The story of Wales is long and, at times, confusing. That would go some of the way towards explaining why the emblems of Wales include a dragon, a vegetable, a spoon and a funny-shaped ball. This article was first published on VisitWales.com.
The Welsh national flag
It took until 1959 for the Welsh national flag to be officially unfurled for the first time. The significance of the dragon in Welsh culture is believed to date back to Arthurian legend when Merlin had a vision of a red dragon (representing native Britons) fighting a white dragon (the Saxon invaders). The use of green and white refer to the colours of the House of Tudor, the 15th century royal family of Welsh origin. The red dragon won the battle, just in case you were wondering…
Welsh male voice choirs
The 450-strong South Wales Choral Union of Aberdare is credited as popularising the Welsh male voice choir tradition after winning The National Music Union Brass And Choral Event in consecutive years during the 1870s. Welsh choral singing is instantly recognisable, with different pockets of the choir singing different parts. Traditional bedrocks of the movement include Treorchy and Morriston and the more recent success of Only Men Aloud has ensured that the male voice choir tradition is as popular with audiences as ever.
The red kite
In 2007 the distinctive bird of prey was voted the most popular bird among the people of Wales. Less than a century ago there were just two breeding pairs in the country, but the breed’s remarkable recovery means there are over a hundreds to be seen soaring over rural areas of Wales. Several red kite feeding stations also offer visitors the opportunity to get (relatively) up close and personal with these magnificent birds.
Prince of Wales’ Feathers
Three white feathers are encircled with a coronet, inscribed with the German words Ich Dien (‘I serve’). This is the emblem of the Prince of Wales, the Heir Apparent to the British and Commonwealth crown. Direct historic links with Wales are fairly sketchy. Nonetheless, the Three Feathers are proudly worn on Welsh rugby shirts.
The native language of Wales is spoken by three-quarters of a million people – most in Wales, but also in England, the USA, Canada and Argentina. There are few Welsh-only speakers and traditionally, Welsh has been the language of rural Wales; but it is increasingly popular within urban populations. Bilingual road signs and the Welsh language television channel, S4C, are just a couple of examples of the language in common use.
The Welsh harp
We can make life a little complicated for ourselves from time to time. As if to illustrate this the triple harp has three rows of strings rather than one. The Italians invented this particular instrument of melody during the 17th century, but a 100 years later it was widely known as the Welsh harp. Other varieties of harps are believed to have been played in Wales since the 11th century and gifted exponents of the art, such as Elinor Bennettand Catrin Finch among others, continue to inspire audiences and aspiring musicians.
This humble root vegetable is cited as a symbol of Wales in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. Historical evidence also exists that the Tudor dynasty issued leeks to be worn by their guards on March 1, known as St David’s Day in honour of the patron saint of Wales. There is also plenty of entertaining folklore and guesswork why the Welsh are inextricably linked with the leek. The 7th century king of Gwynedd, Cadwaladr, is said to have ordered his men into battle wearing them for identification purposes, but whatever the origins, we grow plenty of them and they taste lovely.
The Welsh lovespoon
A handcrafted gift made of a solid block of wood, the tradition of a male admirer crafting a lovespoon for a young woman indicated to the woman’s family that he was skilled and capable with his hands. The oldest existing lovespoon in Wales dates back to 1667 and can be seen at the wonderful St Fagans: National History Museum. Each specific carving on the spoon is symbolic, from the eternal love of the Celtic knot, to the twisted stem indicating togetherness.
This is one for those who believe that contemporary culture is all style over substance. The origins of the national flower of Wales appears to be as an attractive interloper, introduced during the 19th century, as a replacement for the humble leek. David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister, was a public advocate of the Narcissus (its Latin name) and its appearance in early spring as a symbol of nature’s optimism neatly coincides with St David’s Day on March 1. A more unusual link is that daffodils are grown commercially in Mid Wales to produce galantamine for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
The first Welsh international rugby union match took place in 1881 against England, in Blackheath. It didn’t go well for the away team, but brushing that minor setback aside, the first golden era for Welsh rugby came with a three year unbeaten run between 1907 and 1910. The side’s fortunes may have ebbed and flowed for the subsequent century and a bit, but it hasn’t deterred the phenomenal support which reflects the cultural importance of the sport in towns and villages all over the country, particularly in the industrialised parts of South Wales.