NWR Issue 48

Representing Wales

In many ways it is strange that the world of modern rugby should be thrown into turmoil by revelations that some of the current Welsh international rugby player's might not be eligible to play for Wales because their grandfathers were born in Oldham and Birmingham rather than Carmarthen and Cardiff. After all, representing Wales in sport, like so much else in Welsh life, is more often a matter of commitment rather than of birth, blood or ancestry.

The fuss stems partly from the fact that it betrays the money-making imperatives which now drive Wales's national game, making the origins of the players concerned almost incidental and an obstacle to be overcome. There has to be some kind of link with the country being represented, or the whole thing becomes meaningless. Nevertheless, the stampede towards professionalism is gradually decoupling the sport from its grass-roots and society at large, and killing much of the romance. The days when a 17-year old Wilfred Wooller could ask his history teacher, half-way through the lesson, to be excused to go and play for Wales, have regretfully passed (though it was also said subsequently that had Wooller completed his history lessons, he might not have been such a reactionary in later life).

But in the debate over who qualifies to be Welsh it is important that people do not lose sight of a very important point; which requires greater recognition than it has received hitherto. This is that, over the years, Welsh national life has been deeply enriched by the contributions of those who have adopted Wales as their country.

As it happens, several articles in the current issue of New Welsh Review, illustrate this fact vividly. Ozi Osmond's appreciation of Josef Herman (p.9) who died early this year, illuminates how native Welsh art was profoundly influenced by the arrival of this Polish refugee in Ystradgynlais in 1944 where he practised his craft for more than a decade. He was one of just two artists to represent Welsh art in the Festival of Britain in 1951 - a measure of how quickly he came to represent Wales to the outside world.

Another vivid instance is provided by B.L. Coombes (p.14), an Englishman born-and-bred, who, through his writings came to be regarded widely as the voice of the Welsh miner.

Alexander Cordell did more to popularize the turbulent industrial history of the industrial valleys of south Wales than any other writer of his time. Yet, as Sally Roberts Jones explains (p.17), his original connections with Wales were tenuous. His involvement occurred almost by accident when his employers sent him from Birmingham to work in Abergavenny.

Walford Davies's in-depth review of a new book about Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wales (p.42) shows how the world of Welsh letters has been immensely enriched by that English poet's soujourn at St Beuno's, Vale of Clwyd.

In our own day, it is significant to note that the three diarists who make up Jon Gower's A Year in a Small Country are all - to use the reviewer Jim Perrin's phrase - "implanted-and-now-belonging". Perrin himself was memorably described by M. Wynn Thomas as "the most valuable kind of native - the elective insider" - all of whom must be set against reluctant Welshmen referred to again by Ozi Osmond (p.104). Welsh villains, on the other hand, are harder to come by it seems. Lyn Ebenezer feels obliged (p.21) to go to America to identify his Great Welsh villain of the century!

Welsh representation takes many forms but it always has been and will always remain a matter of the heart not of birth or ethnicity.


previous editorial: A new deal for arts and culture?
next editorial: Surviving the millennium


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