As you can imagine, this is not a blog that I ever wanted to have to write but I feel that it is something that needs to be talked about. Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire are two traditionally Welsh-speaking counties where, as of the 2011 Census, a majority of the population can no longer speak Welsh. Worse still, the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home (WAH) in these two counties is significantly lower, as the table above shows. Compared to their neighbouring Welsh heartlands further north, Welsh in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire has done particularly badly - in Gwynedd and Anglesey, the percentages of children speaking Welsh at home in 2013 were significantly higher - at 56% and 37%, respectively. This blog therefore tries to trace the decline of Welsh as a community language in the two through the decades.
The 1953 report entitled 'The Place of Welsh and English in the Schools of Wales' shows that, mid-century, the percentages of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home in the two counties were 71% for Ceredigion (then called Cardiganshire), and 56% for Carmarthenshire. Back then, Ceredigion, at least, was very much in the same league as its neighbours to the north; Meirionydd and Caernarfonshire (ie what's now Gwynedd and the western half of Conwy) were at 77% and 67%, respectively, while Anglesey was at 74%. In other words, in those days, the Fro Gymraeg was genuinely Gymraeg.
|The percentage of PS children fluent in Welsh in 1975.|
Darkest Shade: 75-100%
Second Darkest Shade: 50-75%
Thus, as you can see on the right, by the mid-70s, Welsh was already loosing ground rapidly in Dyfed and was doing so much faster than in Gwynedd or Anglesey, or in the Welsh speaking areas of Clwyd for that matter.
Before the 1950s: The Lead-Up to Disaster
Although both counties in the '50s were majority Welsh in vernacular, cracks had already begun to show by then and anglicised enclaves had already existed for at least twenty years prior to that:
In 1921, according the Census of that year, there were already three towns where the percentage of 3-4 year old residents speaking Welsh was below 50%; Llandovery at 49.2%, Carmarthen at 48.3% and Aberystwyth at 43.9%. Ten years later, the industrial town of Llanelli joined them, with the figure there falling from 61.3% in 1921 to 45.9% in 1931. What was different about interwar Carmarthenshire compared to the other counties of the Fro Gymraeg, was that while the anglicised enclaves of the other counties appear to have all been seaside resorts, in Carmarthenshire, this was clearly not the case.
Since the 1970s: An Escalating Catastrophe
Despite the unprecedented disaster of the previous 20 years, there were still significant areas in Dyfed where a majority of Primary School children did still speak Welsh at Home. In Ceredigion, the figures were above 50% in the following Secondary school catchment areas: Aberaeron (59%), Llandysul (61%), Lampeter (58%) and Tregaron (61%), but below 50%. in the two Cardigan (39% and 44%) and Aberystywth (32%) areas.
In Carmarthenshire, the catchment areas above 50% were Gwendraeth (61%), Newcastle Emlyn (65%) , and the Carmarthenshire half of the Lampeter area (69%) while the other six areas ranged from 49% in the Ammanford area to 13% in and around Llanelli. In the Preseli catchment area of neighbouring Pembrokeshire, the figure stood at 59%, and ranged between 1% and 24% everywhere else. In Gwynedd and Anglesey, catchment areas above 70% still exist in 2017, although, of course, their future is now uncertain.
The forty years since the 1970s have of course, only seen the continued disappearance of Welsh-speaking communities in the two counties. Sure, primary schools in the two counties where a majority of children speak Welsh at Home do still exist but they are most definitely in a minority, are seldom above 60%, and are not concentrated in particular stronghold areas. The future of Welsh in the Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, it seems, is mainly as a second language, although please prove me wrong if you can. I just hope though, that lessons will be learned from what has happened, and that it may further people's understanding of language shift.