It may have taken a long while, and for many, it might have been too late, but the change in the attitude of the Welsh people toward their language has been dramatic since 1962. Not only that, but great strides have been made in convincing immigrants to Wales that their children would not suffer the loss of their English language if they were to be taught through the medium of Welsh, and that a bilingual education may well be superiorto one that confines them to a single language. Many a non-Welsh speaking parent is now anxious to point with pride at the achievement of their children in the Welsh language. It is no longer fashionable in Wales to refer to the language as "dying," and the activities of the Eisteddfod as "the kicks of a dying nation," sentiments the author heard at Swansea in 1964. What caused the sea-change?
One place we can start to look for the answer is the media, especially public radio. Beginning in 1922, the BBC broadcasts in Wales were eagerly awaited. Its voice, however, was one that gave prestige and authority to its views, the voice of a public-school-educated upper-class Englishman. In addition, the majority of broadcasts led a majority of British people to believe that a BBC accent was not only desirable, but was the correct one, and that their own accent, dialect, or in the case of much of Wales, their language, was inferior. It was Radio Eireann, the voice of the Irish Republic, that broadcast the only regular Welsh language material, beginning in 1927.
At time, and for a long period afterward, incredible as it now seems, the head of the BBC station in Cardiff ignored protests from devotees of the Welsh language who wished to hear Welsh language programs. There were then almost one million speakers of Welsh. But aided by such attitudes of those in authority, a rapid decline was about to begin. This was not inevitable. Perhaps the language would have even advanced, given sufficient air time in the late 1920's and early 30's. The problem was that most Welsh listeners enjoyed their English language programs; it was only the few who realized that their enjoyment was coming at the expense of their cherished, native tongue.
One who did take notice, and one who provided the second place to look for the answer was Ifan ab Owen Edwards, whose father Owen M. Edwards had founded Urdd y Delyn in 1898. The son, in his turn, established the most influential of all youth movements in Wales, Urdd Gobaith Cymru in 1922; the movement has involved countless thousands of Welsh boys and girls ever since, conducting their camps, sports activities, singing festivals, eisteddfodau, etc. all through the medium of Welsh and proving that the language was not one that should be confined to an older, chapel-going, puritanical generation. Continued protests against the policies of the BBC, unable and in most cases unwilling to cater to the new, younger generation eventually led to the BBC studio at Bangor broadcasting Welsh language programs. In 1935, and in July of 1937 the Welsh Region of the BBC finally began to broadcast on a separate wavelength. Radio Cymru, however, had to wait until 1977.
Another pivotal figure in the fight for survival of the Welsh language, and one who made good use of the power of the radio broadcast was the poet and dramatist Saunders Lewis. Like Ifan ab Owen Edwards, Lewis was greatly concerned that, unless something was done, and done quickly, the Welsh language as a living entity would disappear before the end of the century. Lewis, a major Welsh poet and dramatist, generally considered as the greatest literary figure in the Welsh language of this century, was born in Cheshire into a Welsh family; he later became a lecturer at the newly established University College, Swansea. Heavily influenced by events in Ireland and the struggle for national identity in that country that took place in the political sphere, he was one of the founders of Plaid Cymru in 1925 at the Pwllheli National Eisteddfod, becoming its president in 1926.
Lewis envisioned a new role for the people of Wales that would transform their position as a member of the British Empire into one in which they could see themselves as one of the nations that helped found European civilization. As he viewed it:
What then is our nationalism?...To fight not for Welsh independence but for the civilization of Wales. To claim for Wales not independence but freedom. (Egwyddorion Cenedlaetholdeb, 1926)
Ten years later, with two companions, D.J. Williams and Lewis Valentine, Lewis deliberately set a fire at Penyberth in the Llyn Peninsular, North Wales, a site that the military wished to use for construction of a bombing school. The three then turned themselves in to the authorities and were duly indicted and summoned to appear in court. The failure of the court to agree on a verdict at Caernarfon, a town sympathetic to their cause, meant the removal of their trial to London, where they were each sentenced to nine months imprisonment. Lewis was dismissed from his teaching post at Swansea even before the arrival of the guilty verdict at the Old Bailey.
Leading Welsh historians agree that The fire at Penyberth should be regarded as a cause celebre in the struggle for Welsh identity; it certainly had its impact on Welsh thinking, an impact that was not wholly dampened by the onset of Word War ll which again focused the people of Britain on their shared identity in the face of an enemy that threatened their survival as a nation. The pacificism of Lewis was an affront to many, even within Plaid Cymru who saw the need to defeat as overriding any other concern.
The improvements in the road system meant that many areas in Wales were easy to get to. Their beauty and tranquility became an irresistible magnet to thousands ready to retire from the squalor and overcrowding of the big industrial cities of northern and middle England. Welsh communities, especially along the North Wales coast, found themselves inundated with a flood of newcomers who were either too old to learn the language or couldn't be bothered. Many of the younger couples had no idea that Wales had a language of its own, or when they did find out were adamant that their children be