Tea with Mary Kate is passionate about celebrating St David’s Day. Most will know that St David is the patron saint of Wales – what most struggle to comprehend is why it matters so much to the Welsh & all those with Welsh lineage. So although Mary Kate has her roots in Ireland, I’ll let you into a little secret…..her blog creator has the same roots but was born in Wales, yes, the land of our fathers. & I am fiercely proud of that heritage. The Welsh are passionate, have deep rooted traditions & a beautiful ancient language which is growing in Wales but incomprehensible to many – an aspect exploited frequently when English speakers are within ear shot.
There are strong symbolic associations also, the leek & daffodil being amongst these. According to legend St David advised the Britons on the eve of a battle with the Saxons, to wear leeks in their caps so as to easily distinguish friend from foe. This helped to secure a great victory. Today Welsh people around the world wear leeks on St David’s Day. It is also a surviving tradition that soldiers in the Welsh regiments eat a raw leek on St David’s Day. The Welsh for leek (the original national emblem) is Cenhinen, while the Welsh for daffodil is Cenhinen Pedr. Probably over the years they became confused until the daffodil was adopted as a second emblem of Wales.
Image by flickr user Barbara Rich, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license
Another strong association is with the harp, and is regarded as the national instrument of Wales. By the end of the 18th century, the triple harp – so called because it had three rows of strings – was widely known as the Welsh harp on account of its popularity in Wales.
St. David is unique amongst the patron saints of Great Britain in that he is the only one to be born in the country that he represents. The shortage of real historical evidence about him is more than made up by the colourful legends that abound about his life and work. What is known is that he was born at Henvynwy in Ceredigion sometime between 462 and 512 and is believed to have studied under St Illtud at Llantwit Major. He became a prominent figure in the Celtic church and founded a monastery at Menevia in Pembrokeshire, which eventually became known as St David’s. His most famous act is the miracle of Llanddewi Brefi and was related by Rhyfygarch, a monk writing in the 11th century. St David is said to have made the ground rise up so his words could be heard by the huge crowds. A white dove was seen settling on his shoulder. St David is believed to have died on Tuesday March 1 in 589 at St David’s in Pembrokeshire. Amongst his final words was “do the little things in life” which is now a very well known phrase in Welsh.
So although March 1st is a day to celebrate the life of St David, its real resonance now is that it’s a celebration of Welsh Culture – with national dress worn, leeks, & schools having celebratory concerts. I remember as I child the tricky but skillful way in which leeks & daffodils were pinned to jackets – a real art I can tell you!
The Welsh Flag is a Red Dragon (or in Welsh Y Ddraig Goch) & was granted official status in 1959, but the dragon itself has been associated with Wales for centuries. Some say it’s the oldest national flag still in use, and that it was used by King Arthur and other ancient Celtic leaders.
Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (translated in English as ‘Land of my Fathers’) is the Welsh National anthem. It was written in 1856 by Evan James and his son, James James, from Pontypridd in Glamorgan. It is traditionally sung before national sporting events but I have sung it on many a bus trip home.
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Tros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed.
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau.