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Welsh Symbols

The Welsh national symbols are the red dragon, the leek, and the daffodil—a strange mixture. Just how did these come about? No one knows for sure, but there are various theories.

Welsh Flag flying One theory for the use of the dragon as a symbol was the legend of King Arthur and his father Uther Pendragon. Apparently, Uther Pendragon saw a dragon in the sky that predicted his kingship, and Arthur later incorporated the dragon into his own crest. It was also rumoured that Merlin summoned the red dragon to defeat a white dragon, a symbol of the invading Saxons.

Another explanation is that the dragon symbol was brought into the country by the Romans. Still another explanation was that Llewelyn ap Gruffudd was said to have the head of a dragon. Then there is the story of St George slaying a dragon, as England did to Wales. In England the dragon appeared on the arms of the Tudor kings, whose dynasty was begun by the Welsh king, Henry VII. Welsh poets saw the dragon as a symbol of bravery and used it in their poetry. The dragon began to show itself in the early 1800’s in various Welsh regalia. It was not until 1959 that it became the official symbol of Wales and was used on the flag.

The daffodil—cenhinen Pedr—and the leek—cenhinen—have a common name in the Welsh language. Leeks (green and white in colour) were eaten from the earliest times and were thought to bring about happiness and health. A leek was worn as a battle symbol in the 6th century when, according to legend, St David told the Welsh to put one in their headgear during battle so they wouldn’t be mistaken for Saxons. For centuries, the leek has been a staple of the Welsh diet and was once regarded as an essential ingredient in the diet of the Welsh saints and general public, especially during Lent. It was also widely used in divination and most importantly for David, was a symbol of purity and immortality.

Henry VIII gave a leek to his daughter on March 1st, St David’s Day. St David is the patron saint of Wales. So it is possible the symbol of the leek sprang from this association.

Daffodils National Botanic Garden courtesy the garden The daffodil is a more recent national symbol. The only Welsh born prime minister, David Lloyd George, a liberal, served from 1916 to 1922. It is said that he wore a daffodil on St David’s Day, and that it was used in 1911 during the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. Both the leek and the daffodil are now associated with St David’s day. In the spring wild daffodils line the banks of some Welsh hedgerows, canals, and rivers. March and April are the best months to spot them.

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