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May 30, 2019 4 min read

Hen Wlad fy Nhadau - Welsh National Anthem

The Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers) is an iconic National Anthem and is generally considered to be amongst the finest anthems of the world.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was composed by Evan and James James in 1856, father and son. 

Evan and James were from Pontypridd in the south Wales valleys and Evan and James composed Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in January 1856. Today, the original manuscript is preserved for prosperity at the National Library of Wales,  Aberystwyth. A statue honouring the father and son now stands in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd. The original title was Glan Rhondda – meaning Banks of the Rhondda. 

Pontypridd town sits at the junction of the Rhondda, Taf and Cynon valleys, where the Rhondda runs into the river Taf which eventually flows to the sea in Cardiff Bay. The melody or more modernly the tune Glan Rhondda (Banks of the Rhondda) was composed by James James (Iago Ap Ieuan, 1833-1902),  one day in January 1856 as he walking along the river bank in his hometown. James was a harpista harpist who often played in the inns of Pontypridd and on his return home he sang it to his father. He asked his father to compos some lyrics for his tune and by the next day Evan had written three verses. It was rumoured at the time that the father Evan had already composed the words before his son wrote the melody, though this is far from certain.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was performed for the first time at the vestry of Tabor Chapel, Maesteg by 16-year-old Elizabeth John.

Just a week after it's composition, it was performed by the local singer in the vestry of Tabor Chapel, Maesteg (which later became a working men's club). It quickly became popular among locals. Originally it had meant for dancing so was performed much quicker, but was slowed down to make it easier for crowds to sing together. The anthem gained popularity, initially in Pontypridd but it soon across all of Wales.

The earliest known copy of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau manuscipt by the James family is part instrumental and choral works composed between 1849 and 1863. It is the only piece in the manuscript credited to James, although his adaptation of God Save The Queen with a verse in Welsh is also featured. Today this vitally important historic document forms part of the collections of the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The song became better known still after the 1858 Langollen Eisteddfod. Thomas Llewelyn from Aberdare compiled a volume of unpublished Welsh airs for a competition entry. The 'beirniad' or adjudicator, John Owen, asked permission to include Glan Rhondda in his 1860 collection, Gems Of Welsh Melody.

Over a long period of years Hen Wlad fy Nhadau was increasingly sung at patriotic gatherings, and it gradually developed into Wales' national anthem. Interestingly, even today, it is neither officially or legally recognised as such.

Memorial to Evan and James James

On 11th March 1899, a singer named Madge Breese sang Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau for the Gramophone Company. It is the first known recording made in the Welsh language. Lasting for one minute and 17 seconds, the recording was pressed onto a single-sided 7-inch disc.

Following James James' death in 1902, it was decided that a memorial should be erected to both the father and son. Sir William Goscombe John designed the monument and it took almost 30 years to be completed, and was finally unveiled in Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd, on 23 July 1930.

The two life sized bronze figures represents poetry and music, with an inscription which reads: In memory of Evan James and James James, father and son, of Pontypridd, who, inspired by a deep and tender love of their native land united poetry to song and gave Wales her National Anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau.

Welsh National Anthem Lyrics and Translations

In three verse although usually only the first verse is sung.

Verse 1
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.

Chorus
Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.

Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.

Chorus
Verse 2
Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd,
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i'm golwg sydd hardd;
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i fi.

Chorus
Verse 3

Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad tan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.

A translation...

The land of my fathers is dear to me,
Old land where the minstrels are honoured and free;
Its warring defenders so gallant and brave,
For freedom their life's blood they gave.

Home, home, true I am to home,
While seas secure the land so pure,
O may the old language endure.

Old land of the mountains, the Eden of bards,
Each gorge and each valley a loveliness guards;
Through love of my country, charmed voices will be
Its streams, and its rivers, to me.

Though foemen have trampled my land 'neath their feet,
The language of Cambria still knows no retreat;
The muse is not vanquished by traitor's fell hand,
Nor silenced the harp of my land.


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