Ceri Shaw



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An Interview With Peter N. Williams

user image 2009-03-03
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Author Interviews

Tolkien And Welsh AmeriCymru: We note from your biography that you are a member of The Gorsedd of Bards. How did you become a member and what, if any, ceremony was involved. Can you explain for an American audience what the Gorsedd is and what it does?

Peter: I have to refer you to my book on the Gorsedd. I became a member in l999 at the National Eisteddfod in Llangefni, Ynys Mon (Anglesey) because of my work for Welsh Americans and Wales, especially for my organizing a Welsh society in Delaware (of which i am president), lecturing on Wales, writing about Wales, conducting Cymanfaoedd Ganu (plural) and so on. I had to be recommended as are all members of the Gorsedd by those with influence in Welsh cultural affairs.

AmeriCymru: We note further that you are a director of the NWAF ( National Welsh American Foundation ). What is the history of the NWAF and what is its role today?

Peter: Since its foundation in 1980 the NWAF has spent close on 150,000 in support of Welsh-American activities including scholarships and grants to organisations and individuals. GRANTS: Grants of some 75,000 have been made to support Welsh language training in Wales and the United States; to support Welsh-American activities such as restorations, nursery schools, museums, the Welsh National Cymanfa Ganu Association and the National Eisteddfod of Wales; to individuals engaged in special studies; and the support of cultural events presenting Welsh choirs and entertainers. Our main goal is to support Welsh America by providing scholarships for Americans to go to Wales to study the language and culture, and for Welsh students to come here in exchange. We give financial support when we can to Welsh American organizations and events. We have a quarterly The Eagle and the Dragon (which I edit) for all members.

AmeriCymru: Peter, you have consistently championed the cause of "Welshness" and the Welsh language throughout your career. I think all Americymru members would want to thank you for that. How do you see the future of the Welsh language. Rumours of its death in 1962 ( I refer of course to the famous Saunders Lewis speech of that year ) were thankfully premature. What are your predictions for the future of yr hen iaith?

Peter: I see the future of the Welsh language as precarious, but I believe the happenings of the last 20 years or more will ensure its future as a minority language. Wales will be bilingual, of that I'm pretty sure. Saunders Lewis speech galvanized the youth into action. I was in Wales at the time and was told that I was hearing the kicks of a dying language. Since then, it has rebounded.

AmeriCymru: Many people would argue that Wales has experienced a massive increase in terms of self-confidence since the devolution vote? Would you agree?

Peter: The acquisition of self confidence has accompanied the resurgence ot the language, but there must be a million or more "non-Welsh" living in Wales with no interest in its culture, its traditions, its language, or its politics, being thoroughly "British" (ie, English) in their outlook. Wales sporting success is as much as anything to inspire self confidence in those that do honor their history. For half a century, it has been "the gallant few" that have kept alive the traditions, and an even smaller few that has safeguarded the language by pressing for its use in nursery schools and in the workplace.

AmeriCymru: Regrettably many people in Wales do not have a knowledge of Welsh. Is it possible or desirable in your view to develop a distinct Anglo-Welsh cultural identity?.Can there be different "cultures" within the same language group?

Peter: There is already an Anglo-Welsh cultural identity. It was forged in the coal mining valleys of South East Wales in the 19th century. A million immigrants could not be absorbed into the language community, but because many came to the valleys from the agricultural Welsh-speaking areas, the language did not die out. A kind of mongrelization took place. On my first visit to South Wales I was amazed at the Welshness of the people in their attitude, but was also amazed that they didn't know the Welsh language, There was a kind of Wenglish spoken, strong Welsh accent and dialect, but mostly in the English language. But this is the area of the fastest growth today (well, it had to be didn't it?). Thank rugby football etc for some of this.

AmeriCymru: You have written a number of books a bout Wales. Do you have any plans to write more?

Peter: I have written quite a few books. As I approach my 75th birthday I think i should slow down. My alphabetical guide was a work of love, but endured years of toil etc. I have completed my Britain: the Rise and Fall of an Empire , in which I have covered the devolution movements in Scotland and Wales and the independence of Ireland.

AmeriCymru: Any other message for the members and readers of Americymru?

Peter: Messages are to keep at it. Never give up, despite obstacles. Our Welsh culture is worth learning about, worth saving, and worth working for.

Books by Peter N. Williams

A review of "Wales and the Welsh"