One of my earliest language-learning memories is of hot summer afternoons in the early years of high school, when even our unquenchably enthusiastic Welsh teacher would give up and just tell us stories. Of a land far far away, where children just like us rode horses across the open plains and spoke Welsh with a Spanish accent. And when Princess Di visited, they served her Welsh cakes, of course.
This weekend is the high point in a year of celebrations of 150 years of Y Wladfa, or Welsh settlement in Patagonia. The Mimosa set sail from Liverpool on 28 May 1865 and reached Argentina two months later. The Glaniad (landing) website tells the story of the journey of the 150 Welsh people who wanted to make a new life somewhere where they could preserve their language and traditions.
It started well – two babies were born on board – yet the Patagonian Welsh faced some of the same struggles their forebears did and are losing their native speakers. Starting a primary school from a flourishing kindergarten is one way to counter that, as is an anniversary project for British Welsh people to go and stay with Patagonian Welsh families and share their skills and culture.
This weekend there’s a Welsh Patagonia Fest in Brecon, and exhibitions continue in Cardiff throughout the rest of the year. This sketch of a gaucho is by Sir Kyffin Williams, from the people’s collection of the National Museum of Wales which has nearly 500 items related to Y Wladfa accessible online, wherever you are.
As the Welsh national anthem says: O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau (may the old language continue). And so it does, in the most surprising ways.
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