Hiraeth is a Welsh word that is in every-day use, but which doesn't easily translate into English.
It's often described as nostalgia or a deep longing for a place or time that may never have existed, or that may have existed only in one's memories or imagination. It brings together the feelings of homesickness, nostalgia and longing. Hiraeth is a pull on the heart that conveys a distinct feeling of missing something irretrievably lost.
Hiraeth is a word in everyday use in the Welsh but also the English language. Perhaps because of the translation difficulty, it is also one of a few Welsh words that is commonly used in the English language, untranslated like "bach" and "cwtch".
Hiraeth, commonly is translated as "homesickness" but it is more than that. It means a deep sense of longing, a yearning for that which has past, a sense of homesickness tinged with grief or sorrow over the lost or departed.
One attempt to describe hiraeth in English says that it is “a longing to be where your spirit lives.” This description makes some sense out of the combination of words that describe this feeling. The place where your spirit feels most at home may be a physical location that you can return to at any time, or it may be more nostalgic of a home, not attached to a place, but a time from the past that you can only return to by revisiting old memories. Maybe your spirits home could even be neither of the above, one from which you are not only separated by space
Everyone will have different thoughts of home but here are five iconic Welsh images (including the main image above) ...
As it is often used in the English language, it is a common question to ask how to pronounce it – try saying “here-ayeth” and you won't be far away! Interestingly there is an equivalent word in Cornish and Breton languages (other Celtic languages) “hireth” in Cornish and “hiraezh” in Breton.
"Between 1870 and 1914, approximately40% of Welsh emigrants returned to Wales, a much higher percentage than the rest of Britain, and it has been claimed that this was due to hiraeth".
"His hiraeth to return to his childhood was strong because...".
There are many examples of the word hiraeth being used in English language songs and poetry but almost certainly the most famous is in the Welsh song, “We’ll keep a welcome”. It was composed by Mai Jones, born in Newport, Gwent, (6th February 1899 – 7th May 1960).
In 1940, Mai collaborated with lyricists Lyn Joshua and James Harper to create the now world-famous Welsh song "We’ll Keep a Welcome". Whilst an entirely English language song, it uses the word hiraeth to describe the longing to be back home in Wales, as follows;
This land of song will keep a welcome
And with a love that never fails
We'll kiss away each hour of hiraeth
When you come home again to Wales
Located in Pembrokeshire Wales, our ethos is defined in the three words...
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Last update 1st March 2023