Mid Wales

Welsh language rally marks 50 years since Trefechan bridge protest

The Trefechan bridge protest in 1963
Image caption Around 70 people took part in the protest on Trefechan bridge in Aberystwyth in 1963

Welsh language campaigners have staged a rally in Aberystwyth to mark 50 years since their group tried to bring the town to a standstill with its first protest.

Members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) sat in the middle of a main road in the town across Trefechan bridge in 1963.

The society says about 500 turned out for the anniversary event on Saturday.

A theatre production in Aberystwyth marked the anniversary on Sunday.

Image caption Gwilym Tudur said sitting in the road had not been part of the original plan

The bridge protest was the first of dozens to be staged by Cymdeithas over the following decades.

Gwilym Tudur was one of the protesters who sat in the middle of the road on Trefechan bridge on 2 February, 1963, to raise awareness about the lack of official status for the Welsh language at the time.

He said sitting in the road on a busy Saturday afternoon was never part of the plan, but it attracted attention.

"The locals didn't like it very much," said Mr Tudur.

"It hadn't been planned very well - it hadn't been planned at all, so people didn't know what was happening.

"We blocked the traffic which was quite serious and quite dangerous really.

"There was one post office van which kept revving and trying to drive through us, so it could have turned out worse, I suppose."

Society chair Robin Farrar said: "I don't like to think what would have happened to the Welsh language had protestors not been ready to take a stand, to break the law and take responsibility over the past 50 years.

"We must continue to take action today in order to ensure that Welsh has a future as a living community language, not merely a symbolic minority language."

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Trefechan bridge protest, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru is staging a theatrical production in Welsh on the streets of Aberystwyth.

Five hundred people are expected to attend the event on Sunday called Y Bont (The Bridge).

Image caption Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg says hundreds turned out on Saturday

The mobile performance starts at Aberystwyth Arts Centre before moving around Aberystwyth's streets and cafes.

The sell-out performance combines various media so the audiences can experience live performance, enjoy video clips at various venues and get a sense of the thrill and tension of the original protest.

More than 60 students from Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol (National Welsh-medium College), Glamorgan University, Aberystwyth University and University of Wales Trinity Saint David's..

Media captionCemlyn Davies reports on the anniversary events

The commemorations come as census results suggest the use of the Welsh language is declining even in its traditional heartlands.

They revealed there had been a fall in the number of places where over half the population can speak Welsh

There are 157 council wards with over 50% of residents who are Welsh speakers in 2011, compared to 192 in 2001.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg accused the Welsh government of failing to halt the decline of Welsh speaking communities.

A Welsh government spokesperson admitted it needed to do more to "promote and facilitate" the language.

Census figures released by the Office for National Statistics in December showed an overall drop of 2% in the number of people who speak Welsh to 19% of the population in Wales.

It also suggested Welsh was now a minority language in two heartlands, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

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