Wales and the Welsh Language

A range of useful information to help you learn more about Welsh history and culture


In this section of the site, you will find various sources of information relating to the history of Wales, its culture and the Welsh language, and also some information relating to where you can find sources to help you learn the language.


Select one of the following topics for further information:

  »»  The Welsh Language
  »»  Education
  »»  Background
  »»  The Media
  »»  Culture
  »»  Selective Biography
  »»  Welsh Books and Records
  »»  Learning Welsh

The Welsh Language

The Welsh Language is spoken by 87.88% of the people of Penygroes (2001 census) but in some of the surrounding villages it has fallen rapidly owing to an influx of monoglot English speakers from England, e.g. to 67.48% in Clynnog.

A Celtic language, it is closely related to Cornish and Breton, and a distant relation of Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

Welsh is one of Europe’s oldest living languages.

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Children are taught through the medium of Welsh at nursery and primary schools.

English is introduced to them at an early age. The National Curriculum for Wales included the provision that all pupils would study Welsh from the age of 5 to 16.

There is a secondary school in Penygroes – Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle – where some subjects are taught through the medium of Welsh.

Some subjects are taught through the medium of Welsh at University level but there is great concern that these courses are being limited.

In 1984 the Gwynedd County Council introduced a pilot scheme whereby non-Welsh speaking children moving into the catchment area of secondary schools followed a Welsh language course at Caernarfon. Within 39 days they could converse well enough to settle down in their local primary school. This scheme is now in operation in Llangybi and Penrhyndeudraeth because of the mass immigration into the area.

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The 1870 Education Act made primary education compulsory for the first time and completely ignored the existence of Welsh. This had disastrous consequences – e.g. in 1850 the majority of the inhabitants of Wales spoke Welsh but by 1901 this number fell to 49.9% and to 19% in 1981.

The increasing availability of television in the 1950’s accelerated this decline even further as English became a prominent feature in most homes. The few Welsh programmes were transmitted mainly late at night.

The 1967 Welsh Language Act gave the language equal validity with English in Wales – as regards legal matters, but did not give it official status

From the late 1980s onwards, there appeared to be a growing cross-party consensus on the language, and in 1993, the 1967 Welsh Language Act was augmented by further legislation which put Welsh and English on an equal basis in public life in Wales. But equal status is being sought and the glaring need is the fact that students seeking Further Education courses through the medium of Welsh are finding more and more obstacles in their way.

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The Media

Welsh language radio programmes are now broadcast daily from 5 a.m. until midnight.

The fourth channel for Wales (S4C) introduced in November 1982, provides 3 hours viewing through the medium of Welsh every evening.

The S4C digital programmes operate all day but the non-subscription 'Freeview' service is not yet available in the greater part of Arfon, Llŷn, Eifionydd and Meirionnydd.

Two weekly papers are published: 'Y Cymro' and 'Golwg' (for the whole of Wales); as well as various denominational papers such as 'Y Goleuad'. A shortened version of 'Yr Herald Cymraeg' has also been incorporated into the Daily Post on Wednesdays.

A Welsh language daily newspaper is expected before the end of 2005: 'Y Byd' ( External link: Opens in a new window).

A summary of the daily news in Welsh - 'Cymru'r Byd' - is available on the following website: External link: Opens in a new window.

Dyffryn Nantlle has a monthly local community paper - 'Lleu' - which is compiled by volunteers.

Children’s comics are published.

Several Welsh magazines are printed on a monthly/quarterly basis.

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Welsh poetry as it is known to us today dates from not long after the Romans left Britain.

From then on a complex system of poetry, in which alliteration featured prominently, was developed. It is unlike anything else in Europe. This art required a long period of apprenticeship and was the preserve and secret of the professional bard.

A poetry competition held at Caerfyrddin (Carmarthen) c. 1450 is believed to be the first know Eisteddfod and lasted several weeks.

Literary societies were formed towards the end of the eighteenth century to protect Welsh poetry. They resulted in the competitive eisteddfod which popularised poetry to such an extent that ordinary working people mastered the art.

The religious revival of the eighteenth century saw the start of a prolific stream of hymns and moral poetry and in due course, on weekdays, chapels became cultural centres.This resulted eventually in ordinary working class people becoming eloquent speakers in chapel and their command of the Welsh biblical language was astonishing. Chapel Societies still flourish in the area although the Chapels are closing. The Chapel Society at Brynrhos, Y Groeslon, had as many as 103 members in 2003/4 because lecturing is considered to be an art form in the same way as a good sermon. The first stage of Canolfan Hanes Uwchgwyrfai (the Uwchgwyrfai History Centre), Clynnog Fawr, was celebrated by having a lecture by an eminent preacher - Y Parchedig Emlyn Richards - on 12 May, 2004. He has his followers and as a result the Chapel was full.


The earliest form of Welsh prose – The Mabinogi – dates from the twelfth century and has been hailed as one of the finest gems of medieval European literature. The fourth branch of the Mabinogi is located in Dyffryn Nantlle. (see under Nantlle, Clynnog, etc.).

The Bible was translated into Welsh by Bishop William Morgan and published in 1588 by royal command of Elizabeth I. It contributed a great deal to keeping the language alive. A revised version was published in 1988 and in 2004.

Modern Welsh literature flourishes with some novels available in translation. Why not enquire at the Penygroes Library or Welsh Bookshops in Caernarfon, Pwllheli and Porthmadog?


Concurrent with the poetic tradition was a highly skilled musical tradition – especially singing a tune in counterpart to harp accompaniment. The last century saw the development of choral singing based on the chapels. Both arts still flourish.

There is at present a vibrant Welsh language recording industry in all types of Welsh music. Visit the following website for further details: External link: Opens in a new window.


The competitive eisteddfod in the course of time came to be a musical affair but retaining the literary competitions, and by today it is much more varied and includes choirs, instrumental music, dancing, folk singing, opera as well as poetry and prose.

In this area all eisteddfodau take place during the winter months. In the summer season such activity is confined to the three national events – the Urdd (The Welsh League of Youth) Eisteddfod during Whitsun week; the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen during the first week in July; and the National Eisteddfod during the first week in August.

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Selective Biography

  •  Evans, Gwynfor, Land of my Fathers, John Penri, 1979, pp 450.

  •  Fishlock, Trevor, Talking of Wales, Granada, pp 191.

  •  Morgan, Prys & D Thomas, The Shaping of a Nation, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1984 pp 272.

  •  Morris, Jan, The Matter of Wales, Oxford University Press, 1984, pp 430.

  •  Williams, Professor Gwyn Alf, When was Wales? Black Raven, pp 336.

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Welsh Books and Records

English books on Wales and some Welsh language books are available at most newsagents, and the following specialise in Welsh language books and records and cassettes:

  •  Na-Nog, Y Maes, Caernarfon ( External link: Opens in a new window)

  •  Twll yn y Wal, Stryd y Farchnad, Caernarfon

  •  Llên Llŷn, Y Maes, Pwllheli

  •  Siop Eifionydd, Porthmadog

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Learning Welsh

Courses for Welsh learners are available at:

  »»  Canolfan Iaith Nant Gwrtheyrn, Llithfaen, Pwllheli, Gwynedd External link: Opens in a new window

  »»  The BBC Wales Website External link: Opens in a new window

Courses for beginners (and follow-up courses) are available from September until December and from January until April / May at various centres throughout the area.

For further details contact: The Library at Penygroes on 01286 882688.

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