Hiraeth: Episode 2 – Land of my Fathers

Come and explore the meaning and different aspects of the Welsh word ‘hiraeth’. In todays episode we focus on land of my fathers.

This episode is the second episode of a 7 part series. You can find the subjects of and the links to the other episodes at the end of this blog post.


Find the Hope Cymru Youtube channel here.


The world is haunted by nostalgia, grief and yearning and has an irresistible longing to return to a place of safety.

To people who knew and loved us. To a golden age in a country where we belonged in the past. To get back to that magical place with the nicest name there is, that there is nowhere else like.

The world wants to go home.

The global pandemic has been a rude awakening. Compelled to stay at home, we have discovered that the places we have mortgages on and live our lives in, are not really home at all.


Wales is a land with a long and proud history.

Cymru, the land of friends or fellow countrymen- strong and independent, with its rich heritage and old legends, of Arthur fighting back hostile invaders, the days when Welshmen ruled the historic tribes of the Britons as Princes of Wales.  

The first industrial nation in the world, with hundreds of thousands from across the British Isles relocating to find work in its burgeoning industries.

The world’s foremost producer of iron, sending railway tracks around the globe, steel production pioneered at Blaenavon, soon used across the world. 

By the early twentieth century, Cardiff & Barry were the largest coal-exporting ports anywhere and the Cardiff Coal Exchange once set the world price for steam-coal. 

Meanwhile, the slate industry of North Wales became the world’s biggest supplier and provided roofs for homes and factories across the British Empire. 

The first successful steam locomotive in Merthyr Tydfil, the world’s first public passenger railway in the Mumbles, and the construction of engineering masterpieces such as the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Menai and Conwy Bridges. 

Welshmen pioneered major social reforms of the 20th century; Lloyd George with the old-age pension, and Aneurin Bevan, and the National Health Service. 

The recession of the early 1980s did however have a devastating impact on the Welsh economy, whose heavy industries were already shrinking, with job losses and rising unemployment.

And yet today, although there are challenges in education and relative income, there are also lower overall unemployment rates with growing diversification, especially in the flourishing film industry.


Hiraeth is a difficult word to fully capture, but it has been defined as:

a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past”

With the word “hiraeth”, the Welsh have captured the longing of countless millions around the world for everything that the word, “home”, represents.

And it was the great-grandson of a Welsh farmer, born in Belfast in 1898, a man named C S Lewis, who would explain it best. 

On the 8th of June 1941, amidst of the ravages of World War 2, Lewis delivered a famous address entitled “The Weight of Glory”, in which he dug deep into his Welsh past and powerfully analysed the world’s homesickness. 

“In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country,” he said, “…I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I’m trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you: the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like ‘nostalgia’ and ‘romanticism’… When, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… (It is) the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.”

The nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of our past, haunts us and is so frustrating and bitter-sweet. 

Some cultures like the Japanese emphasise the sweetness, as they exclaim, ‘Natsukashii,’ when they hear a song they remember from their youth, thankful for once having had the experience at all. 

Others like the Portuguese emphasise the bitterness, with their Saudade, because these memories are of experiences which are truly lost. 

Bitter- sweet cherished memories, we do also want to go back to the people and places of our past, to go back home. But cannot get there. 

The home that we are trying to go back to always eludes us. The people and places of our past are so quickly gone. 

As James Baldwin in “Giovanni’s Room” observed: “You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you can never go back.” 

We know we cannot return to the moments we remember; no power of poetry or music can really wind back the hand of time to “the summer of 69” or to “when we were young.” 


Novalis once said, that ‘philosophy is really nostalgia, the desire to go home’. And yet philosophy cannot bring us home. 

Nor can we get back home by any amount of scientific endeavour, or the host of lucrative new developing ways, offering to retrace our steps for us and reconnect us with our past. 

We spend millions on the travel industry visiting our homelands to get in touch with our roots, websites and research groups offer to trace our family tree or analyse our DNA and reconnect us with our Celtic, Norman or Saxon past. 

And yet after the letter comes back, informing us that we were in fact one quarter Dutch, two thirds Chinese and one fifth Icelandic we feel further away from home than ever before.

Science no more than art can really bring us home. 

We want to get back home, and feel so strongly the nostalgia, the yearning and the grief, but we cannot get there, by anything that we do.

C S Lewis also powerfully observed, that even if we could by some new power, travel backwards through history, and go back to the lost places of our past, back to the home that we remembered, whose loss we grieve, even then we would be disappointed. 

The English romantic poet William Wordsworth, had tried countless times in countless ways over a long career to transport himself and his reader back to an innocent past in the lake district, with his flowing stanzas about daffodils and pensive moods.

“But this is all a cheat!” Lewis concluded, “If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but 

only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.”

He would have been pained to discover just how rose-tinted his own memories were. 

Our air-brushed family home is never how we pictured it and our childhood haunts are in the end disappointing; when we find the places of our past to be smaller and shabbier than we remembered, and not what we were looking for.

Even nostalgia is not all it used to be. 

Even the golden age of the fatherland would not be all that we had imagined. The golden days of our homeland only look golden in the rear view mirror. 

Woody Allen insightfully showed in his 2011 film “Midnight in Paris”, how, when struggling writer Gil, was transported back to the golden age of Parisienne culture, he discovered that he was only going back to another time which was hankering after better days that had been before.

We grieve for the lost places of our past, but when we go back to our family home or hometown or homeland, we don’t find what we were looking for; all we feel in the end is disappointment. 


It almost feels as if no real place can ever truly satisfy the yearnings of our hearts, only rekindle and awaken them, the sights, sounds and smells only arousing, and not fulfilling, the longing. 

We could, as so many do, let our “hiraeth”, our “nostalgia” and  “yearning,” become an end in itself. 

This is what the Portuguese ‘Saudade’ has become, “its object has become itself, it means ‘nostalgia for nostalgia’… It is no more the Loved One, or the ‘Return’ that is desired, now, desire desires desire itself or… as Florbela Espanca put it, “I long for longings I don’t have”.” 

When our hiraeth becomes an end in itself, it becomes a dead end.

It may sound like a romantic hill to die on, but it is at this point that C S Lewis made his most profound observation of all. 

That our “homesickness for a home to which we cannot return”, our “hiraeth”, so deep and so personal, at once impossible to deny and also to achieve, is a longing, not for any place or time or beauty we have ever known, but for something else- older, deeper and better which has been felt through these things of our past:

“these things are good images of what we really desire; but…it was not in them, it only came through them, for they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

It is very strange, that the Welsh along with people all across the world should feel this deep “hiraeth”- this nostalgia, yearning and grief, and the homesickness for a home to which we cannot return and which maybe never was. 

We seem to share a lingering memory of something else- older and greater and more primal than our families, our homes, and even the lands of our fathers, something that has been lost in the depths of time. 

We feel it at the family table on holidays or wandering the valleys in springtime; the ache for another home which we miss so much, which is not any of these things but whose beauty and power calls to us through these things, from somewhere beyond. 

The world wants to go home but the world cannot get back home. 

Why is this strange? 

Because, for well over a hundred years, we have been telling ourselves over and over again that there is nothing else- that our homes, families, countries are all that there is, and that we are at home and have been at home all along. 

And yet it doesn’t appear that we’ve really convinced anyone, let alone ourselves.


Hiraeth: Episode 1 – Homesickness

Hiraeth: Episode 3 – The Wrong Side of the Door

Hiraeth: Episode 4 – A Home Which Maybe Never Was

Hiraeth: Episode 5 – The Way Home

Hiraeth: Episode 6 – Into the Heart of Things

Hiraeth: Episode 7 – Home Sweet Home