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U3A Writing: A Certain Song

Elizabeth Robison delights in the anthem of the land of her fathers.

The song I am talking about has put the fear of God into many of Wales’s rugby opponents at Cardiff Arms Park over the years - the Welsh National anthem, Mae Hen Wlad fy’n Nhadau, which translates roughly into English as Land of my Fathers.

As children we used to sing mockingly: ‘My hen’s up a ladder’, but over the years I have developed a nostalgic attachment to the song. It is such a non-political anthem which celebrates the love of music, poetry and the Welsh language. It has a passion that to me seems totally lacking in God Save the Queen and it embodies all that sense of longing that the migrant everywhere has, regardless that they might be economically better off in their new place. The Welsh word for this feeling is ‘hiraeth’ which specifically refers to a longing, a yearning for the homeland, the old country.

Ten years ago, I was in Kazakhstan with a group of people from Kirklees and one night our hosts asked us to sing some songs from our country. Amongst other songs, a woman called Bronwen and I sang the Welsh anthem and received a very enthusiastic encore!

Talking of encores, it is an amazing fact that wherever you go they always sing the chorus twice. This was brought home to me a few years ago when I joined Huddersfield Welsh society and the meeting got underway with an enthusiastic rendition of the song although there were only about 25 people there. I was just sitting down at the end of the chorus when they launched into an equally enthusiastic repeat and I leapt to my feet again. As a child I always felt that the singing of this song was always the precursor to an enjoyable social evening, concert or other tribal occasion.

A friend of mine visited Argentina and said that she could not believe her ears when a party of people in a bar launched into a lusty rendition of the song. It turns out they were descendents of Welsh settlers in Patagonia who went out to be farmers and miners in the 19th century. They had names like Juan Roberts and Roberto Jones.

Last year we went to the Bryn Terfel festival in North Wales. There was a wonderful atmosphere even though it poured with rain all evening. People were saying the usual: ‘Mustn’t grumble’, and ‘Could be worse’, though my favourite overheard words were: ‘Have another vol-au-vent, Myfanwy’.

Bryn’s guest that evening was Lesley Garrett, and it was worth taking the binoculars to see her beautiful gowns close-up. My husband has said many times since that the sound of 6000 voices singing ‘Mae Hen Wlad fy’n Nhadau’ absolutely made the hairs on the back of his neck rise. My lasting memory is of Lesley Garrett’s voice soaring above the others and singing in Welsh.

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