Until last month, in the past three decades, I lived in this small country others call Wales – wedged between Scotland, Ireland and England. Lands that, in comparison, out-territory, out-populate, out-shine and out-weigh Wales. Even the name of this country defines its place in the panorama of Britishness: Wales = foreign in the eyes of the invader; a place where the foreigners took their final stand and claimed the mountains and gorges as their land. The invaders were happy to let them keep it, at least until mineral resources and bountiful springs were discovered and intrepid patriots were noticed.
When I first visited the barnacle on the western border of England, I was an Irish patriot, unaware of the murders children in the name of nationalism. Yes, Ireland should be reunited as one island nation but nothing like that is ever accomplished by terrorizing the enemy into believing they will die if unification succeeds. And no, the Scots who populated Northern Ireland at the behest of the English government have no justification for their continued loathing of their Catholic neighbors.
Nor do the Orangemen have a God-given right to march. Nor do the IRA in all its splintered groups nor the Loyalists in all their guises have a Patriotic duty to decimate. Like many Americans of European/British decent, I took up the banner of the undertrodden, blinded by the magic of a Celtic past and a rebellious present.
My journey to Wales (Cymru as its citizens call it – Cymru = compatriot/fellow citizen) was a happenstance. I was in the border town of Chester where it is still legal to kill Welshmen after sunset. Besides the zoo and walking the city wall (erected to keep the neighbors to the west out of their own city), their wasn’t much to do so we took the opportunity of a bus trip to Rhuthun to a Medieval Market Day – medieval being the most attractive aspect of the event. Charming town in northern Wales, close to the English border, good pub food and a few medieval costumes splashed about, the most momentous event for me occurred at the transfer point of the bus ride back. We stood on the concrete platform and behind me two women were talking.
I was gripped by a fierce and unyielding hand. From that moment, nothing in my post-graduate tour to the places I had come to the British Isles to see was the same. My itinerary was abandoned. England no longer held any charms to tempt me. Scotland was a distant memory. Ireland descended to the bottom of my romantic admiration.
On that concrete slab, in the hottest and driest July in memory, two chattering Cymry turned my life upside down. Next stop, Cardiff.