Wales in the twentieth century was more culturally distinct and yet more politically integrated into the United Kingdom than Scotland. The existence of two languages made dual identities more palpable. The numbers of Welsh speakers fell until the last decades of the twentieth century. In 1901, 50 per cent of the population of Wales could speak Welsh. In 1971, the proportion had fallen to only 21 per cent. Decline was much more to do with the processes of modernization — for example, the rise of towns, the development of industry and immigration from southern England, radio and television broadcasting — than any deliberate policy of English cultural imperialism.1 Nationalism in Wales rooted itself firmly in defence of the language. Plaid Cymru was formed at the Pwllheli National Eisteddfod in 1925 with only the language within its scope. At its summer school at Machynlleth in 1926, despite the continuing miners’ strike, the new party failed to discuss social or economic questions.2 Welsh and Welsh nationalism have sometimes therefore been seen as synonymous, with the eisteddfodau seemingly symbolizing that relationship. But the eisteddfodau were frequently cultural events that drew out Welsh distinctiveness only within the British context. The full title of the main annual event was the Royal National Eisteddfod, and Sir J. Prichard Jones told the national eisteddfod at Colwyn Bay that

For generations the Eisteddfod has been the pivot around which Welsh nationalism has catered to us who are of Wales … that Nationalism is a living thing, by it and for it we strive to attain higher things, not in a mean provincial spirit, but in a spirit that teaches us to do the best we can, not only for Wales, not only for Britain but for that wider British community, all over the world of which we form a part.3


Labour Party Liberal Party Deliberate Policy Home Rule Downing Street 
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© Paul Ward 2005

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  • Paul Ward

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