The tiny towns 7,000 miles from the UK where all the locals speak Welsh

With Welsh nationalists keen to promote uptake of the Welsh language, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was confined to within the country’s borders – but the dwindling tongue of Cymru is still going strong in a number of towns near Antarctica.

Patagonia, in Southern Argentina, is home to a few towns where Welsh is officially the second language, and the reason is a very historical one.

Gaiman, Trelew and Trevelin are the urban areas which the 70,000-strong Welsh-Patagonian population is centred on.

There are estimated to be between 1,500 and 5,000 Welsh speakers in this quirky corner of the globe – 7,000 miles away from Wales.

The whole Welsh-Patagonian set-up is known as “Y Wladfa” – translating as “the colony” – and has a number of Welsh features across the land, including windmills and chapels. Many settlements along the Lower Chubut Valley also have Welsh names.

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They really do take Welshness seriously – there are three primary schools that teach equally in Spanish and Welsh, including Trelew’s Ysgol yr Hendre, which translates as ‘School of the Old Homestead/Dwelling”.

The school was funded by former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley and artist Sir Kyffin Williams.

Every year there is a festival – ‘Eisteddfod” – that takes place in Trevelin, featuring “haunting Welsh folk tunes” and poetry in the “unique Spanish-accented Welsh of the Patagonians”, explained a BBC reporter who attended a previous edition. The festivals also include prose, musical performances, arts, folk dances, photography and filmmaking, among others.

The bizarre Welsh-Patagonian connection began way back in the middle of the 19th Century, when disgruntled Welsh folks decided to set up a new colony because of fears that their country was assimilating into England with the oncoming industrial revolution.

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Michael D Jones, a Welsh nationalist from Bala, called for a “little Wales beyond Wales”. He had considered various areas around the world but was wary of moving to an English-speaking country like the United States, after observing how quickly people lost their Welsh identity in America.

New Zealand, Australia and even Palestine were considered, but they opted for Patagonia because of a strong deal with the Argentine government – Argentina had claimed the unpopulated Chubut region (where the Welsh would settle), but it was contested with Chile, so by populating it with Welsh-Argentinians, they had more authority over the land.

The very first boat took 150 people, but more and more came. Nowadays, every year in late July and early August, planes full of Welsh-Patagonians touch down in London for the Welsh Eisteddfod festival – the people generally can’t understand a word of English, but once they’re across the border in Wales, they’re back at home.

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