The last time I was in this part of Wales “Dewi” wasn’t there. The dragon has been made from 78 sq metres of steel sheet cut into scale shapes which are then welded onto a solid frame. Next the shapes are polished and then 12 coats of lacquer applied. In all 732 hours of work by the artist Anthony Peacock. In the background you can see Harlech Castle, built by King Edward I during his conquest of Wales, the castle was subject to several assaults and sieges during its period of active use as a fortification. Harlech castle served as the de facto capital of an independent Wales between 1404 and 1409 when it was held by Owain Glyndŵr. The later seven-year siege of the castle, during the Wars of the Roses, has been memorialised in the famous song “Men of Harlech”.
In Welsh mythology, Harlech is associated with Branwen, but despite this, the first record of a fortification at Harlech – historically or archaeologically – comes from 1283 when Edward began building a castle there as part of his conquest of Wales.
Wales and England had historically been enemies, and war broke out again between the two on 22 March 1282. The Welsh leader, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, died later that year on 11 December. His brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd continued to fight against the English. Dolwyddelan Castle was captured by the English in January 1283; control of Dolwyddelan opened up access to the Conwy valley. After Castell y Bere fell to English forces two months later, 560 soldiers marched to Harlech, led by Sir Otto de Grandison. Work began in earnest on building a castle at Harlech. The earliest references to the activity date from May. Harlech was one of 14 castles built by Edward I in the closing decades of the 13th century. Like many of the castles in the area, Harlech was designed by Master James of St. George. The castle was largely completed in seven years, and cost an estimated £8,190. Following its completion, James was appointed Constable of Harlech Castle, a high-status position he held for over three years. All the royal castles of Edward’s second Welsh campaign were sited so that they could be kept supplied at all times. Harlech was not always isolated; the sea used to come to the foot of the cliffs.
I couldn’t let this article finish without talking about the Welsh language. Welsh (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg, pronounced [kəmˈrɑːɨɡ, ə ɡəmˈrɑːɨɡ]) is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa (the Welsh colony in Chubut Province, Argentina). Historically, it has also been known in English as “Cambrian”, ”Cambric” and “Cymric”.
The Welsh Language Board indicated in 2004 that 611,000 people (21.7% of the population of Wales in households or communal establishments were able to speak the language. This figure marks a 0.9 percentage point increase when compared with a figure of 20.8% from the 2001 census, and an increase of approximately 35,000 in absolute numbers within Wales. Of those 611,000 Welsh speakers, 57% (315,000) considered themselves fluent, and 78% (477,000) consider themselves fluent or “fair” speakers. 62% of speakers (340,000) claimed to speak the language daily, including 88% of fluent speakers.
A greeting in Welsh is one of 55 languages included on the Voyager Golden Record chosen to be representative of Earth in NASA’s Voyager program launched in 1977. The greetings are unique to each language, with the Welsh greeting being Iechyd da i chwi yn awr ac yn oesoedd which translates into English as “Good health to you now and forever”. The Welsh Language Measure 2011 gives the Welsh language official status in Wales
Living in my part of Wales I don’t hear the Welsh language so much. It is evident in street signs and in the shops (dual language), but most people here speak English. However, go inland or further along the coast, away from the English border and you will find the the Welsh language very much in evidence.
Should you wish to photograph “Dewi” you can find him at the Min y Don Camping and Touring Park in Harlech. Ask in the office, they’ll probably let you photograph it.
- Wales News: New Welsh Language watchdog has ‘concerns’ about her independence (walesonline.co.uk)
- Around the world of Wales in three days. Part 4: Home is where the heart is., Activities (visitwales.co.uk)
- Harlech Castle – Current times and prices (worldwright.wordpress.com)
- Speak English! Or Else… (ansionnachfionn.com)