Monday, 27 October 2014

Why Welsh?

In my previous post I mentioned my interests in Celtic mythology and Welsh language and history. These came about for a variety of reasons, some to do with the fact I have Welsh ancestry on my father’s side. My paternal grandmother was born in Cardiff County, Wales, and came to Australia in the 1910s. I remember when I was told this as a child I felt some sort of kinship to the country. My father then said that if I couldn’t roll my r’s like the Welsh do, then I probably had missed out on the gene. I couldn’t, and so for a long time I chose to forget this aspect of my ancestry.

My father was born in Australia, yet people who met him often commented he seemed more English than Australian. This was likely due to the influence of his immigrant parents, his father having been born in Bishop’s Stortford, Essex, England, and who had also come out to Australia in the 1910s. Given my mother was born in Antwerp, Belgium, my heritage wasn’t so definite. And possibly because of this mix and the natural tendency to uphold one’s birthplace above others, for years I considered myself Australian before anything else.

That all changed after my reading of both Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Robert Graves’s The White Goddess and I fell in love with Celtic mythology. The stories and poems comprising the Matter of Britain—Arthur, Taliesin and Merlin, bards and druids—sang to me in a way that others hadn’t. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t roll my r’s. I had Welsh blood in me (and Scottish, when I went farther back in my ancestry); and I could even rationalise my Belgian heritage by pointing out the country was named after a Celtic tribe, the Belgae, some of whom had also settled in Britain.

Since the mid-2000s I have thrown myself even deeper into my love of all things Celtic. I have travelled three times to countries of the Celtic Fringe and have read and researched materials for a Dark Ages novel. I have started learning Welsh through a group operating in The Celtic Club in Melbourne. It is a hard language to learn, especially some of the pronunciations, and my progress is slow, though I am determined to become fluent eventually. My r’s are coming along nicely.

Do I still consider myself Australian rather than English or Welsh or Celtic? That’s a hard question, as it really doesn’t have only one answer. I am Australian by birth and by language usage. I barrack for Australian teams. I hold to Australian egalitarian values. However, even though I have travelled in and through Australian landscapes and appreciated their beauty, I feel more comfortable in Celtic landscapes, the mist, the mountains, the bright and dark green foliage. I prefer autumn, winter and spring to summer.

Since my visits to the countries of the Celtic Fringe, to Wales and Scotland in particular, I now know that deep sense of longing for home the Welsh call ‘Hireath’ (pronounced ‘Here-eyeth’, with a stronger ‘r’). I can’t wait to get back there, for immersion and re-connection. In the meantime, I can at least inhabit it in my imagination, through language learning and through book research and my writing. More about these activities in future posts.

Happy reading, musing, writing



Max Richards said...

good to read this, Earl. I look forward to further postings. bed wishes from Max in Seattle

Max Richards said...

delete BED wishes, insert BEST wishes...

Earl Livings said...

Thanks, Max. I'm glad you enjoyed the posting. What brought you to Seattle? Are you there permanently? Keep in touch. Cheers, Earl

Max Richards said...

Marilyn and I got here in September. She loves the MA in Psych here - lots of European philosophy and humanistic psych, inc poems like 'Prufrock'.
But she has CFS - dreadfully disabling, so the Fall quarter's 18 assignments in 10 weeks have knocked her up, it's week 11 and much still to do.
In Jan I will Do poetry with David Wagoner (88!).
Send me poems, I'll send you mine...
best from Max