Yma o Hyd, the rousing Welsh folk song and football anthem

You can learn Yma o Hyd in a few short lessons with our free mini course!

A Big Song for a Small Nation

On St David’s Day in 1979 a referendum took place in Wales to see if there was enough support among the Welsh electorate for a Welsh Assembly. If the referendum had been successful, it would have given Wales its first limited form of self-governance for about 600 years. 

It wasn’t successful, though. Campaigners and activists across Wales were battle-weary and disappointed. In a way, their feelings of frustration and demoralisation were centuries old, having been carried from generation to generation since before Edward the First’s invasion in the 13th century.

We have our own unique culture. We sing, love and raise children in our own distinctive tongue. We live by our own values and unique traditions. Accepting the rule of a different country, whose governing individuals have little understanding or appreciation of what it truly means to be Welsh, to live in Wales – to many of us, it feels demeaning.

Devout activist, folk singer-songwriter and politician Dafydd Iwan had always stood on the front line fighting for the rights of this small nation and its language. The failure of the referendum, though, left him feeling disheartened.

In 1982, under the strong arm of a Thatcher government and with images of striking coal miners becoming all too familiar, Dafydd sat down to write a song for Wales. A song of our nation to “raise the spirits, to remind people we still speak Welsh against all odds. To show we are still here”. 

He called it ‘Yma o Hyd’ – Still Here.

This rousing song and its emotive lyrics, telling the story of our struggles as a nation dating back to Roman times, became a remedy for the despair felt in the face of oppression and adversity in Wales during the struggles of the 1980s.

Martin Johnes, professor of history at Swansea University, has described the song as an anthem for the “Welsh nationalists, Welsh-speaking culture and the industrial working class of Wales.”

Now seen as our unofficial second national anthem, ‘Yma o Hyd’ has been sung with passion and tears on coach trips, at Eisteddfods, clubs, wedding parties, schools, karaoke and funerals across Wales for decades.

More recently, it has also become a match-day staple for the ‘Red Wall’ – the passionate supporters of the Welsh football team.

‘Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg’, we say in Welsh – ‘persistent knocking will break the stone’. In other words, perseverance pays in the end.

In 2016, after decades of perseverance and passion (but not many big wins) Wales reached the semi-finals of the UEFA European Championship – it was the stuff of dreams and a catalyst for progress. Success breeds success – and the world of Welsh international football was transformed. Only 6 years later, we qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

As the FAW embraced the achievements of their national team, they also embraced the culture of their fans. They underwent a rebranding in which the Welsh language came to the fore, which has been warmly welcomed by the Red Wall.

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There’s a kind of poetry in the echoes, isn’t there? A small nation striving to be heard, striving for political fair play and greater self governance – and the struggle for success of its national football team. 

It’s not surprising, then, that Dafydd Iwan’s moving ‘song of nationalism to raise the spirits’ has become such a popular football anthem in Wales. It’s almost forty years since we first heard ‘Yma o Hyd’, but it’s still so relevant – and it’s found its way into the hearts of a new generation, uniting Welsh football supporters from all walks of life in cultural self-confidence.

As our diolch to Dafydd and to the Red Wall, here are some free lessons that will help you understand and be able to use every word in ‘Yma o Hyd’. Wonderfully, they’ve been recorded by Dafydd Iwan himself, and by Meinir Gwilym (another enormously popular Welsh singer-songwriter).

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