Non-Fiction Review:Presenting Wales From A to Y

Presenting Wales From A To Y:
The People, The Places, The Traditions

By Peter N. Williams, Ph.D
Trafford Publishing, Aug 2003, $23.95, 297 pp.ISBN: 1553954823
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Reviewed by Paula Bardell

Opening with the entry: A Oes Heddwch (Is there Peace), the “stirring three-time cry of the archdruid of Wales . . . at the National Eisteddfod”, and ending with Zito, Jayne, the person who set up the Zito Trust to campaign for “better support and treatment of the mentally ill”, Peter N. Williams’ alphabetical guide to the people, places and traditions of Wales is a rich source of fascinating information for students, teachers, historians and curious browsers.

The author himself was born and raised in the county of Flintshire, close to the English border, where the flat plains of Cheshire look towards the imposing mountains of North Wales. The area is steeped in history; indeed, old Flintshire was established in 1284, seven years after King Edward I ordered work to begin on Flint Castle — the site of many bloody battles between Celts and Romans, British and Saxons, Welsh and Normans. Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians dismantled the edifice in 1646, but its ruins, which overlook the River Dee estuary, continue to attract a steady stream of sightseers each year.

Although Peter has lived in the United States since 1957, he has never forgotten his Welsh roots — he was the founder of the Welsh Society of Delaware — and takes obvious pleasure in exploring his cultural heritage. He is the author of at least half a dozen books about Wales, including The History of Wales in Verse and The Eighth Wonder of Wales: The Survival of its Ancient Celtic Language, and describes himself as being an active member of the “Welsh circuit.” Now a retired English teacher from the University of Delaware, he is a director of the National Welsh-American Foundation and was honoured in 1999 for his work on behalf of Wales and Welsh Americans by being made a member of Gorsedd at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

On his website,, Peter reveals that he was “brought up to be English.” By this, he undoubtedly means that his family and teachers had little choice but to disregard Wales’ own unique customs, history, language (Cymraeg, the oldest spoken language in Britain) and identity in favour of an Anglocentric education. This was far from unusual in a nation dominated by the conquering English since 1282, and subsequently amalgamated with them following the 1536 Act of Union. Although modern Wales (as Peter points out) now has its own devolved political Assembly and “a whole new revolutionary spirit,” many centuries of immigration from England has left parts of Wales — especially Peter’s native northeast region — very heavily anglicized.

Nevertheless, there have been frequent revolts against the English from 1295 until 1500 — most notably the national uprising led by Owain Glyndwr. Then, following the Second World War, a nationalist movement emerged along with a revival of the language, which had earlier been suppressed or discouraged by the English. In 1966, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh National Party) returned its first member to Parliament and, during the mid 1980s, there was a bombing campaign against estate agents selling Welsh properties to English buyers. Finally, in 1997, a referendum endorsed devolution by a narrow margin of 50.3% and the Welsh Assembly started functioning in 2000.

Every year, thousands of people visit Wales to take pleasure in the wild beauty of its untamed scenery, experience a unique way of life and listen to the music of its internationally celebrated choirs. Any lingering impression of Wales as an industrial waste- land — black with collieries and tips — is very much out of date. Without a doubt, the contrast between the remains of its industrial past (now restored for tourists) and the splendour of its valleys are all part of the region’s great appeal.

Presenting Wales From A To Y will make a handy addition to many reference book collections, and will provide a fascinating background for curious visitors and armchair travellers alike. However, for those who would like to probe more deeply into the history of Wales and its feisty inhabitants, Peter’s The Long, Hard Struggle: A History of Wales and The Sacred Places of Wales: A Modern Pilgrimage, both published by Red Dragon Press in Newark, Delaware, are well worth seeking out.

Paula Bardell is a freelance writer who has contributed pieces to numerous publications on subjects ranging from literature and travel, to culture, history and humanitarian issues. She lives in North Wales, is a staff writer for Apsaras Review and the editor of two popular online guides. Her résumé is at:

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