Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Happy St David's Day

The Daily Mirror today marked St David's Day with Google Doodle: 10 things you need to know about Wales' national day.
  1. St David's Day falls every year on the 1st March. This was the date when the Patron Saint of Wales, St David died in 589 AD.
  2. It wasn't until the 18th Century though that St David's Day was declared a national day of celebration in Wales.
  3. St David is typically depicted holding a dove, and often standing on a hillock. His symbol is the leek.
  4. In 2007, Tony Blair rejected calls for St David's day to become a Welsh national holiday, despite a poll saying that 87% of Welsh people wanted a 1st March holiday.
  5. A Welsh stew, named Cawl and containing lamb and leeks is traditionally consumed on St David's Day.
  6. Across Wales on the 1st March St David's Day parades take place, and in bigger cities, food festivals, concerts and street parties also occur.
  7. 2009 saw the inaugural St David's Day festival in Swansea, a week-long event featuring music, sporting and cultural events.
  8. Bizarrely, Disney's Mickey and Minnie were turned Welsh last year for the Disneyland Paris St David's Day Welsh Festival.
  9. St David's Day in Welsh is Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant.
  10. Despite the fact that St David abstained from Drinking and advised others to do the same, a number of Welsh breweries make special St David's Day ales. Cardiff brewers, Brains describe theirs as "a light, daffodil coloured ale, dry hopped with Styrian Goldings to create a thirst quenching spring ale with a refreshing bite and dry hop aroma".
Granted that these may not be the most exciting things to know about Wales' national day, but there you go.

Welsh people and Welsh societies are found across the world. There was a Welsh Society in Hastings when I lived there, and I was invited to join it on a number of occasions. Unfortunately I have this problem with joining clubs or societies, which is probably the result of me being basically an anti-social person. I would even avoid like the plague, joining committees, and would only do so most reluctantly.

Another problem I have (and I know that for many this is almost heretical), is with national identities. I have little time for national boundaries, national flags or national anthems. Gordon Brown's "test of Englishness" is anathema to me. We live in a multicultural age, and nationalism in all of its forms tends to provoke disunity and unrest. This may be a simple view, but it's my view. No doubt it will bring forward the cry, "A plague on all your houses".

However, for a few years, Hastings had a Welsh Mayor, and each 1st March he would organise an open afternoon at the Town Hall. There would be welsh cakes, drinks and hymn singing, which I did attend on a couple of occasions. The Mayor was an excellent man, an outspoken Labour Councillor, and a great singer (he was also a member of Opera South East). In spite of some of my comments above, I enjoyed those afternoons very much.

Miners Institute Rhosllanerchrugog
 I was brought up in an area with a number of Male Voice Choirs, and the nearest one was in the village of Rhos just two miles away. There were some memorable St David's Day concerts, given by the Rhos Male Voice Choir, at the Rhos Miner's Institute, always referred to as The Stiwt. This was erected and paid for by the miners during the general strike of 1926, as a social and cultural centre for the community. It closed in 1977.

The local council, which had purchased the building in 1978, decided in 1985 to demolish the building, but it was thankfully saved as a result of local campaigning. Following fundraising efforts, it was renovated and re-opened as a community theatre (Theatr Stiwt) and is still used today.

The Rhos Male Voice Choir, at its height had 100 members, and the sound they produced ranged from that of a tornado at full throttle, to that of a gentle breeze blowing through grass. Do look them up on YouTube, and if this link doesn't work, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-PI_9dDHCg just search Rhos Male Voice Choir, and in particular play the concert "Music from the Welsh Mines 1957". I love listening to them to this day.

Male Voice Choir
So, in spite of Tony Blair scuppering plans for a national holiday in Wales, and my own scullerous views on nationalism, let me, with all sincerity wish you a Happy St David's Day.

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