Shropshire Star

'Give us back our castles': Welsh folk singer Dafydd Iwan's plea to The King in new book

A veteran folk singer and campaigner is urging King Charles to relinquish ownership of the Norman castles in North Wales and give them to the Welsh people.

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In full voice

Dafydd Iwan says he was astounded to find out that the iconic castles of Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Harlech, Conwy and Flint were still owned by the Crown Estate, despite being managed by the conservation agency Cadw.

In his newly-published autobiography, 'Dafydd Iwan: Still Singing Yma o Hyd', the singer, he says he made the discovery while trying to organise a concert at Caernarfon Castle to celebrate his 80th birthday and to mark the 40th anniversary of the iconic song that inspired the book’s title.

He also believes that, if Wales gains independence, the people should have the power to ditch the Royal Family in favour of becoming a republic with an elected president as head of state.

Ironically, one of Dafydd Iwan’s other big hits, the satirical song, Carlo (Welsh for Charles), was inspired by the 1969 investiture of King Charles at Caernarfon Castle, now a World Heritage Site, when he became Prince of Wales, a title now passed on to his son Prince William.

Dafydd said: "The original intention was to have a big bash in Caernarfon Castle, but despite Cadw’s willingness to work with us, in the end the problems outweighed the advantages.

"During our deliberations with Cadw, I learnt something which was complete news to me.

About to join the Gorsedd of Bards at the Bangor National Eisteddfod in 1971.c with permission of the National Library of Wales

"For years now, I’ve been extolling the virtues of Castell Caernarfon, built by an English king to mark the furthest point of his empire, and to keep us Welsh in our place, but recaptured, as it were, through Cadw by the people of Cymru. But how wrong I was!

"Although run by Cadw, the castle – along with others – remain in the hands of the Crown."

He added: "In the Wales of 2023, the priority is to sort out the governance of Wales, and to ensure the Senedd has full powers to organise Wales to the advantage of its people, and to decide on our own priorities.

"After independence, the people of Cymru will be able to decide what role, if any, they want the Royal Family to play.

At Caernarfon Castle, presenting Bryn Terfel with his first Sain gold disc. Picture: Gerallt Llywelyn

"Personally, I want Wales to be a free democratic republic with an elected president. And a great first step would be for the Crown to return to the people of Wales its vast properties, including our rich coastal regions and the castles built by Edward to keep us in our place."

Despite singing about him for over 50 years, Dafydd and the King have met just once.

He said: "S4C were making a programme about me 50 years on after the investiture and out of the blue the producer said, "Would you meet him (Charles) if we arranged it?" and I couldn’t think of a good reason to say no.”

The meeting took place at the King's residence, Llwynywermod, which Dafydd reveals could be translated into English as "Wormwood Scrubs", at Myddfai near Llandovery.

They met on July 1, 2019 – exactly 50 years after the Investiture at Caernarfon. Dafydd recalled the now King welcomed him in Welsh and they sat in a very large room, with his aide, Welsh poet Dr Grahame Davies, who hails from Coedpoeth, near Wrexham, taking notes.

"He studiously avoided any mention of the Investiture, but we did get round to politics, and I laid before him my vision of a Britain of independent self-governing nations and a devolved England working together for the common good, each nation free to contribute in its own way.

"His response was that he wished to truly understand the political temperature in each part of Britain. The hour allocated to our meeting flew by, and I found my long-time adversary very easy to talk to, but my abiding impression as I left was of a man full of good intentions, but locked into a system he cannot control.

"He is a prisoner of an Establishment which he will find very difficult to change, even if he’s inclined to," said Dafydd.

In the autobiography, Dafydd reveals that Yma o Hyd, the song which was the anthem for the Welsh football team during 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar, was written at a difficult time in his life as he and his then wife, Marion, were going through a divorce.

The inspiration for the song was a remark made by former Plaid Cymru President Gwynfor Evans.

"He considered 383AD to be the year when Wales started its journey to be a free nation, being the year when the Roman leader, Magnus Maximus, left Britain.

"That gave me the idea for the song – the last of the invading leaders left us exactly 1,600 years ago, and we are still here!

"Many people regard ‘Yma o Hyd’ as a political song, but in some ways it’s the least political of my patriotic songs, because it’s basically a celebration of our resilience as a nation, pure and simple.

"‘Yma o Hyd’’s strength, I suppose, is its simplicity of message, and the message of survival against all odds can strike a chord with so many different people," he said.

Dafydd was asked to lead the singing of the song before two crucial qualifying games for the World Cup tournament by the Football Association of Wales.

It was with some trepidation that he stepped onto the platform at Cardiff City Stadium.

"I launched into ‘Yma o Hyd’, still a bit apprehensive about the whole adventure. But then the Red Wall joined in, like a well-drilled choir, and nearly blew me off my feet.

“That moment will stay with me forever as one of the highlights of my whole life.”

Having been arrested and jailed in the past as a result of Welsh language protests, Dafydd recalled a more pleasant brush with the law in Merthyr Tudful.

Guitarist Wyn Pearson, from Wrexham, said: "We've had some great gigs and some great adventures over the years.

“One of these happened last year when the band went to a pub in Merthyr Tudful for a pint after the show.

"When we then tried to get a taxi to the hotel we found Merthyr on a Saturday night isn’t the easiest place to find one. Then a police van came along and the driver recognised Dafydd and stopped. We asked for a lift and we were told to jump in.

"We were killing ourselves laughing and Hefin Elis said no one would believe Dafydd Iwan was in a police van," he said.

Dafydd Iwan: Still Singing Yma o Hyd is published by Y Lolfa, price £9.99.

Heritage experts at Cadw do not have a commercial relationship with the Crown Estate and it retains all visitor income, it has been confirmed. The Crown Estate is an independent business, established by an Act of Parliament, and is not the private property of the King.

A spokesperson for The Crown Estate said: “Where we own a small number of historic buildings across Wales we have a long-standing relationship with Cadw who act as guardians of these important national assets for the people of Wales.”