The complicated status of Wales
Since today is St. David’s Day and also the 6 month anniversary of my move to Wales, it seems like a good day for some reflection on Welsh patriotism. I tried to do some research on who St. David was and how he became the patron saint of Wales, and the best information I found was here. In modern times, St. David’s Day seems to be a day to celebrate what it means to be Welsh, and it’s tradition to wear either a daffodil, the national emblem of Wales, or a leek, which is apparently also a national emblem of Wales. When I was out in town this morning, I saw a lot of people with daffodils on their lapels, and the Carmarthen Town Council had a tent set up for singing traditional Welsh songs and reading of poems and speeches by local schoolchildren in traditional Welsh costumes. Carmarthen is reportedly the oldest town in Wales, having been inhabited since before the Roman rule. One thing I loved about Wales when I first visited 2 years ago is the amazing contrast you can see between the past and the present just walking down the street. I’ve seen this in Swansea, Cardiff, and Carmarthen, where you’ll find a historic castle surrounded by a thriving city and updated modern buildings. This makes sense, as obviously these towns originally developed around the castles and expanded beyond there, but it’s so fascinating as it’s something you never see in the states, because our history doesn’t go back nearly as far. Carmarthenshire (the county) also has one of the highest proportions of Welsh speakers in the country, which is pretty cool, and I think this is why Carmarthen feels so very devoted to its Welshness. There’s a conscious effort to hold on to these traditions and the language, like the singing of Welsh Christmas carols on the square during the holidays. I’m sure this is not unique to Carmarthen, but I think it is unique to the smaller and more rural parts of Wales. I asked my friend Amy, who lives in Swansea, if she knows anyone who speaks Welsh and she said no. In Carmarthen you hear it all the time–in cafes, in the shoes store, on the radio, or just walking down the street.
Josh has lived in Wales for as long as he can remember, but he was born in Yorkshire, England, and always corrects me if I call him Welsh. Yet he’s very keen to defend Wales to my friends and family from home, some of whom, prior to me coming here, did not even know it existed, and he’s quick to point out that Wales is separate from England. Even though he’s not Welsh by birth, he has his own pride about living in Wales, which I think comes from the fact that Wales is so often overlooked or misunderstood by foreigners.
Ever since I met Josh, which was quite a few years before I moved to Wales, he’s tried to explain to me the status of Wales within the United Kingdom. But it seems, now that I’m here, that even the most basic questions have complicated answers. For example–”Is Wales a country?” is something I’ve asked plenty of people, because their answers interest me. What I’ve found is that the answers vary. Josh has always stood by the fact that Wales is not a country, but a principality. Other people will say that yes, Wales is a country, because it has its own government (the Welsh Assembly Government), however, from what I understand the laws and politics of Parliament hold sway in Wales as well. Interestingly, when I looked up “principality” on Google, this is what came up:
However, I then found out that Wales had been declared a principality way back in the year 1216, but despite how much things have changed politically since then, no one had ever bothered to look at this issue and address it–until 2012, that is. In January of 2012, Wales was officially reclassified as a country by the International Organization for Standards in Geneva, after examining the issue and deciding that to call Wales a principality was an extremely outdated idea. But even though its status officially changed only in 2012, it’s something that people have debated for a long time. I can see why people who have lived in and loved Wales all their lives, with its unique history, ancient language and picturesque landscapes, would want it to be recognized as a country. And I now have my answer as to whether it is!