A warm embrace from the Eisteddfod

Friday 6 August 2010, 18:51

Eddie Butler Eddie Butler

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For six days I went in circles around Maes A, improving my vocabulary from cynrhon to nwdls, hopefully not on the same plate.

I began with the same slight trepidation I felt 26 years ago in Lampeter, that at some point I would be told: "Butler, English-speaker, you have no right to be at the National Eisteddfod."

It didn't happen in Ebbw Vale. In fact, on Sunday, when every family in Blaenau Gwent seemed to turn up, the sounds of: "I don't speak Welsh myself, Ed, but my children do ..." became one of the refrains of the week.

Just behind the 10th tee at the West Monmouthshire Golf Club, the highest and most hospitable golf course in the UK, I had a moment to stare down on the multitude of tents at the northern end of the old steel works. It struck me that since that visit to Lampeter in1984, the year of the Miners' Strike, much has obviously vanished, never to be replaced: an entire deep coal-mining industry; steel-making on a grand scale.

And yet, Wales seems more self-assured now, less on the defensive. We live in troubled times in the short-term, with cuts threatening everything. You know it must be bad when Westminster dares to take scissors to the tail of the S4C dragon.

Over a 25-year cycle, however, perhaps S4C - and in a shorter time scale, devolution - have succeeded in providing a channel and a chamber for a new Wales.

I don't know. In fact, I'm not sure if feeling reassured as an English-speaker at the National Eisteddfod is entirely appropriate. This is cultural competition of the highest order, expressed in a single language that is anything but English. The Eisteddfod by definition is Wales at her most Welsh.

I suspect that my sense of helplessness on the Maes is healthy, an inversion of the threat to Welsh by an all-invading English language, a reminder of bad times past. I appreciate all that, but I am equally grateful that nobody made the point at the National Eisteddfod by prodding me in the chest with the nozzle of an ethnic cleanser.

On the contrary, everybody wrapped me in a warm embrace, and that may be a true sign of Wales, ancient, modern, in any language.

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