WALES is almost unrecognisable from the nation it was in the middle of the eighteenth century. That may sound obvious, but it is remarkable to remember that back then we had few noticeable towns and no capital – let alone a parliament and other national institutions.

Welsh people poured out of their country and into another; and once across the border, more often than not the ultimate destination was London.

Hundreds of years have passed since our compatriots flocked to the English capital and the London Welsh remain one of its most celebrated peoples, sustained by various organisations that promote our nation.

Back in 1751, however, one noticeable institution emerged that remains prominent today: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.

With its origins in the Most Honourable and Loyal Society of Antient Britons – founded in 1715 as an association of Welshmen who organised the annual St David’s Day dinner in the capital, as well as helping families of London Welsh people in distress – the Cymmrodorion, like the now global Welsh diaspora, has stood the test of time.

Our society’s history is too lengthy to recall in this column, but it is worth explaining the name. The title Cymmrodorion was formed from ‘cyn-frodorion’ or ‘earliest natives’, to signify the unique role of the Welsh linking modern Great Britain with the ancient Britons who had occupied the island for millennia before the coming of the Saxons, implying that the Welsh should be held in high regard for holding the key to the earliest history of Britain.

Since those early days, the Cymmrodorion have continued to explore Wales’s ancient past but also serve as a unique forum for promoting discussions on Welsh current affairs.

Indeed, our members have had an influential hand in debates that led to the formation of key institutions – including our National Library and National Museum, both founded in 1907 – and through our Transactions, a journal that has been published since the late nineteenth century, we have kept an annual scholarly record of the papers delivered to our community every year.

We are also proud to have been the original publisher of ‘Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig’ and its English-language equivalent, the ‘Dictionary of Welsh Biography’.

The society continues to recognise the work of many individuals who have given distinguished service to Wales too, specifically through the Cymmrodorion Medal. Past recipients across various industries and backgrounds include Saunders Lewis, Goronwy Edwards, Kyffin Williams, and Jan Morris.

Above all, it is as a network for sharing ideas, hosting discussion and stimulating debate that gives the Cymmrodorion its special place in modern Wales.

Although the pandemic has caused a temporary halt to our in-person London events, meaning that for the first time in 270 years the Cymmrodorion’s talks moved online, our forum has been extended to a wider audience than would ever be possible in person; members and friends of the society have joined us from around the world in their hundreds to hear the latest ideas that are influencing contemporary Wales.

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This week we were lucky enough to welcome the poet and critic Dr Grahame Davies to the Society, who revealed the full and surprising story of the Welsh relationship with Islam.

Such a subject is typical of the fascinating areas we are able to cover at the Cymmrodorion, thanks to the brilliant minds Wales continues to produce and the appetite there is to digest their work.

Over the last year, for example, we have heard insights on a range of topics – from the history of St Fagans to Unesco in Wales, from opposition to the Great War to Welsh architectural records – which have enabled the transfer of ideas and sparked scintillating conversation.

In essence, through our work, the Cymmrodorion have continued to champion a shared sense of Welsh community, something we have long sought to inspire among our members and wider civic society.

This is a crucial element of the Cymmrodorion mission: to bring people together to hear a range of voices promoting the language, literature, arts and science of Wales. It is important to emphasise that having a forum to engage in the Welsh national story – like we have done throughout our history – is critical to the development of our nation as a whole.

After all, the last 12 months – probably more than any other period in recent memory – has brought into sharp focus the distinctiveness of Wales to people across our own country but also in different parts of the UK too. Therefore, there is no better time for us to explore our past, understand our present, and look to the future.

However, the Cymmrodorion – as an organisation – cannot achieve this alone. Over the years we have relied on the generous and unwavering support of members, who want to contribute to a national conversation about Wales and its people. In short, without its ‘community’ of engaged participants, the Cymmrodorion cannot be what it is.

We must remember, after all, that each of us has a stake in Wales: as citizens and patriots, but as interested observers and participants too. The Cymmrodorion has been playing its role in facilitating discussions around contemporary society for close to three centuries.

But now, perhaps more than ever, those discussions are fundamental in tracing the multi-faceted story of Wales to the present day. And it is only if we all engage in a national conversation will we be able to influence Wales – for the better – tomorrow.

You can become a member of the Cymmrodorion and read more about its work here