Gwales review

Gwales review

Review by Lyn Ebenezer. He is a former journalist for Y Cymro, the author of Hiwmor Pontshan (Y Lolfa, 2007), and Operation Julie: the World’s Greatest LSD Bust (Y Lolfa, 2010). He also hosts on S4C notably Hel Straeon and Prynhawn Da (a Welsh-language talk-show on the afternoon).

History during my time as a pupil at Tregaron Grammar School meant British History. And British History meant English History. The history of Wales was a mere footnote in the curriculum, mentioned only in passing when it happened to overlap. It was mere trivia. No wonder I decided not to choose History as a subject for my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. Had such a comprehensive volume as this existed back in 1955, things might well have been different.

The scope of this remarkable reference work is extensive, noting major events from prehistoric times to 2014. It covers all aspects of Welsh history – religious, political, literary, artistic and technological – and also notes contributions made by Welsh people to various countries worldwide. In other words, it chronicles Wales’s contribution to world history.

In his introduction the author reveals that his motivation was the lack of easily accessible historical tools for both students and non-specialists. Naturally, such a vast undertaking has meant that only the significant events are recorded for each year. This is totally understandable. Indeed, noting omissions is a most interesting exercise. Why is it, you may ask, that Jack Daniels, founder of the famous whiskey of the same name in Tennessee, is included while Evan Williams, a Welshman from Dale who founded his famous Bourbon on the banks of the Ohio, is not? Why are some leaders of American, Canadian and Australian politics of Welsh descent included while Irish leaders Thomas Davis and Arthur Griffith are not? This is not a criticism. It merely underlines the impossibility of including everyone and everything. In fact, the author has managed to achieve the almost impossible with his research.

Having lived most of his life in Brittany and having studied at the Lycée Chaptal in Quimper and at the University of Western Brittany, the author began this mammoth task as an attempt to link the common culture of some of the Celtic countries. This developed into a study of Wales’s shared historical, linguistic and cultural connections with continental Europe and the rest of the world.

This volume is a must for every bookshelf. Open it at random and you will find it difficult to put down. The first entry notes the first signs of human habitation in Britain. The last notes a letter sent by Cymdeithas yr Iaith to First Minister Carwyn Jones threatening civil disobedience. There is a lot of history in between!