Wales: 'Ordinary' family's bravestance on the language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jun 11 13:35:43 UTC 2006

>>From IC Wales, Jun 10 2006

'Ordinary' family's bravestance on the language

Western Mail

Veteran campaigner Eileen Beasley will be honoured for her pioneering
contribution to the Welsh language rights movement at a ground-breaking
festival combining songs, speeches and poems. The event, organised by
Cymdeithas yr Iaith, marks the latest step in its campaign for a new Welsh
Language Act. Catrin Dafydd explains the significance of Mrs Beasley's
life-long struggle for Welsh language rights EILEEN BEASLEY is best
described as the Rosa Parks of Wales. In 1952 - 10 years before the birth
of Cymdeithas yr Iaith - Eileen and her late coal miner husband, Trefor
Beasley, moved to a cottage in Llangennech.

At that time, nine out of 10 people in the village spoke Welsh, as did all
of the councillors and most of the officials who served on Llanelli Rural
District Council. However, the council, in line with other local
authorities in Wales at that time, conducted its business entirely through
the medium of English. Mrs Beasley, the daughter of a farming family and a
mother of two young children, requested that she receive a Welsh version
of the council's rates bill. Her request was refused. As a result, the
Beasleys took it upon themselves to challenge what they saw as a basic
injustice and refused to pay their rates.

The Beasleys were summoned more than a dozen times to appear before a
magistrates' court. In court, they insisted that the proceedings should be
held in Welsh; further challenging the predominance of English as the
official language of Wales. Bailiffs were sent to their home on three
occasions to collect furniture - the value of the items that were taken
away was considerably higher than the money owed. Despite experiencing
serious financial and legal implications, the family continued their fight
for eight years. Finally, in 1960, the council issued a bilingual
notification. This brave stance by a seemingly ordinary family has since
gained a central place in the history of non-violent direct action for the
language. Saunders Lewis, in his historic broadcast The Fate of the
Language referred to the Beasleys as a shining example of what he saw as
the dire need to establish a civil rights movement for the language.

Of course, since the 1950s there have been a number of substantial
developments which have had a positive effect on the prospects of the
Welsh language. Yet the fact remains that no one in Wales can claim a
basic right to use the Welsh language when carrying out day-to-day tasks.
Only this week, Cymdeithas campaigner Angharad Blythe was issued by South
Wales Police with an English-only court summons after painting the words
"New Welsh Language Act" on the walls of the Welsh Assembly Government
building. The presiding judge promptly adjourned the case and heavily
criticised the police for breaking their own Welsh language policy.
Cymdeithas wants new legislation that will empower all people in Wales to
enjoy basic rights such as the right to Welsh- medium education, to
receive information and services in Welsh, and to learn Welsh.
Organisations and institutions operating in Wales need a suitably robust
legal framework within which they should be expected to pay more than lip
service to the language.

As things stand, there is always the danger that Welsh is seen as a
marginal consideration as there are no legal consequences on bodies who
refuse or fail to comply with Welsh language schemes. Such language rights
would not mean "special" rights available only for Welsh speakers. Welsh
belongs to everyone in Wales. The aim is to ensure that all people in
Wales - either fluent Welsh speakers, learners or those that don't speak
the language at all - have the right to fair and equal access to the
language. Over the past few months a growing consensus has emerged in
favour of these arguments.

The Welsh Language Board - the Government's own advisory body - has
declared that the 1993 Welsh Language Act should be reviewed and
strengthened. Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats have emphasised
their commitment to the need for stronger legislation. The Conservative
Party has outlined reasons why they say the Government has failed to
deliver on the promises contained in its strategy document on the Welsh
language, Iaith Pawb. One key player refuses to participate in this debate
- the Welsh Assembly Government.

In the meantime, Cymdeithas yr Iaith will draw on the inspiration provided
by Eileen Beasley and her family and will present her with a poem,
especially commissioned, by the Chaired Bard Gerallt Lloyd Owen.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith's National Festival - Your Language: Your Right -
takes place today at Aberystwyth Arts Centre between 2pm and 5pm.

Catrin Dafydd is campaign co-ordinator for Cymdeithas yr Iaith

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