FolkWorld #62 03/2017
© Harry Edward Piggott (1937)

Piggott, Songs That Made History


Land of my Fathers

Songs That Made History: Wales is very rich in folk-songs, and a few of these contain historical allusions. But there is no Welsh song that has made history.


Wales (/ˈweɪlz/; Welsh: Cymru [ˈkəm.rɨ]) is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. Welsh national identity emerged among the Celtic Britons after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century. The whole of Wales was annexed by England and incorporated within the English legal system in the 16th century. The country has retained a distinct cultural identity and is officially bilingual. From the late 19th century onwards, Wales acquired its popular image as the "land of song", in part due to the eisteddfod tradition (a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance).

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The explanation of this is that the history of Wales has been identified with that of England since the time of Henry VIII. The historical songs of the period before that have all perished except for relics. Thus, it has been stated that the March of the Men of Harlech originated in the siege of Harlech Castle in 1468. The tune was first published in 1794 and in its present form cannot be much older than that.

But there is one Welsh song which deserves inclusion in this book: Hen Wlad fy Nhadau - Land of my Fathers. The authorship of this is attributed to James James and Evan James, father and son, of Pontypridd. The accepted story is that one composed the melody and the other supplied the words. There is a difference of opinion regarding the date of its composition. It is sixty or seventy years ago since it was first heard, but there is no definite date available. A story runs that the first idea of the song came to either the father or the son during a walk along the banks of the Rhondda in 1856.

Few national songs make such an appeal to a popular gathering as Land of my Fathers does to a Welsh crowd. It is because of this that it is known as the national antham of Wales, although it has never been officially adopted as such.

Hen Wlad fy Nhadau

 Listen & Watch Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers) from:
       Shirley Bassey, Paul Robeson, Katherine Jenkins 
Hen Wlad fy Nhadau

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant 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.

Oh, land of my fathers, the land of the free,
The home of the telyn, so soothing to me,
Thy noble defenders were gallant and brave,
For freedom their hearts' life they gave.

     Wales, Wales, home, sweet home is Wales,
     Till death be pass'd, my love shall last,
     My longing, my hiraeth for Wales.


Excerpt taken from: H.E. Piggott, Songs That Made History. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1937.

Photo Credits: (1) 'Hen Wlad fy Nhadau' (by ABC Notations); (2) 9Bach 'Anian' (unknown/website).

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