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Dragons and druids – what perceptions of Wales can tell us about its diaspora

01 Jun, 2021

“Welsh is of the soil, this island, the senior language of the men of Britain; and Welsh is beautiful.” – JRR Tolkein.

 We all know how cool the Welsh flag is. Yes, it’s very hard to draw when you are in primary school but when you consider most countries just have three bands of colours symbolising their country, or perhaps some crosses or stars to have a massive red dragon on ours makes it one of the most of distinctive in the world. Yes, we might be biased but it is not just us that think that it is something special. In 2019, Ranker, a worldwide digital polling website, asked the population of the planet to cast their vote on "The Coolest National Flags." And Wales won!

And a new research report from digital anthropologists sapient.d that surveyed the English-language Welsh diaspora has found that Y Ddraig Goch is the number one cultural symbol identified with Wales. No surprise perhaps, but the data does throw up some interesting perspectives on what people identify with in regards to Wales. After the dragon, it’s the Welsh language, followed by druids, poetry, rugby and football.

And a new research report from digital anthropologists sapient.d that surveyed the English-language Welsh diaspora has found that Y Ddraig Goch is the number one cultural symbol identified with Wales.

Understanding cultural symbols is key in developing powerful and effective communications, branding and creative elements. And, yes, certainly many Welsh products feature the dragon, and why wouldn’t you when it’s such a powerful and recognisable symbol? But the Welsh language isn’t always as visible, and perhaps here is a missed opportunity with many of the responders to the research identifying strongly with its originality and being particularly proud to point out that it is not Gaelic but Brythonic in origin.

Druids as a cultural symbol is an interesting and perhaps surprising third place on the list. In Wales, they are most closely associated with the annual National Eisteddfod, the largest and oldest celebration of Welsh culture. Less rarely is their distinct, imagery of robes and harps used in marketing or communications. An opportunity here perhaps!

Giles Crouch, Chief Information Officer of sapient.d told me a little about the place of druids in the survey; “The high interest in Druidry did surprise me a little too, but then there’s been a run of very popular fantasy TV shows, Game of Thrones being the most obvious, and I think this drives some of this interest. We also see a drive towards Buddhism a few years ago, but now we are seeing a real growth of interest in Paganism and some older spirituality and religion.”

Wales has a long tradition of poetry, and the work of Dylan Thomas remains particularly popular in North America but the continuation of this connection between Wales and the written word remains strong and one hopes that new and contemporary voices can continue to resonate across the Atlantic.

Digging deeper into the perception of the dragon as the number one symbol of Wales, the Ekspansiv data sees how it compares to other lead symbols of the Celtic Nations. The two most recognisable Celtic symbols by popularity are the Irish harp (beloved of Guinness and many, many other products) and the triskele (three interlocking spirals) which is also closely related to Ireland. In third place is the Welsh dragon, with its recognition having grown steadily each year since 2015. Other symbols that are linked to Wales, as well as the other Celtic Nations, the Green Man (with its profile raised by the annual music and arts festival in the Brecon Beacons held since 2003) and the Celtic Knot also continue to resonate strongly.

In 2019, Ranker, a worldwide digital polling website, asked the population of the planet to cast their vote on "The Coolest National Flags." And Wales won!

The research also looks at cultural associations – they are different to symbols in that they reflect content and deeper cultural meanings that a diaspora will engage with. Literature tops the interest chart – books and related texts associated with Welsh culture, with the Mabinogion being chiefly mentioned. Giles Crouch tells me that for many of the diaspora it’s the first Welsh book they have on their shelves.

Druidry makes an appearance in second place, with its discussion not typically religious but related to literature, the Eisteddfod, Celtic culture and some increased interest in pagan practices. Thinkers came third followed by intellectual, music and poetry.

Walter May, founder of Global Welsh, the global community for Welsh people & friends of Wales since its launch in 2017, is seeing an increasing confidence in the use of these symbols; “As many in our diaspora have realised, being Welsh is different to other parts of the UK let alone the wider world. Language, be that Welsh colloquialisms, or the Welsh language itself, is an obvious way of identifying with your country of birth or ancestry. The longer people spend away from Wales they are often surprised by a latent desire to retain and enhance their Welsh identity, cultural symbols and sporting prowess which are very powerful ways to celebrate 'Welshness'.”

It’s a fascinating survey, and we can see that whilst there is a solid bedrock of imagery and cultural associations with Wales that can be used, there are also some surprises in the high connection with Druidry and plenty of ideas for those looking to build a distinctive and memorable Welsh brand for the North American diaspora.

This is the second in a series of articles showcasing the key findings of the Digital Diaspora report. Read more.

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