The whole north Wales coast, known as "the Welsh Riviera" became first a weekend playground for, and then an extension of, Merseyside. The mid-Wales coast, similarly was transformed by a huge influx of people from the Midlands. LIverpool accents were more common in Llandudno than Welsh; Birmingham accents common in Borth, or even Aberystwyth. The author vividly remembers visiting a pub in Bangor where every customer but one could speak Welsh, but all of whom used English to defer to a monolingual Englishman (who had been in the area forty years without learning a single word of Welsh). The same situation was found throughout much of North Wales.
The result of such massive invasions, often by retirees, certainly by those with little incentive to learn Welsh was drastic. From almost a million Welsh speakers in 1931, the number fell to just over 500,000 in less than fifty years.despite the large increase in population.Strongholds of the language and its attendant culture were crumbling fast, and it seemed that nothing could be done to stem the tide. In 1957 occurred an event that exemplified the situation: the Liverpool Corporation got the go-ahead from Parliament to drown a valley in Meirionydd (Merionethshire) called Tryweryn, which housed a strong and vibrant Welsh-speaking community. The removal of the people of Tryweryn to make way for a source of water for an English city convinced many in Wales that the nation was on its way to extinction. The survival of the Welsh language seemed irreversibly doomed, and no-one seemed to care.
Then something happened; someone seemed to care after all. At Pontarddulais in 1962, at the summer school of Plaid Cymru, a new movement began. Mainly involving a younger active post-war Welsh generation, many of them college students, the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) decided to take matters in their own hands to try to halt the decline of the language by forcing the hand of the government. Saviors to many, scoundrels and troublemakers to others, frustrated members of the Society had been galvanized into action by a talk given on the BBC by Saunders Lewis in February, 1962.
In his talk, entitled Tynged yr Iaith (Fate of the language) Lewis asked his listeners to make it impossible for local or central government business to be conducted without the use of the Welsh language. This was the only way, he felt, to ensure its survival. Plaid Cymru could not help, as it was a political party, so the banner was taken up by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg. At narrow Trefechan Bridge, Aberystwyth in February, 1963, members of the society sat down in the road and stopped all traffic trying to get into town over the bridge, or trying to leave town on the same route.
Undeterred by prison sentences for disturbing the peace and for their subsequent destruction of government property (mostly road signs), and led by such activists as Fred Fransis, and folk-singer Dafydd Iwan, the society began a serious campaign. In the face of much hostility from passivist locals and prosecution from the authorities, Cymdeithas pressed for the right to use Welsh on all government documents, from Post Office forms to television licenses, from driving licenses to tax forms. In particular, the society engaged in surreptitious night time activities, removing English-only sign posts and directional instructions from the highways or daubing them with green paint. All over Wales, in early morning, motorists were faced with the green paint and daubed slogan that mysteriously had appeared overnight. It became frustrating and expensive for local authorities and the Ministry of Transport to keep replacing road signs.
Eventually, in 1963, faced with an ever-growing campaign, increased police and court costs, destruction of government property, and the vociferous demands for action by an increasingly angry and frustrated national movement, the central government decided to establish a committee to look at the legal status of Welsh. Its report, issued two years later, recommended that the language be given "equal validity" with English, a diluted version of which was placed into the Welsh Language Act of 1967.
There came about a new feeling in the land. The young people of Wales were answering the call of Saunders Lewis; the older generation began to reconsider their passiveness. Dafydd Iwan and many of his contemporaries inaugurated a whole new movement in popular Welsh music, translating English and American pops into Welsh, or writing stirring new lyrics and music or protest. The popularity of mournful, funereal hymns sung by male voice choirs found a competitor, the loud, heavy rhythms and rebellious music of new bands. Groups such as Ar Log and Plethyn rediscovered ancient Welsh folk music and brought it up to date. The National Eisteddfod entered into the spirit, each year erecting a Roc Pavilion, where such groups could attract the younger audiences. Wales began to finally shake off the shrouds cast by the Methodist Revival of over a century before.
Since the 1960's, in the author's birthplace Flint and in other towns in Clwyd, attempts to reintroduce the Welsh language in the schools have been warmly welcomed by many of the townsfolk, and a whole new generation of children who can speak, read and write Welsh may help ensure the future of the language (and ultimately, of Plaid Cymru) in such heavily anglicized areas. Other areas, such as the Cardiff region and the Valleys have already experienced some growth in the numbers of those able to speak Welsh.
Factors for this increase include the rise of a Welsh bureaucracy; further expansion of the Welsh-oriented mass media; the continued activities of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, with its appeal to the young generation; and the effects of the Welsh Language Act of 1967. Perhaps most important is the subtle change in attitude towards the language brought about by the advantages that can be gained by its speakers in both social and economic fields. Of crucial importance in winning the hearts and minds of the non-Welsh speakers who have young children has been Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin (the Welsh Nursery School Movement) founded in 1971.
In the anglicized areas of Wales, we may yet again read such sentiments as that given by Sir Walter Scott, in a letter to his son, dated December, 1820:
You hear the Welsh spoken much about you, and if you can pick it up without interfering with more important labours, it will be worth while
In the late 1990's, as we shall see, one of the more important labors of many of the Welsh