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In death, as in life, Rhodri Morgan was still creating Wales

31 May 2017 3 minute read
Picture: The National Assembly

It could be argued that Rhodri Morgan’s funeral today was the second state funeral in the history of Wales. Well, since some form of self-government was restored at least.

The first was Ray Gravell’s funeral at Stradey Park. With ten thousand mourners, a flag-draped coffin, and a guard of honour, mourning became a collective national event.

The man who led the tributes that day, First Minister Rhodri Morgan, was today being led to rest.

This funeral, like Ray’s, was held at a symbol of Welshness (the Senedd, this time, rather than the rugby field). Once again, there was a dragon draped coffin. Calon Lân was sung and the Welsh language was prominent.

In death, as in life, Rhodri Morgan was hard at work creating a sense of what it means to be Welsh in the 21st century.

As any scholar on the subject will tell you, these kinds of collective ceremonies and the familiar symbols used within them are all-important to the creation of the communal bonds that hold a people together.

His funeral added another layer of history and gravitas to the young institution he cultivated like one of the cabbages on his allotment through its difficult first years.

What was missing today, as it always has been since the start of devolution, was the attention of mass media. The funeral should have been broadcast live on the BBC Wales, or at least S4C.

News about our national institution continues to reach the eyes and ears of a not-so-national audience.

A national myth

It could, of course, be argued that Rhodri Morgan’s fast-growing reputation at the ‘father of Wales’ is rather overblown. The reality, as it always is, was much more complicated.

But another thing that is common to all nations is that they create myths, and they create heroes that serve as a simple way of encapsulating their national story.

Rhodri Morgan, our first First Minister, now joins that pantheon of marble figures at Cardiff city hall, alongside Glyndwr, Llywelyn, and Boudica.

I’m sure he would have found the prospect quite amusing. But Rhodri, better than many other politicians, understood the power of national sentiment.

He knew that he, as First Minister, was re-shaping what Wales meant. And now Wales will re-shape what Rhodri Morgan meant, in return.

Ifan Morgan Jones

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Neil Evans
Neil Evans
7 years ago

Worth thinking about Lloyd George’s funeral. in Llanystumdwy (turned down Westminster Abbey coffin carried on farm cart, Home Guard the military aspect. Entirely in Welsh. Maintained his image and cult in death.

7 years ago

Good point Ifan. I think the hagiography of Rhodri Morgan is a little over done. He didn’t want a referendum on further powers but was forced into it by Plaid and he did next to nothing for promoting Welsh medium education. But he did embrace devolution and also make good use of its limited powers to make a difference such as no PFI. I’m very glad to see the Red Dragon draped coffin and the ceremony at the Senedd. He deserved it and, as you say, it makes a strong statement that Welsh Labour (forget the Kinnocks and Bryants) identify… Read more »

7 years ago

I think Gwynfor Evans funeral could also be identified as a ‘state’ event, attended by Carwyn if I recall correctly. Televised etc.

Dafydd ap Gwilym
7 years ago

A balanced and well put offering on the passiing of a Cymrieg statesman. When looking at history, albeit recent, because that’s what it is now, everyone is naturally gifted with hindsight. However, anyone who studies history should know not to look at past events soley with eyes of the present. That can give a distorted view. What some of us have witnessed several times in our lives are historical events on a huge or small scale, yet of significance. The passing of Rhodri Morgan is undoubtedly, for Cymru, lilnked to one of these. I only hope that like Gorbachev, with… Read more »

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