Country Profile

Wales, a part of the United Kingdom, has retained its distinctive culture and has enjoyed a degree of autonomy since 1999.

It includes a heavily industrialised south, a largely-Anglicised and prosperous farming east, and a Welsh-speaking, hill-farming North and West.

Map

Wales (Welsh: Cymru) is a country on the western side of central southern Great Britain, between the Irish Sea to the north and the Bristol Channel to the south. It is part of the United Kingdom, and is bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean, St George’s Channel and Irish Sea to its west. It is about 274 km from north to south and at least 97 km wide, with a total area of 20,779 km2. It has over 1,200 km of coastline, and includes over 50 offshore islands of which the largest is Anglesey.

Much of Wales is mountainous, particularly in three main regions: Snowdonia in the north west, the Cambrian Mountains in mid Wales, and the Brecon Beacons in the south. Snowdonia contains the highest peaks, topped by Snowdon (Welsh: Yr Wyddfa) at 1,085 m. The 14 peaks over 3,000 feet are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s.

There are only 5 cities in Wales. Cardiff is the capital and largest city. The next largest cities are Swansea and Newport, also in the south of the country. The other cities are Bangor and St David’s.

Flag

The Flag of Wales (Welsh: Y Ddraig Goch, literally The Red Dragon) consists of a red dragon passant on a green and white field. Wales and Bhutan are the only countries to have a dragon on their flag, though the Chinese flag also featured a dragon during the Qing Dynasty.

The flag was granted official status in 1959, but the red dragon itself has been associated with Wales for centuries, though the origin of the adoption of the dragon symbol is now lost in history and myth. A possible theory is that the Romans brought the emblem to what is now Wales during their occupation of Britain in the form of the Draco standards born by the Roman cavalry, itself inspired by the symbols of the Dacians or Parthians. The green and white stripes of the flag were additions by the House of Tudor, the Welsh dynasty that held the English throne from 1485 to 1603. Green and white are also the colours of the leek, another national emblem of Wales.

In 1485, the most significant link between the symbol of the Red Dragon and Wales occurred when Henry Tudor flew the red dragon of Cadwallader during his invasion of England. Henry was of Welsh descent and after leaving France with an army of 2000, landed at Milford Haven on 7 August. He made capital of his Welsh ancestry in gathering support and gaining safe passage through Wales. Henry met and fought Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and in victory took the English throne. After the battle, Henry carried the Red Dragon standard in state to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and later the Tudor livery of green and white was added to the flag.

The Welsh Flag is the only flag of the constituent countries of the UK not to be incorporated into the Union Flag, the national flag of the United Kingdom. Wales had no explicit recognition in the flag because Wales had been annexed by Edward I of England in 1282 and was a part of the Kingdom of England when the flag of Great Britain was designed in 1606. There have since been proposals to include the Dragon or the flag of Saint David (itself a cross) on the Union Flag, but these have not met with much support.

National Anthem

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau actually means “Old Land of My Fathers”, but is usually translated as just “Land of My Fathers”. It is, by tradition, the national anthem of Wales.

The words were written by Evan James and the tune composed by his son, James James, both residents of Pontypridd, Glamorgan, in January 1856.

Glan Rhondda (Banks of the Rhondda), as it was known when it was composed, was first performed in Maesteg by Elizabeth John from Pontypridd, and it soon became popular in the locality.

The popularity of the song increased after the Llangollen Eisteddfod of 1858. Thomas Llewelyn of Aberdare won a competition for an unpublished collection of Welsh airs with a collection that included Glan Rhondda. The adjudicator of the competition, Owain Alaw (John Owen) asked for permission to include Glan Rhondda in his publication, Gems of Welsh melody (1860-64). This volume gave Glan Rhondda its more famous title, Hen wlad fy nhadau, and was sold in large quantities and ensured the popularity of the national anthem across the whole of Wales.

At the Bangor Eisteddfod of 1874 Hen Wlad fy Nhadau gained further popularity when it was sung by Robert Rees, one of the leading Welsh soloists of his day. It was increasingly sung at patriotic gatherings and gradually it developed into a national anthem.

In 1905, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau became the first national anthem to be sung at the start of a sporting event. Although crowds singing anthems during matches was common place, there was no precedent for the anthem to be sung before a game commenced in any sport. Wales were playing host to the first touring New Zealand team, who to that point were unbeaten. After Wales won the Triple Crown in the 1905 Home Nations Championship the match was dubbed the ‘Game of the Century’ by the press. The New Zealand team started every match with the Haka, and Welsh Rugby Union administrator Tom Williams, suggested that Wales player Teddy Morgan lead the crowd in the singing of the anthem as a response. After Morgan began singing, the crowd joined in, and Wales became the first nation to sing a national anthem at the start of a sporting event.

Coat of Arms

The current Royal Badge of Wales was approved in May 2008. It is based on the arms borne by Llywelyn the Great, the famous 13th-century Welsh prince, with the addition of the St. Edward’s Crown atop a continuous scroll which, together with a wreath consisting of the plant emblems of the four countries of the United Kingdom, surrounds the shield.

The motto which appears on the scroll, PLEIDIOL WYF I’M GWLAD (I am true to my country), is taken from the National Anthem of Wales and is also found on Welsh design £1 coins.

The current badge follows in a long line of heraldic devices representing Wales. Its predecessors have all been variations on either the Red Dragon, an ancient emblem revived by Henry VII, or the arms of Llywelyn. Whereas the arms of England, Scotland and Ireland are represented in the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, Wales has no such representation, despite it being a constituent country of the United Kingdom. This lesser status is due to Wales being considered part of the historic Kingdom of England, rather than a kingdom in its own right. The device introduced in 2008 is accordingly a badge, rather than a coat of arms; Wales currently has no official coat of arms.