Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi, (The land of my fathers is dear to me,)
—The first verse and chorus of "Land of My Fathers", the Welsh National Anthem.
In Roman times, the parts of Great Britain now called England (the words "England" and "English" refer specifically to the Germanic invaders you're about to meet), Wales, and Southern Scotland were inhabited by a Celtic population. During the Dark Ages, the Germanic Anglo-Saxons invaded and pushed them into the little corner of the island we now call Wales. Wales was conquered by the English in The Middle Ages, and became legally a part of the Kingdom of England -- which is why there's no "Welsh Bit" of the Union Jack, which was formed from the flags of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and, later, Ireland. Being conquered and repressed has given Wales both a strong sense of identity and the mother of all chips on shoulders. Do not call a Welshman English. It will cause immediate and lasting discomfort (The Scottish are often portrayed as having similar tendencies).
The Welsh language is a Celtic tongue that pre-dates the Roman conquest. It is related to Scots Gaelic, spoken in parts of Scotland, to Irish, the native language of Ireland, and Manx, spoken on the Isle of Man, though not so closely that speakers of Welsh and those languages can understand each other. Welsh is more closely related to Breton and Cornish (spoken in northwestern France and Cornwall, respectively)... but good luck with actually finding a Cornish speaker in Cornwall, or anywhere else for that matter.
Welsh is generally regarded by English-speakers as a formidably difficult language, and a glance at the map shows such jaw-crackers as Machynlleth, Pwllheli, and the truly majestic Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. That said, the pronunciation rules are consistent (unlike English) and once you know that a "u" is pronounced "ee"; "dd" is a hard "th" (as in 'there' rather than 'think') ; and a "ll" is a sort-of cross between 'l' and 'th', then it will always be so, although the actual spelling (and hence pronunciation) of a word may change depending on the word preceding it. "Cwm", that perennial favourite of crossword-puzzle enthusiasts, is pronounced "coom" (and means "a hollow in the side of a mountain"). Welsh vowels ('a', 'e', 'i', 'o', 'u', 'w', and 'y') have two distinct pronounciations: one long, one short. For example, the two variations of "y" can be heard in "yn" (u-n) and "byd" (b-ea-d) (short and long, respectively). Welsh English often uses "like" as an interjection.
The Welsh language was suppressed with varying degrees of viciousness by the English from the middle ages right up until the 1960s, but since then it has become one of the best-subsidised minority languages in the world, and nowadays around 20% of Welsh people can speak some Welsh, with 14% claiming to use it on a daily basis. Northern and Southern versions differ in details, and 'gogs' ( as North Welsh are referred to in the South ) are sometimes said to sound like Russian porn stars. Welsh is accorded equal status with English within Wales, so all roadsigns and official notices have to be in both. The language is the butt of many jokes in England, usually along the lines of "Welsh is very difficult to speak unless you have either a lifetime's study, or a serious throat infection". Welsh spellings are also the subject of English humour, sometimes being attributed either to anagrams of breakfast cereal names or escapees from H.P. Lovecraft's less well-known works.
There is also a community of Welsh-speakers in Argentina, dating back to the 19th century, and Welsh is spoken in Patagonia, albeit with a Spanish accent.
Wales is notable for its sheep population -- c. 10.9 million of them against a human population of about three million. So, the usual jokes apply. Wales is also notable for its level of rainfall -- even more so than the UK as a whole. Second city Swansea (Abertawe) officially holds the distinction of "wettest city in Britain".
South Wales was more industrialised than the rest, due to immense coal deposits, though Wrexham in the North East was as industrialised also due to coal. A lot of Welsh cultural identity stems from the 19th-century mining industry, when "the Valleys" as the area was known, saw religious revivals, the enthusiastic adoption of the game of Rugby, and a great tradition of choral singing. The industry largely (and in the main needlessly) came to an end in the late eighties, thanks in chief to Margaret Thatcher, leaving the population and economy a little shell-shocked. This is why it's not cool to be a Tory between Llanelli and Newport.
A lot of people in Wales are called Jones, Williams or Davies due to the way the Welsh Patronymic naming system was Anglicised -- people in small villages will have to get nicknames to distinguish each other. Traditionally these were often in the form of "Surname The Occupation", such as Jones The Steam [engine driver] from Ivor the Engine. This results in SAT exams (see British Education System) having to have candidate numbers in Wales. This is also the case with soldiers in Welsh army regiments, who even in the late 20th century were still identified by their unique Army number and not by one of a limited number of family names. In this troper's regimental family, 106 men and women soldiers in a 600+ strong unit were called Wiliams. Owen, Jones and Powell then tied for the next most populous name with Davies and Hughes coming up not far behind.
There are a lot of famous Welsh people such as:
- Tom Jones - world famous singer, with a reputation for women throwing their knickers at him.
- Aimee Ann Duffy - a UK famous singer, who hasn't had any pants or knickers thrown at her yet.
- Dame Shirley Bassey!
- Catherine Zeta-Jones - world famous actress. Oh, and singer (sort of) in Chicago
- Katherine Jenkins, who like Charlotte Church really can sing, and unlike Charlotte Church has wisely decided to stay with what she knows best
- Aled Jones -- another Welsh singer, most famous (as a boy) for his cover version of "Walking In The Air" from The Snowman.
- Russell T. Davies.
- Ray Milland.
- Anthony Hopkins. You know, A Glass of Chianti...
- John Rhys-Davies.
- Richard Burton.
- Timothy Dalton.
- Dylan Thomas, poet, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". See Soul Music for Terry Pratchett's take on this.
- John Cale, musician and former member of The Velvet Underground.
- Milton Jones, comic.
- Christian Bale, born in Pembrokeshire but raised in Southern England from early childhood. (Incidentally, he voiced Howl in the film's English dub.)
- Author Jasper Fforde was not born in Wales, but lived there for a while, and "The Socialist Republic of Wales" features prominently in several Thursday Next books. Its background and Alternate History are All Here On The Internet.
- Alastair Reynolds.
- Comedians Rob Brydon, Ruth Jones and Rhod Gilbert.
- Wrestler Mason Ryan, former Florida Heavyweight champion and now heel for The Nexus on WWE.
- TNA wrestling also has their own wrestling Welshman, Rob Terry.
- Comedian Harry Secombe, best known for The Goon Show.
- Actor Michael Sheen, from Newport and Port Talbot. Cinema's very own Tony Blair.
- Rhys Ifans, a first language Welsh-speaker and main example of a 'Gog' accent (from North Wales)
- Hornblower actor Ioan Gruffudd, also Cymraeg - but Welsh-Speaker from South Wales (Glamorgan).
- Charlotte Church, from Cardiff.
- Gavin Henson, rugby player and noted sun-bed user, sometimes referred to as 'Tango Man' for this reason.
- Terry Jones of Monty Python.
- Arthur Machen, an author whose The Great God Pan and other stories were a major influence on H.P. Lovecraft.
- Iwan Rheon, singer and actor (Best known as Simon in Misfits), from Cardiff.
- Julia Gillard, past Prime Minister of Australia, was born in Wales, except she was naturalised in Australia as a youngster - first-generation Australians are recognised by the law as Australians but some Australian citizens whose ancestry goes back further tend to disagree
- Bonnie Tyler
- King Arthur. If he was a real person, anyway.
- Debatable. While many of the earliest stories about Arthur and his knights are from Welsh sources, the man himself and those who followed him would almost certainly have been "Brythonic". And while Wales (along with Cornwall) is one of the last remaining regions rooted in Brythonic culture, that doesn't really make Arthur Welsh. It's more accurate to say that some of Arthur's people eventually became the Welsh.
- Merlin. As above.
- In fact most of the 'Knights of the Round Table', depending on where the inspiration for them came from.
- Singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis of Marina & the Diamonds.
- Nicky Grist, former co-driver best known for his stint with the late Scottish WRC legend Colin McRae.
Famous Welsh Bands:
- Bullet For My Valentine
- Funeral for a Friend
- Goldie Lookin Chain
- Manic Street Preachers
- Super Furry Animals
- This band, which usually records most of their music in English, often includes at least a few Welsh language songs on their albums, culminating in 2000's Mwng, the best selling Welsh-language album in rock history.
- Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
- The Automatic
- The Oppressed
- Los Campesinos!
- All the members of this band are actually English, but they all met at university in Cardiff and have adopted the city as their home
- and its Spiritual Successor, Future of the Left
- People In Planes
- The Alarm
Famous Fictional Welsh People:
- Pixie from the X-Men comics
- Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones and Rhys Williams, Torchwood
- Fluellen, Henry V
- Wizard Howl, of Moving Castle fame.
- Negi Springfield. Well, he spent a good deal of his childhood there.
- The West clan of Gavin and Stacey, plus their friends and neighbours.
- Also from Ruth Jones, A Child's Christmases in Wales.
- Ivor the Engine.
- Several characters from Channel 4's classic sketch show Absolutely, particularly DIY 'expert' Denzil and his equally repulsive wife, Gwyneth (played by Welsh comedy actor John Sparks and Morwenna Banks).
- Able Seaman Goldstein from The Navy Lark, apparently he joined the Navy to work his passage to Swansea.
- Madoc and all of his descendants in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
- Jeff (the crazy one) from Coupling.
- It's implied and expanded upon in Fanon that Harry Potter's family are from Wales. Harry's parents hid there from Voldemort, and at least one of Harry's ancestors are buried in a local cemetery. In-universe, famous Wizard Godric Gryffindor was from a small village in Wales, which was later renamed Godric's Hollow in his honour. Incidentally, this is the afore-mentioned Welsh village where Harry's family hid and were buried.
- But J. K. Rowling explicitly states in Deathly Hallows that Godric's Hollow is in the West Country, England, as was she.
Famous Fictional Welsh Places:
- The setting of the Chronicles of Prydain is based on Welsh mythology.
- The country of Llamedos on the Discworld is an extreme parody of Welsh stereotypes, best known as the original home of Imp y Celyn and noted for its rain mines.
"The land where history sleeps, and so does everybody else."
—Griff Rhys Jones
- One article on the 'Net says Welshmen would claim to be sexually molesting sheep because the punishment was less than for stealing them -- which is what (this article states) they were most often really doing.