Professor Boyle asked me to comment on the topics listed above; I think that the first and last are covered in the other pages listed on the main page, and so I will try to devote more time to the middle two topics.
First off, Welshness and Welsh National Identity. For the most part, people identify themselves as Welsh if they are Welsh, and are offended if they are associated with any other group, especially the British. Being Welsh is almost like a badge of honor here, and if you can speak Welsh, it is almost as if you automatically become a member of the Welsh Elite, one of the 15% of the population that can actually speak the language of the country.
This language is also making a comeback. As I stated in one of the other pages, it is now a law that all children in public schools in Wales are required to take Welsh as one of their basic subjects in primary school, and, if they are good at it, can also start to take other languages. Welsh medium schools (where Welsh is the language in which students are instructed) are in high demand, and students are turned away from them on occasion.
A figure was posted in a Welsh newspaper that roughly 25% of students are now in Welsh schools or are voluntarily taking Welsh classes, which is remarkable considering that for quite some time, Welsh as a language was basically banned from official use, and now in all government areas Welsh must be provided as an option for reading and speaking.
However, many believe that it is a useless trinket of a language, since everyone speaks English anyway, and Welsh is not used outside of Wales, for the most part. However, many others believe that it is vital for the Welsh to learn their language, as it is a vital part of their history and culture, which I now believe is true. A plaque in a Welsh cafe that we visit put it best: "A Nation without a Language is a Nation without a Heart." (Written, of course, in Welsh.) Further evidence of this can be seen in the popularity of both the adult and the youth Eistedfodd, a festival celebrating Welsh culture in all forms of art. Awards are given in free verse poetry and prose in the forms of crowns, and, in strict Welsh meter poetry, in the form of a chair, which is basically one of the highest honors a Welshperson might win. These festivals celebrate the Welsh as a people, and include a beauty pageant and Druid ceremonies.
On to Devolution: back in 1979, a general election was held to see whether or not the people wanted a Welsh Assembly. This body would have worked in a similar manner to the State Assemblies that we have in the United States, and would have divided power between the House of Commons and the Assembly, a step towards Federalism. However, it was violently defeated, as many people either thought that this was going to recreate Wales as an independent nation, or they were afraid of the responsibilities that accompany self-rule.
HOWEVER, in 1998 (I think) the referendum was brought to the ballot again, and barely slipped by with something like a 6000 person majority. Wild parties, drinking, and Welsh revelry ensued and, when it was over about a year later, elections were carried out and the Assembly was Assembled.
The Plaid Cymru (pronounced something like "Plaid Kamry") or Welsh Nationalist Party and the Labor Party did well, with some other parties winning seats. However, no one had a majority, and so a coalition was formed, and Dafydd Elis-Thomas became Presiding Officer, a position similar to our Speaker of the House.
The Assembly is slowly beginning to have an effect on people's lives; while they are unable to control taxes or foreign policy, they basically have a say over everything else that the country does. When we visited the Assembly yesterday, Mr. Elis-Thomas showed us a copy of the following day's schedule, and they were set to discuss meat issues, something that the UK has been having trouble with in the last few years.
Our tour of the National Assembly was quite interesting. Basically, it was Lindsay, Rhodri and I getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the most powerful political body that Wales has had in 800 years, given by one of the more respected and admired members of Welsh society. The Assembly is currently in a buisness building, and construction is beginning on a new Assembly building, the walls of which will be mostly glass, in order to stress the transparency of the elected body. Their current meeting place, however, is stunning, even though it will soon be abandoned. Computers with touch-screens are available for every member, and a translation service is available for Welsh to English and English to Welsh, as everyone in the government is entitled to speak in either language. Although we were unable to see an actual session, the National Assembly is notable in the minds of many for its level of informality; whereas Parliament is full of formalities and pomp and circumstance and titles, the National Assembly is highly informal. Everyone is, excluding the speaker, called by their first name, and it seems as if it is more of a quasi-formal meeting than an actual governmental body.
Mr. Elis-Thomas was also very interesting. He received his PhD in Literature from Aberystwyth, and was involved both behind-the-scenes and in-the-scenes of student politics in the 1960's. He refused to give any indication of what he might want for the National Assembly in the way of future powers, as he did not want the Assembly to be an Assembly for Dafydd Elis-Thomas, but rather an Assembly for the Welsh. He also denied that he was a Welsh Nationalist, as, "there are negative connotations with the word 'nationalism'"; however, I got the impression that he would have liked to see Wales govern itself, or at least have a great deal of power in its dealings with other countries. He had an interesting way of making himself appear to be non-political - he did not seem to be in politics for the money or the power, but seemed to simply want to do something good and decent with his life. He presented us with books of pictures of Wales, which he had also presented to the visiting American Ambassador to the UK, and he signed them as well, something that caused my Welsh friends to literally drop their jaws. He was, on the whole, very warm and welcoming - something that one learns to expect in Wales.
Which brings me to a description of the people. I think that I described some of my interactions with the people here in other pages, so I might repeat some things here. Almost everyone here is incredibly warm, and the cold person is an exception (and they're probably not Welsh). This country has a way of making you want to be friends with everyone and love everyone, something that is reflected in the eyes and smiles of its people. The people here love drink, love love, and love life, and have a good time with their friends. People in college seem to have similar insecurities and fears as the young of America; however, they are also just as warm to strangers as their elders.
There are, of course, different social groups of people here, and they are very similar to the social groups in America. Lindsay's host-sister was in High School, and she threw a dance at a club and was forced by her mother to invite us along. Before we got there, she had told Lindsay that she was part of the "elite group" and that she and her friends had "scared away all of the geeks" from the dance. (Later, I found out from some other people that her social group was "one of the most ridiculed" at their school.) It must be stressed, however, that these attitudes are DEFINITELY not reflective of Welsh Society at all, and could be said to be almost the antithesis of Welsh hospitality. When we got there, it did not seem like a high-school dance at all. The legal age for sex and smoking here is 16, and for drinking, 18, and, as the age requirement for the dance was 18, no one had any problem with drinking, smoking, and...getting down. One of Becca's friends, Bethan, was absolutely wonderful, and convinced us to dance for a few songs, although it was slightly odd, as we were the only people out on the dance floor. The rest of the people seemed to be concentrating on drinking and socializing, and only later did they start moving towards the dance floor. The dance was on a Tuesday night; the students had school the next day; the dance lasted until 2:00 AM. The Welsh can party!
I'm not sure if this is what you wanted to read, or if I was just rambling, but I'm tired and I have to get up early tomorrow. If you have any questions, you know where to contact me.
And I apologize for any wrong dates or spelling - I will do my best to make sure that they are correct!