Over the last few years, ‘Nationalism’ and being a ‘Nationalist’ have become the target of those who wish to outlaw any sense of pride in one’s own nation and people …. and are rapidly heading toward being included on the ever-increasing list of ‘Dirty Words’ that are silently and slowly being erased from this nations history.
As a Welshman, and a nationalist, I not only find that particularly irksome, but particularly offensive.
I could also present a valid argument that the concept of ‘National Pride’, first emerged in Wales among the feisty and proud men and women who lived there, and came about following the last invasion of these islands by a hostile and ‘Foreign’ nation.
For those of you who are not familiar with the story, I will take you back to the evening of the 22nd February 1797, where a Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knox was at a dance at Tregwynt Mansion near the town of Fishguard, when a messenger arrived with terrible news.
In a secluded bay close to the town, the French were landing.
By dawn the following morning, the invading force numbered upwards of 1000 men, who were heavily armed with artillery, rifles and grenades, and it quickly became plain to those who witnessed the event, that an invasion of mainland Britain had indeed begun.
The invasion of Wales was originally going to be a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from a planned, simultaneous invasion of Ireland, which went ahead despite the abject failure of the foray into Ireland, and was the brainchild of a French revolutionary general, named Lazare Hoche.
On paper, the plan must have looked good for the attempt to have even been undertaken, but like many of the best laid plans throughout history, it had not taken into account how those who had been selected to undertake the task, would actually perform when called upon.
The commander of the invasionary force was an Irish-American veteran, a Colonel William Tate, who had also been tasked with stirring up nationalist feeling amongst the Welsh, who it was hoped would join them and march on Bristol.
What Tate hadn’t envisioned, however, was that many of his men – comprised of mainly conscripted criminals – had gotten blind drunk after finding the wine that had been stockpiled in the local farmhouses after a Portuguese merchant ship had been wrecked nearby, a few weeks previously.
What he also hadn’t counted on, was that the Welsh population (including local Yeomanry) were not only not going to join him and his men, but were understandably, extremely hostile, and by the 24th, Tate was forced to lead his men to Goodwick Sands, where they surrendered and threw down their weapons.
*The Pembrokeshire Yeomanry are still the only British Military regiment who hold a battle honour for an engagement on domestic soil*
It was this failed invasion that led to the setting up of volunteer defence groups, across the whole of Wales and beyond, who pledged to defend and protect king and country in the face of further invasions – and adds considerable weight to the argument, that the concept of a British identity, and what has come to be known as ‘British Nationalism’ first emerged in that small coastal town in the south west of Wales, well over 200 years ago.