Hi! Bet you forgot this blog even existed. I personally haven’t posted on here in a long, long time. But I had a bit of a rant about a word, and I think it deserves a spot on the blog.
Hiraeth is a Welsh word, and it has no direct English translation. It has no need to, it’s not a word that means anything to anyone who isn’t Welsh. If you look up an English language translation, you might find a respectful description of what it means, but you also might find a very vague description mentioning “nostalgia”. Here is a description that I found on Twitter, the reason I felt the need to suddenly write this down.
“Hiraeth – A spiritual longing for a home which maybe never was. Nostalgia for ancient places to which we cannot return. It is the echo of the lost places of our soul’s past and our grief for them. It is in the wind, and the rocks, and the waves. It is nowhere and it is everywhere.”Random Twitter post with too many likes.
So, this is somewhat accurate, but it is also somewhat inaccurate, because it’s very vague. Sometimes this vagueness is due to innocent ignorance, and that’s forgivable, we’re only a small country with a pretty rare language in the grand scheme of things. But sometimes that vagueness is on purpose. Because hiraeth is specifically about Wales. It is specifically the feeling of belonging in Wales as a Welsh person, about being in tune with the culture, with nature. And it’s about grief, too, mourning for the damage done to Wales by a millennia of, well, oppression. From the time of the Celts until the modern day, the Welsh have been undermined in one way or another. The Welsh Not saw school children shamed and beaten for speaking their mother tongue, traditions such as the Mari Lwyd and Eisteddfod have long been accused of being unholy or satanic, and the Welshman has been stereotyped as being thieving and lazy for centuries.
Here’s some stuff this topic reminds me of. Researched a bit beforehand to try and be as accurate as one can be at 5 in the morning.
During the industrial revolution in the 1800s, theories of English racial superiority gained popularity, and the Welsh were seen as racially inferior. Welsh men moving to England in search of work were seen as “stealing jobs” from the English, as they were willing to work for less. A report published by the British government in 1847, named the “Treachery of the Blue Books” described the Welsh language as “a vast drawback to Wales and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people”. All three commissioners of the report were English and spoke no Welsh. The report allowed English-only schools to be built throughout Wales.
Tryweryn Reservoir. In 1960, due to Welsh politics being controlled by an English-majority Parliament, people living in Capel Celyn, a largely Welsh-speaking village, were forced out of their homes, the dead dug up from the local chapel graveyard, and the area they used to live was turned into a reservoir to supply Liverpool, an English city. A large stone nearby was painted with the words “Cofiwch Dryweryn”, translating to “Remember Tryweryn”. It was quite recently damaged and had to be rebuilt. It has been vandalised many times, and at least once a swastika has been spray-painted over it. When the reservoir is shallow, the spire of the chapel appears from beneath the water, a reminder of what once was.
Aberfan. The mining town of Aberfan experienced unspeakable tragedy in 1966 when a neglected, over-filled colliery spoil tip turned to sludge in the wet weather, sliding down the mountain and into the valley, destroying a line of houses and crashing into the local primary school as class was beginning. 144 people died that day, and 116 of them were children under the age of 11. The National Coal Board, the government body responsible for the coal mine, was not prosecuted, and no staff were demoted, fired or prosecuted. Families that lost children were offered £50 for their trouble, about £950 in today’s money, but only after proving they were “close to their child”. No psychological help was offered to survivors. The residents of Aberfan had to help pay for the safe removal of the rest of the tips, using the disaster fund which they had raised themselves, only being paid back by the government in 1997.
It wasn’t until the Welsh Language Acts in 1967 and 1993 that the Welsh language had full official status in Wales. English was an official language long before this, despite still not being an official language in England.
Back in 2020, when Wales was in full lockdown, Snowdonia, part of the heartlands (parts of Wales where more than 70% of the population speak Welsh) and where our tallest mountain is, Mount Snowdon, was being used as a hiking ground for English tourists, who due to a difference in lockdown rules between the two countries, arrived in droves, causing traffic jams and illegally parking on local roads. The citizens living in Snowdonia were not allowed to hike, but the tourists were.
Here, have a fun description I found while browsing;
“Loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls.”A.A. Gill, a Scottish journalist born to English parents
This appeared in the Sunday Times, a paper read by 650,000 people. What year, you ask? Why, 1997! Only 24 years ago. That’s not recent enough, you say? Well here, have this;
“Miserable, seaweed munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill-tribes”Rod Liddle, an associate editor of The Spectator magazine
Which is how this gentleman decided to describe the Welsh while calling for the closure of the S4C (the only Welsh-language television channel!) as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. In 2010. Eleven years ago.
These are all found with simple searches on Wikipedia, I’m not claiming to have unearthed any hot, juicy details, but I felt the need to bundle them all up here while I feel impassioned. Even if I just teach one person one new detail, I feel I’ve done my job. I learnt a few while I read up on this stuff.
So yeah, that’s what we’re grieving. We’re grieving our country, our language, our culture, the lives lost in wars we never chose to be part of, or dangerous work, or simply just government neglect. We’re missing a country where the majority spoke Welsh, and practiced Welsh traditions. We miss a country where our house prices hadn’t been driven up by English holidaymakers and retirees buying historic buildings in rural areas as quaint holiday homes. We’re reminded of why we’re so proud to be Welsh whenever we wander over hills and through valleys, whenever we hear our music, read our literature, talk to others in our mamiaith. Our mother tongue.
We’re a separate country, with our own history, our own language, our own culture. Once upon a time, we had our own monarchy, too. And hiraeth is our word, for a strictly Welsh situation. Absolutely no doubt at all that many people from many different cultures relate to it, but they usually have their own word to describe it. Hiraeth is ours.
To end this messy rant off, have a song.
“Yma o Hyd” is another little phrase that means a bit more than it seems. The best English translation I can think of for it is “We’re still here”. But it’s more like: “We were always here, we are still here, and we will be here forever, fuck you”.
I’m sure there’s a more simple way of saying that, but you get the gist.
And I added the “fuck you” for emphasis, it felt accurate,,,
Cymru am byth, Caby out. Peace.