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Fact About Wales and the Welsh

29. Welsh gypsies were the last to speak Romani in Europe.
In the early 1900's, John Sampson, an expert on Gypsy lore, discovered that a family in Wales still spoke the "deep" or inflected Romani that had died out among the rest of the gypsy groups in Europe. Sampson wrote that the descendants of an eponymous ancestor, Abram Wood, reputed King of the Gypsies, born before the close of the 17th century, had religiously kept the dialect intact "in the fastnesses of Cambria." It may surprise many to learn that Romani is a dialect of Hindu, for Gypsies originally came to Europe from India some time in the 13th or 14th century. In Britain, their dark complexions and their strange tongue led them to be called Egyptians or Gypsies.

As a child in North Wales, the author was warned to beware "teulu Abram Wood," the family of Abram Wood (who would of course, like all gypsies, steal naughty little children for the cooking pot). An untidy house was referred to as being like the "house of Abram Wood," though ironically Gypsy caravans have a reputation for being immaculately tidy and spotlessly clean. The Wood family, outstanding musicians, helped to keep alive many musical traditions that were forced underground during the 18th century Methodist Revival. One member of the family was chief harpist to Queen Victoria and another member taught this century's most famous traditional Welsh harpist, Nansi Richards. The Wood family was fluent in three mutually unintelligible languages: Romani, English and Welsh.

30. A Welshman wrote the music for the 1998 Academy Awards.
During the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony that gave so many honors to the movie Titanic, the music of Welsh-born composer Michael J. Lewis accompanied the tribute to those Hollywood greats who had died during the past year. This was only one of the great honors bestowed upon Lewis, from the mid-Wales town of Aberystwyth, who has composed music for many outstanding films.

In the 1989 ceremony, Lewis chose his composition Apassionata from the 1979 movie "The Passage." He also wrote the music for "The Madwoman of Chaillot" (for which he received the Ivor Novello Award, England's premier music award for best film score, named after the beloved Welsh composer). In addition to providing the music for many other films, Lewis also scored the music of many television productions. In honor of his Celtic heritage, he has produced The Romantic Splendour of Wales (Gogoniant Rhamantaidd Cymru), a celebration of Welsh music at its best.

Lewis has a mission: "There are Welsh hymns" he states, "folk songs, absolute musical treasures, which have never been heard beyond Welsh borders. We need to take these treasures to America, to the world, to expose to the world the rich and enriching, indeed glorious Welsh music, culture and heritage." To help further this aim, on March 1, 1998, St. David's Day, the first secular Welsh choir of Southern California, founded by Lewis, made its debut in Los Angeles.

31. A Welshman discovered the link between Asian and European Languages.
In the late 18th century, a Welsh scholar employed by the East India Company, Sir William Jones, discovered that many words in Sanskrit, the language of Hindu holy books, were similar to words in Welsh. Further research, carried out by the German brothers Grimm and others, later revealed that most European languages and some Indian ones have a common ancestor, now known as Indo-European.

Other notable Welsh philologists were missionary David Jones who first put the Malagasy language of Madagascar into writing; John Davies who published the first grammar and dictionary of Tahitian; Dr. David Samuel, who made the first written record of the Maori language of New Zealand. Nearer Wales, Robert Williams compiled the first comprehensive dictionary of the Cornish language, and Bishop John Phillips translated the Book of Common Prayer into Manx.

32. Yr Ardd Fotaneg Genedlaethol Cymru (the Welsh National Botanic Garden) is a landmark project.
In West Wales, on the wooded slopes of the River Towy valley, one of the most ambitious environmental projects ever undertaken in Wales is taking shape. No, this is not the reclamation of land from the hideous waste coal tips that disfigured so much of the Welsh landscape for so long. This valley is already green, the overgrown, neglected landscaped gardens and parkland of Middleton Hall, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire. Out of the wilderness of scrub and marshland, neglected for a century, will rise a national garden for Wales that will seriously rival and in many ways surpass any national botanical garden presently found in the world. A landmark project of international significance, the garden will be a spectacular, living museum for the present and the future.

The projected garden, on the grounds of the huge estate that once belonged to Sir Thomas Paxton, will create a blend of scientific education and artistic beauty, combining science, education and aestheticism to fulfill the vision of a team of Welsh and international scientists, botanists and horticulturists. Their aim, now being rapidly realized, is to create a world class, modern botanical garden whose primary focus is on conservation and reproductive biology. Of particular interest is the planned development of a permanent exhibition that will highlight the skills of the Physicians of Myddfai, a family of Carmarthenshire country doctors whose skills in herbal medicine were renowned throughout the medieval world.

In addition to the provision of laboratories to study pollination, biology evolution, breeding systems and the study of invasive alien plants, the garden will include teaching workshops centred in a "bioverse" educational center for the biological sciences. There will also be an insectarium for the study of insect biology and conservation, an arboretum, woodland, alpine, rock gardens and water and wetland gardens. Towering over all will be the Great Glasshouse, 100 metres in length and 60 metres wide that will encompass under a single roof a comprehensive range of the most spectacular Mediterranean floras from all part of the world.

It is projected that the garden will attract up to 200,000 visitors a year. It will be a flagship for the future, not only of Wales, but for the worldwide future of sustainable development: a synthesis of art, environment and science. Thus, the National Botanic Garden of Wales, created in a country that still shows hideous scars from 300 years of uncontrolled, reckless exploitation of the land, will give to the world a new vision and direction for the future.

33. The earth's highest mountain is named after a Welshman.
In Wales, any height over 1,000 feet is considered a mountain, and the highest mountain in the country is Yr Wyddfa (Mt. Snowdon) at 3,560 feet (1,085 metres). Those who watch Hollywood movies may remember The Englishman who went up a hill and Came Down a Mountain, starring Hugh Grant and Tara Fitzgerald. This height may seem minuscule compared to the massive elevations of the Himalayas, and yet it was in Snowdonia, with its barren, precipitous rock faces, that the British members of the first team to conquer Everest in 1953 did much of their training. Just south of the Pass of Llanberis, you will find the Pen y Gwryd Hotel in which some mementos of the 1953 team are kept.

Mt. Everest is known in the Tibetan language as Chomolungma, "Goddess Mother of the World." It was recognized as the highest point on earth in 1852 following a government survey of India when the awesome mountain was named Peak XV. It became Mt. Everest in 1865, named for Sir George Everest, surveyor general of India, a native of Gwernvale, Breconshire, Wales, who had conducted the first triangulation survey of central India. Everest introduced the most accurate instruments of the day to complete his measurements and calculations with great precision. In 1955, the height of Everest was established at 29,028 feet.

34. The world's first wireless transmission took place in Wales.
At age 12, the Italian Marconi dreamed of the day when these (radio) waves might furnish mankind with a new and powerful means of communication, useable not only across continents and seas, but also aboard ships. His dream came true on May 13, 1897, when he transmitted messages, without the use of wires between Lavernock, near Porthcawl, Wales and the Island of Flatholm. The incredible achievement represented the final phase of wireless communication following many years of trial and error by such brilliant pioneers as Preece, Clark-Maxwell, Hertz and Tesla.

In 1896, Marconi came to England to meet Welshman W.H. Preece, chief engineer of the Post Office Telegraph. Caernarfon-born Preece, as a boy, wondered why he could hear quite distinctly the noise of blasting at Llanberis Quarries, some eight miles distant, and his father, after dropping a rock in the waters of the Menai Straits, had pointed out the ever-growing circular ripples in the water and concluded that sound waves worked in the same fashion. He was well on his way to a brilliant career in telegraphy.

During many of Preeces' later experiments, carried out at Porthcawl, in South Wales, he discovered that he could transmit signals over or through land and water by using the earth's magnetic field. In 1892, he was chosen by a Royal Commission to look at the practicability of electric communication between the shore and lighthouses and lightships. He set up his apparatus, using insulated wires one set up above the other, at Lavernock, where Marconi was later to fulfill the dream of a century.

Other pioneers in the filed of wireless communication were London-born Welshman David Edward Hughes, who discovered that electromagnetic waves could radiate through space and who was able to transmit messages from one room to another and even from the street outside through the use of an induction balance. Hughes was the very first to reveal the possibility of telegraphy without wires, posts, cables or any of the costly apparatus in use at the time. All the credit for this discovery, however, went to Professor Hertz of Munich, who was the first to make public the existence of electromagnetic waves (Hughes' discovery was thought by the English establishment to be impossible).

The clear and unmistakable signals that Marconi achieved in Lavernock in 1897 changed the world forever. A witness described his feelings when "five of us stood round the apparatus in a wooden shed as a shelter from the gale . . . and waited for the hoisting of a flag which was the signal that all was ready. Instantaneously we heard the first 'tic-tac, tic-tac' and saw the Morse instrument print the signals that came to us silently and invisibly from the island rock . . ." A short time later, Preece introduced the world's first practical wireless system, that is, one actually used for commercial purposes.

35. A Welsh amputee conquered Everest.
The first amputee to successfully climb Mount Everest, the highest peak on earth (named after a Welshman, see Fact 33) was Welsh teacher Tom Whittaker. Tom who lost his right foot in a car accident in 1979 made the successful trip to the 29,028 foot mountain after a three-day climb. International lecturer on outdoor activities, the intrepid Welshman has been mountaineering for 25 years and was determined not to let the mere loss of a foot stop his adventures.

36. Welshman overdosed on Valium.
Howard Smith, of Llandidloes, in Montgomeryshire, not only sold his house after overdosing on Valium, but went to live in a hovel with goats.

Seeking medical help in the late 1980's after suffering headaches caused by a head injury, Smith had been prescribed two and a half years' supply of the wonder drug for a period of only two months. The former postman, following instructions, gobbled down the pills, prescribed to him in bottles of 500 by a psychiatric doctor, since retired. His strange behavior after taking the pills alienated his friends and neighbors. His personality change led to his being described as mad as a hatter, in a toxic confusional state.

An out-of-court settlement agreed to between Howard's lawyers and the Powys Health Care Trust and Dyfed Powys Health Authority awarded the poor man (who gave up the drug himself and moved to Scotland a few years ago) the sum of 50,000 pounds. The Powys Health Care Trust stated that they have now altered their procedures to enable them "to pick up on inappropriate procedures."

37. Murray the Hump was a Welshman.
Al Capone's chief lieutenant, known as "Murray the Hump" was one of the most successful criminals in US history. He was born in Chicago of Welsh parents from Llandidloes, Mid Wales. When Capone was imprisoned in 1933, Murray was described as America's Public Enemy Number One. His master mind and superior intelligence were greatly admired by Capone and his gangsters, and it was Murray who organized the syndicate's successful infiltration of legitimate businesses. He also became the mob's chief "ixer" of leading politicians and lawmen in the Chicago Area.

Murray's daughter, Luella, born to a Native American princess, eventually married the Italian actor, Rosanno Brazzi. In 1999, she still speaks highly of her father, praising his sensitivity, generosity and charm. Murray died in 1965 at the age of 66; he had been imprisoned only once, in the early 1930s on a minor tax-evasion charge.

38. A Welsh prison was an IRA "Training College."
After the Easter Rising of 1916, many of those who had taken part were interned at Frongoch, near Bala, in North Wales. the British interned more than 1,800 Irishmen in what later became known as "Sinn Fein University" for it was here that the internees were organized into avid revolutionaries. Inspired by hearing the locals speak Welsh, the internees conducted their meetings in Gaelic and planned the post-war government of Ireland.

They included many key figures in the IRA, such as Michael Collins, who became Director of Intelligence, and Richard Mulcahy, who became Chief of Staff. The camp provided a hard core of disciplined men who were ready to organize the armed resistance necessary to win Irish independence.

39. The oldest ethnic society in the US is Welsh.
The Welsh Society of Philadelphia claims to be the oldest ethnic society in the US. In 1729, a small group of Welsh people living in the city (which had a large Welsh-speaking population at the time) founded the Society of Ancient Britons to honor St. David, the patron saint of Wales (whose day is celebrated on March 1st). Benjamin Franklin often attended their banquets, for which he printed the tickets. After the Revolution, in which many Welsh fought for independence, the group re-organized under its present name. It has been extremely active in Welsh-American affairs for the past 260 years.

40. Cardiff has the world's largest retractable-roof arena.
Rapidly being completed in time for the World Rugby Cup competition to be held in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, during the 1999-2000 season, is the Millennium Stadium. The new 75,000 seat, all-weather stadium will replace the world famous Arms Park to become the world's largest arena with a retractable roof. it will also contain a rugby museum, a riverside walk, a public plaza and will be suitable for all sporting events and concerts.

41. The "Ugly House" was built and inhabited in one day.
Situated on the A5 road between Betws y Coed and Capel Curig, in Snowdonia, North Wales, the "Ugly House" (Ty Hyllt in Welsh) was built around 1475. At the time, a loophole in the law allowed a tenant to own the property if he could build a house complete with fireplace and chimney between sunrise and sunset and have smoke coming out of the chimney. Using undressed boulders, four local brothers completed the task to take possession, not only of the stone building, but also of the land upon which it stood for as far as they could throw an axe from each side of the house.

42. A Welsh coracle crossed the English Channel in 1974.
Designed for use in the swiftly flowing streams of Wales, the coracle has been in use for centuries, having been noted by the Roman invaders as early as the 1st Century A.D. A keel-less, bowl-shaped fishing boat, originally constructed of a covering of animal hides over a willow framework, the sturdy little craft resemble a walnut shell Todays' coracles, seen only on the Rivers Teifi, Towy and Taf, use calico or canvas in place of hides. In 1974 as part of a publicity stunt, a Welsh coracle (similar to the Irish curragh) managed to cross the Channel to France, piloted by Bernard Thomas in 13 and one half hours. The journey was undertaken to demonstrate how the "bull-boats" of Mandan Indians of North Dakota could have been copied from Welsh coracles introduced by Prince Madog in the 12th century (see
Fact No. 1).

43. The Mumbles Swansea Railroad was the first in the world to accept paying passengers.
On March 25, 1807, the Mumbles to Swansea railroad, begun three years earlier to carry limestone and other materials to the docks, began accepting paying passenger on a regular basis, thus making it the world's first. Horses were replaced by steam locomotives in the 1870's and by electric in 1929. The line, also the world's longest surviving railway, finally closed on Jan 5, 1960.

44. A Welshman was the first man in The world to transmit and receive radio waves.
History has credited Italian-born Guglielmo Marconi as the inventor of the wireless radio, and German scientist Heinrich Hertz as the one whose name was given to radio waves, yet eight years before Hertz, a Welshman named David Edward Hughes became the first to transmit and receive radio waves. Hughes, who died in 1900, also invented the printing telegraph utilized in the USA by the West Union Telegraph Company in 1857 and that became the adopted standard in Europe; the carbon microphone, which made possible practical telephony; and made major contributions to electrical science.

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