For the Nationalists and republicans of these islands I would like to speak directly to the concept of national identity.
I suppose the first thing to say – again- is that it was never the English empire but the British Empire. Each nation, including the Irish nation, took an integral part in the founding, forming and enforcing of the British Empire around the world.
For the British, let us acknowledge that the origin of the name is not, as a Norman scholar once claimed, from Brutus following the fall of Troy, though he was not wide of the mark. British is derived from Britain and Britain in turn is derived from Prydain, one of the kingdoms that occupied the land we now call Wales when the Cymru arrived. So let’s look at the Cymru and ask who are these people? Where did they come from and what was their language? The King yesterday struggled with the Welsh language with barely less fluency than the first minister of the Senedd, his purpose was to achieve a sense of acknowledgement for that ancient people who form such an important part of the United Kingdom.
In early Roman times there was a tribe of people living around the base of what is now Denmark who were called the Cimbri. There is no doubt in my mind that the Cimbri are the same people as the Cymru. They spoke a ‘P-Celtic’ language, which as we shall see is an important factor in the naming of these islands. They colonised the north-east of England by a shirt hop across from Denmark, and spread across the island on the borders of modern Scotland, giving their name to Cumbria (formerly Cumberland). Occupying the Peninsula of Solway they later moved south from there to colonise North Wales in the area called Eryri, the Eagles nest, or Snowdonia, as it is more commonly called. The King who invaded that land had four sons and divided the land he had conquered between them. These indeed were the first Princes of Wales.
The people they conquered they called the Prettani, from which we derive Britain as described above. The Mabinogion, that ancient Welsh collection of folklore, speaks of the kingdom of Ireland, but it is clear this includes the west of modern Wales in that definition. The mines in the Ystwyth valley are pre-Roman.
Unlike the Cimbri these people, who called themselves Crettani, were seafarers. They are the remnants of the Minoan empire and had settled these lands long before the Celtic people began their migration eastwards. These people were traders and metal workers and carried their Gods and their crafts with them. The Cerne Abbas Giant is an example of one of their Gods whom we call Herakles, and they clearly called Cernunnos. With the Christianisation of these islands the name was transmuted into a more Christian biased name.
Far from being ‘the original people of this land, the Welsh are, as their Saxon title suggests, ‘Strangers’ here. They are invaders. Many of those who now recognise themselves as Welsh are mistaken in doing so. They are recognisably Pictish in behaviour and origin, but after more than 1700 years of colonisation they have largely lost that identity and replaced it with that of their overlords.
Nor is this situation unique to Wales. Scotland too is dominated by invading Scots, a Gaelic race from Ireland who invaded, at the time of Columba, and eventually defeated, in the 14th Century, the Kingdom of the Picts. The final injustice being that they stole the Palace of Scone, where the Pictish Kings had been crowned for centuries, and used it as their own place of Coronation. It is this stone which was then carried down to Westminster 3 or 4 centuries later to become the Stone on which Queen Elizabeth sat when she was crowned. Mistakenly it was returned to Scotland recently.
But before we leave this re-appraisal of the people of these islands and the appropriation of cultural artefacts by invading people, we should consider also that, at the time of the invading Cymru to these lands, the south of modern Wales was occupied by the Saxons at one end and the Irish (Picts) at the other.