers has stabilised since the early 1990s owing to the introduction of compulsory Welsh language classes in schools.

The national emblems are the leek and the daffodil. The Welsh national day is March 1, Saint David's day. The Welsh flag has a picture of a dragon, usually called Idris. The Welsh flag forms no part of the Union Flag as at the time the flag was first devised Wales was considered as part of the Kingdom of England.



Wales emerged as a nation from the collapse of Romano-British Britannia following the invasions of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from the fifth century AD onwards. What is now known as Wales was for a time known as 'North Wales', while Devon and Cornwall (in SW England) were 'West Wales' until their conquest. The Mercian king Offa (Mercia equates roughly to the English Midlands) created an substantial earthwork, Offa's Dyke running between the Irish Sea and the Severn estuary in the later eighth century to separate his kingdom from Welsh lands. The dyke broadly marks the Anglo-Welsh boundary to this day.

The Norman Conquest of England following 1066 gave rise to Norman attempts to occupy Wales; by the thirteenth century much of eastern and southern Wales were under Norman control in autonomous 'Marcher Lordships' owing loyalty to the English crown. What was left of independent Wales was not a unitary nation, but comprised a number of separate, often warring, principalities, and only late on, under English pressure, did these unite to acknowledge one 'Prince of Wales'. These princes were provided by the most powerful of the Welsh states, Gwynedd, in the mountainous NW of the country. Most notable was Llewelyn the Great (1173-1240; who unified the country, and gave it a code of laws).

English conquest

His grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, was unable to resist a powerful invasion mounted by the English king Edward I, and his death in battle in 1282 and the later execution of his brother Daffyd (executed for treason due to his betrayal of the English king, with whom he had previously been allied) marked the extinction of independent Wales.

A number of huge fortifications were built by Edward to pacify the country, notably that of Caernafon Castle, and maintained by his successors. These castles wer known as the Iron Ring.

A major revolt against English rule was mounted in the early fifteenth century led by Owain Glyndwr, a member of the prosperous Welsh gentry who became embittered against the local English magnates for reasons which are uncertain, but probably owe as much to personal disputes as national sentiment. Glyndwr's rebellion achieved astonishing success, for a while. Beginning on Good Friday 1401, the rebels came to control much of the countryside and many Welsh towns, even advancing to Worcester in England. Glyndwr, who had been proclaimed Prince of Wales, held two parliaments at Machynlleth in mid Wales, and allied himself with the Duke of Northumberland and the Earl of Mortimer in a plan to dismember the English kingdom once Henry IV had been conclusively defeated. He made an alliance with France, and created two (short-lived) universities, one each in north and South Wales. However, by 1408 the tide had turned. His Northumbrian allies had been defeated and English forces retook many Welsh towns. The rebels resorted to guerilla warfare but by 1410 Glyndwr was a fugitive and he disappears from history, his fate a mystery.

Much as Owain Glyndwr emerged from the ranks of the Welsh gentry, so too did Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who in 1485, as a somewhat tendentious claimant to the throne of England through the Lancastrian line, led an army of disaffected English magnates to victory over the Yorkist king Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry became King Henry VII and the progenitor of the Tudor dynasty, the first Welsh king of England. Henry's son, Henry VIII, completed the absorption of Wales into England in 1536, when the remaining parts of Wales were formally annexed to England and 'shired' - that is, divided into counties (shires) with sheriffs and lords lieutenant, rather than being ruled as marcher lordships.

Prince of Wales

Charles, eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II, is the current Prince of Wales, a title normally bestowed on the first-born son of the sovereign but implying no particular monarchical role in the Principality.

Even today in modern Wales, vestiges of anti-English sentiment remain strong in some parts; the Welsh Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru typically returns several members to the British Parliament, and with the unaffiliated Welsh terrorist group the Meibion Glyndwr, ("the Sons of Glendower") conducting a sporadic campaign of arson against English-owned holiday homes in recent years.[1]

Druidry survived as a major force in Wales until the 18th century, and may never have completely died out. The first modern Welsh druids date from 1717, but they took many of their rites from existing practices. The winner of the chair at the national Eisteddfod becomes a druid.


Position Current Holder
Monarch Queen Elizabeth II
Prime Minster Gordon Brown MP
Secretary of State Peter Hain MP
First Minister Rhodri Morgan AM

Although constitutionally the United Kingdom is a unitary state with one sovereign, parliament and government - there has been moves to give power to national legislature in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this has taken the form of devolution. Power for certain areas of government like education, health and the environment are fully the responsibility of their national governments. However, central government maintains the right to overturn any decision by a national assembly, as as such the Parliament of the United Kingom remains sovereign in the United Kingdom as a whole.


A National Assembly for Wales as established under the Government of Wales Act of 1998. The assembly consists of 60 Assembly Members or AMs. The Welsh Assembly Government is the executive arm who have been delegated much of the powers of the Assembly.


Wales is known for the strength of Nonconformist denominations, especially the Methodists. Nonconformist social and political activism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was based more on moral and economic concerns than theological principles. Public controversy over publication of R. J. Campbell's The New Theology in 1907 sparked the development of a theology-based activism that strengthened Nonconformist ties with the radical labor movement and Socialism. It was similar to the Social Gospel in the United States, but more radical and more inclined toward socialism as promoted by the Labour Party.[2]


South Wales was formerly heavily industrialised, with coal mining and steelworking, whereas North Wales is a pastoral area used mainly for sheepfarming.

Coal mining in South Wales has undergone a recent resurgence due to the discovery of new energy resources, particularly in the Crumlin area.


Soccer enjoys major popularity, with rugby union being particularly popular in South Wales. In addition, as is common with many universities, both Cardiff and Aberystwyth Universities have their own American Football teams (the Cardiff Cobras and the Tarannau Aberystwyth), and there are other American Football teams in Wales[3] (indeed there are many other American Football teams in the whole of the UK[4]).

World significance

Welsh-derived surnames are common in the United States. The Welsh name Jones is in fact the fourth commonest surname in the U. S.[5]; within the hundred commonest surnames, the Welsh names Evans, Edward, Morgan, and Jenkins rank 48th, 49th, 57th, and 83rd respectively.[6] Names beginning with a double L, such as Lloyd and Llewellyn are almost certain to be Welsh, as is Floyd (the "Fl" being an attempt to imitate the sound of the Welsh double-L.


Although it should be noted that the Welsh Alphabet uses the same characters as English (indeed both are examples of the Latin Alphabet) direct comparisons cannot always be made between the two. Welsh developed as an oral language with no corresponding written language and so, when it did develop a written language, it was developed in the written alphabet of the time, the Latin Alphabet. Of principle differences it should be noted that unlike English, Welsh has seven vowels, comprising of A, E, I, O, U, W and Y (occasionally h) . In addition, certain sounds in Welsh are represented in the Latin Alphabet by two characters but are considered to be only one letter. In truth this makes little practical difference in everday use but is of use in such things as crosswords (where, for instance, the letter ff would occupy one space). In addition the Welsh alphabet has sounds (phones {speech sounds}) that do not occur in either English or American English. Listed below is the Welsh alphabet, along with the name of the letter as prounced in Welsh (which varies compared to how it is pronounced in English) and a (rough) guide to pronounciation.

A, a  : {Name = â) Short = a, as in Mam (Welsh version of Mum or Mom) or Slam. Long = a as in Mad, aaa! (an exclaimation), but never ah as in Lard or bard

B, b  : (Name = bî) b, as in Boy, Butter, etc.

C, c  : (Name = èc) k, as in Cat, Coin, but never s, as in ceiling.

CH, ch : (Name = èch) a sound that has no corresponding sound in English, similar to the 'ch' in loch or Bach when these words are pronounced correctly in their original phones.

D, d  : (Name = dî) d, as in Dog, Drag, Dip, etc.

DD, dd : (Name = èdd) a soft 'th' sound, as in The or Them

E, e  : (Name = ê) Short = eh, as in Hen, Pen, etc. Long = air, as in the 'ea' sound in Pear.

F,f  : (Name = èf) v, as in Van, Vote, Value.

FF, ff : (Name = èff) f, as in Fair, Fast, Feisty.

G, g  : (Name = èg) g, as in Gasp, Grip, but never j, as in Judge.

NG, ng : (Name = èng) ng, as in Sing, Ding, Fling, Flung, Long, etc. but is only considered a single letter in Welsh.

H, h  : (Name = âets,hâ) h, as in Hat, Hope, Hero.

I, i  : (Name = î (North Wales), î dot (South Wales)) Short = i, as in fit, kit, pit[7], however, due to pronunciation differences between dialects and regions the short form of 'i' can also be pronounced in the same way as the long form. Long = ee, as in Seen, Dean, Mean.

Strictly speaking there is no 'J' in the Welsh Alphabet, where a 'J' would appear in English the Latin form of replacing it with an 'I' occurs, so James becomes Iago in Welsh (as it does in Spanish) and Santiago or (Sant Iago) means Saint James in both Spanish and English.

There is no 'K' in Welsh. That sound is formed using the letter 'C'.

L, l  : (Name = èl) l, as in Long, Last, Lambeth, Lament.

LL, Ll, ll : (Name = ell) No corresponding sound in English. Prounced as an aspirated 'l' which is in practice formed by prouncing l, a hard th and a hissing sound from one side of the mouth, all at the same time. Used in the words Llewellyn, Llanberis, Llanelli, etc.

M, m  : (Name = èm) m, as in Mam, Merry, Mercury.

N, n  : (Name = en) n, as in Name, Number, Never.

O, o  : (Name = ô) Short = o, as in Hockey, Gone, Bomb. Long = oa as in oar, boar

P, p  : (Name = pî) p, as in Pet, Pogo, Ping.

Ph, ph : (Name = ffî) an aspirated 'p' as it is in English, and the same prounciation as the Welsh letter 'ff'. However, in Welsh the 'ph' letter is considered to be a mutated form, and the letter 'ff' is more likely to be used.

R, r  : (Name = èr) r, as in Rat, Ran, Rubbish. However, the pronounciation of the letter 'r' in Welsh is slightly more trilled and rolled in pronounciation than it is in English.

Rh, rh : (Name = rhî, rhô) Again, no corresponding sound in English. 'Rh' is pronounced as 'hr'.

S, s  : (Name = ès) s, as in Sat, Sorry, Song and, if you insist (even if you don't), Sox.

T, t  : (Name = tî) t, as in Tea, Test, Time.

Th, th : (Name = èth) a hard th sound, as in Thought, Thespian, Theocracy.

U, u  : (Name = û (North Wales), û bedol (South Wales)) Short = i, as in me, he, she. Long = ee, as in Seen, Dean, Mean. (exactly the same as i)

W, w  : (Name = ŵ) Short = never 'w' as in english. Thus, gweld (to see) is goo-eld (although it does sound similar to gw-eld). A short oo as in look, book. Long = long oo as in goo, moo.

Y, y  : (Name = ŷ) Short (1) = i, as in Sit, Bit, Flit. This occurs in one syllable words like mynd (to go), llyn (lake) Short (2) = uh, as in Gun, Fun. This occurs in multi syllable words like cymru (wales), or non stressed one syllable words like fy (my), yn (in). Long = ee, Seen, Been, Lean.

As can be seen, there appears to be three letters (i, u, y) in Welsh that all have the same sound (ee when pronounced). In North Wales, u and û are often pronounced as what s known as a 'close central unrounded vowel', which doesn not occur in English.

It should be noted that in addition to single letters (as listed above) the Welsh language also combines letters to form other sounds (as English does). Some examples include Si (the 'sh' sound, as in Siân (SH-ahn)), Oe (oy, as in boy), Wy (oo-y, no comparable sound in English), Tch (which can produce the 'tch' sound in match as opposed to the sound of t followed by the gutteral 'ch' in Welsh), di{vowel} (which produces a j sound, i.e. diyg is the Welsh phonetic for jug).

A common occurance in the language is the direct use of English words (commonly known as "Wenglish"), or a phonetic welsh version of it (known as cymreigeiddio - welshification). This generally occurs for technical words, like 'niwclear' (nuclear) and 'biwrèt' (burette).

Some fun words in Welsh and a (even rougher) guide to their pronounciation: Ynysybwl = A place name, that in English contains no vowels, but in Welsh is pronounced Uh-Nis-Uh-Bull

Eglwys = A church. Pronounced Egg-l-ooy-s. The official church of Wales (by virtue of the fact that Wales is a Principality of England and the Established Church of England is the Anglican Church of England) is Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru, or The Church in Wales.

Cymru = Wales. Pronounced K-um-ri, although when Cymru is used in a sentence the beginning of the word is altered to fit the syntax of the sentence (i.e. The Church in Wales is Yr(The) Eglwys(Church) yng(in) Nghymru(Wales) as opposed to Yr Eglwys yng Cymru).

Capel = Chapel. Pronounced K-ap-el.

Ysgol = School. Pronounced Us-gol (not Us-goal).

Siarad = To speak or talk. Pronounced Sh-ah-rad.

Dim siarad = No Talking. Pronounced Dim Sh-ah-rad.

Cwtch = Closest meaning is 'safe place', often used to indicate an affectionate hug or cuddle (a safe place emotionally and physically) or a place of storage. Pronounced as Butch but with a hard 'C' at the beginning instead of a 'B'.

Hiraeth = No comparable English word. It's a deep seated longing, almost a depressing and obsessive (but not actually either of those things) need for something, often a return to Wales. It can also be used to indicate a deep longing for something unobtainable. Pronounced Hi-r-eye-th (as in thought).

Most English dictionaries contain some Welsh-derived English words such as cwm (a circular valley or cirque) and crwth (an traditional Celtic fiddle-like musical instrument). These can be very effective stumpers when playing word games, provided of course that they are actually included in whatever dictionary is the authority agreed on by the players.


  2. Robert Pope, "From New Theology to Social Gospel," Welsh Journal of Religious History 2007 2: 87-104,
  5. Smith, Johnson and Williams ranking first, second and third
  6. Most Common Surnames in the U. S., website which claims its source is the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Population Analysis & Evaluation Staff