'I'r Gad' – Half a century of Welsh Language Protests

29 Oct 2013

I’r Gad  was launched in the company of Arwel Vittle, Arwel Rocet Jones and Emyr Llywelyn on Thursday, November 7th at Y Drwm, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Fifty years have passed since the first Welsh language protest in 1963  – a protest which sparked a decades long battle for the language. The nature of photojournalism might be unrecognisable today when compared to the days of black and white, but images remain as important today as then in telling a story.

Thanks to the presence of the talented photographer Geoff Charles, who was amongst the crowd on Trefechan bridge in Aberystwyth on that pivotal day in the history of the Welsh language, iconic images were taken which perfectly capture the moment in time for posterity.

The new hardback,  I’r Gad , is a unique collection of images and words. For the first time, the editor, Arwel Vittle, has collected images from professional and less well known photographers from Wales, chronicling events from Tryweryn to the bilingual road signs campaign, protests to protect S4C and the Welsh Language Act 1993 and Language Measure 2011 campaigns.

In addition to images, the book recreates the many battlelines faced by protestors through the words of many individuals at the heart of the campaigns in Wales, including Robat Gruffudd, Iwan Edgar and Angharad Tomos. Their fascinating insights consider the influence of their efforts and the impact of protests from Saunders Lewis’ Tynged yr Iaith speech in 1962 to the passing of the Welsh Language Measure in 2011. Angharad Tomos urges readers to "Look at the faces, feel the mirth and the joy. You can feel the enthusiasm and zeal."

Arwel Vittle added, "The nature of the images changes with the nature of the protests. In the early days there were fierce clashes between the police and protestors. By the nineties and the start of this century, the protests become more peaceful and large rallies become the norm. Every picture taken is a creative but crucial half second snapshot of a time long gone."

One such photographer is Marian Delyth who reminds us of the historical merit of the photographic archives presented in this book, "The technological revolution in photography  – one which has democratised the genre completely  – has enabled all of us, armed with a phone or small camera, to capture revolutionary moments in our lives. How many of these will be kept safely for the future?"

If the work of prominent photographers such as Geoff Charles, Raymond Daniel and Marian Delyth is photojournalism of the highest order, it is interesting to consider the misuse of the medium. This is illustrated effectively in the chapter ‘Brad ar y Bryn’, which chronicles the attempt by the authorities at University College North Wales Bangor to use the camera as evidence against protesting students.

In personal terms, it would be hard to beat Aled Gwyn’s tale, which lifts the veil on the tensions behind the protests. The Western Mail had published a photograph of Aled and his fiancée Menna in the middle of the first protests on Trefechan bridge. He said, "The conclusion to all this was a shirty letter from Menna’s father shortly after the image was published warning her to keep away from me and to avoid being influenced by me to involve here in unlawful acts. Thankfully, he softened his stance within a few years."

How many of the thousands of faces photographed can share the same personal experiences as the National Eisteddfod Chaired Bard?

Gwales

Books from Wales on-line

gwales.com