Saturday, 10 September 2016

Just how Welsh speaking is Anglesey?

After the blog on the Welsh Language in Gwynedd was completed, I thought 'Next Stop:Anglesey'.  And why not? The isle of  Anglesey, or Ynys Môn, as it is known is Welsh, is the only local authority area apart from Gwynedd where a majority of the population can speak Welsh as of the 2011 Census;  namely 57.2% in Anglesey's case.  But I, like with Gwynedd, wanted to find how widely Welsh was spoken as a mother tongue on the Island, and by the youngest generation, namely Primary School Children.  Primary school inspection reports, produced by the regulatory body Estyn, give both the pupil population and the percentage who speak Welsh at home.  I therefore retrieved such information from the latest inspection reports on all 45 primary schools and keyed them into excel.

The results showed that of the just over 5100 primary school pupils in Anglesey, 37.3% speak Welsh at home compared to 59% in neighboring Gwynedd.  While Gwynedd is still majority Welsh speaking in every sense, Anglesey is not since although a majority can speak Welsh, a majority of children on the island don't speak it at home.  Like in Gwynedd however, the schools range spectacularly; there are 5 schools on Anglesey where  more than 80% of pupils speak Welsh at home (WAH) and there are 10 schools where it is less than 10%.  Of those pupils educated in schools with WAH majorities, 66.6% spoke WAH while of those in schools where a majority didn't speak Welsh at Home, only 16.4% spoke WAH.  Anglesey can therefore be described as a 'Belgium County', the island is sharply divided into areas where Welsh is very much the venacular, and areas where it isn't anymore.   

So how are these schools distributed? Schools where less than 10% speak WAH are found mainly in Holyhead or near the RAF base in Valley with the other two being in Beaumaris and Cemaes.   Schools between 10 and 30% are mainly on the East Coast but also in Porthaethwy/Menai Bridge and Rhosneigr.  Those between 30 and 50% are largely clustered around the South West of the Island but do exist elsewhere while schools where a majority speak WAH dominate the middle, the north and north west (excluding the coastal towns of Amlwch and Cemaes) but can also be found near the south, east and Menai Strait coasts but here they are less numerous than schools with more anglicized home backgrounds.  But looking at urban areas, how Welsh speaking is each town?  In the island's administrative centre, Llangefni, 63% of primary school children are from Welsh speaking homes while in the largest town, Holyhead it is only 8.4%.  As for the other towns, Amlwch is at 30%, Benllech is at 27%, Menai Bridge is at 20% while Beaumaris is at 5%.  

Thus the island is strongly divided. While the interior, North West coasts and a few areas on the Menai are still majority Welsh mother tongue, most coastal areas, along with Holy Island, are now majority First Language English.  To add an anecdote, I once met someone who had grown up in an anglicized area of Anglesey who did not even seem to be aware of the fact that much of the island is still Welsh speaking;  in his village primary school only around 10% of pupils spoke WAH according to Estyn an he stated that he became fluent in Welsh while at school due to it being Welsh Medium but had since lost fluency while on the island since he never used it in everyday life.  The question is, therefore, for how long has Anglesey been a divided island? How far back do you have to go for the whole island to be homogeneously Welsh speaking?

A bit of History
Since I was unable to get hold of reports on pupil mother tongue dating back much more than 10 years (with one exception), the Census is what I have used to see how the vitality of Welsh changed on Anglesey during the twentieth century; the percentage of people over the age of 3 speaking welsh at Parish, District and County level being given.  Clearly, the island was almost homogeneously Welsh speaking until after the second world war.   In 1961, areas where more than 80% of the overall population could speak Welsh covered nearly the whole island but significant enclaves below 80% had emerged, all of which were coastal.  By 1971, with the exception of the North West coast and two small areas in the south West and Menai Coasts, respectively, nowhere coastal was above 80%; Welsh was strongest in inland areas while most coastal areas had become more anglicized.  Thus the linguistic divide that we see today had already come into existence by 1971, with the sixties being a decade of significant territorial change and the decades since seeing much less change. The fact that, on the whole, the areas that were still above 80% in 1971 still have a majority of their school children speaking Welsh at Home now, shows how resilient the Welsh language has been territorially in the past 46 years.  A question thus arises; why did most of Anglesey's coastal areas become English speaking in a relatively short period of time when Welsh as a living vernacular has managed to survive relatively unscathed on the rest of the island?

Of course, the Census's age breakdown is far more useful because it allows you to see the position of Welsh as the language of the home and family by revealing what percentage of 3&4 year old children spoke the language.  In 1961, 60.5% of 3-4 year olds in Anglesey could speak Welsh but by 1971, it was only 50.0%. If you compare that to the 37.3% of primary school pupils today speaking it at home, you will notice how fast Welsh declined between 1961 and 1971 (1.05% points a year) but how much slower it has declined in the 45 years since (0.28% points a year). This is no doubt due to the fact that it was during the 1960s that Welsh lost ground in those coastal areas but that since then the geographical divide has changed very little.

But how has the strength of Welsh as a mother tongue changed in Anglesey's towns? Unfortunately, after the 1921 Census, age breakdowns stop being available for any district, either urban or rural, where the population was below 20,000 at the time.  Simply, none of Anglesey's towns were large enough for the 1931 Census and later censuses for such information to be provided, which is annoying to be honest.  So what was the situation in 1921? As you can imagine, much more Welsh speaking but even then, one of Anglesey's towns had already become an enclave of English; in Beaumaris, only 43.1% of 3&4 year old residents could speak Welsh, down from 46.8% in 1911. In Holyhead 81.4% of 3&4 year olds could speak Welsh in 1921 (practically unchanged since 1911), in Menai Bridge, 73.8% (compared to 87.5% in 1911,) in Amlwch the figure was 98.8% in 1921 while Llangefni was at 93.5%.  Thus the picture in 1921 is of an almost entirely Welsh speaking island but in which Beaumaris had already become an English speaking enclave while the town of Porthaethwy/Menai Bridge, still Welsh speaking then would likely have become an enclave of English within a few decades.  

What I do know is that by 1968, only 23.3% of primary school children in Holyhead spoke Welsh at home (A figure I found on the website Syniadau.)  This is surprising, since there wasn't a very sharp decline in the percentage of the population of Holyhead (all ages) able to speak Welsh before 1961; such a figure stood at 73.6% in 1951, 71.4% in 1961 before falling to 60.9% in 1971.  However, it must be said that overall percentages can be very misleading. A notable example of this is in the large town of Llanelli, Carmarthenshire. 70.1% of the town's population said they could speak Welsh in 1931, and the consensus seems to be that as long as the percentage speaking Welsh is above 70% in any given area, the language is safe there.  What that 70.1% doesn't reveal is that only 45.9% of 3&4 year old children in the town could speak Welsh, down from 61.5% in 1921.   Since the census doesn't reveal when such a generational decline occurred in the town of Holyhead, that is again something that I would welcome some ideas about.  

No comments:

Post a Comment