Woman called ‘Rosa Parks of Wales’ dies
The woman called the “Rosa Parks of Wales” died earlier this week, decades after losing nearly everything in an effort to put the Welsh language on equal footing with English in her native land.
Eileen’s Beasley’s fight to have her tax bill printed in Welsh left her with an empty house – literally – as bailiffs took everything of value from the home of her and her husband, including wedding gifts and the carpets.
Adam Phillips, chairman of Balchder Cymru (Pride of Wales), said Beasley’s contribution to the Welsh language bears comparison with Rosa Parks’ efforts for the civil rights movement in America when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.
“To have bailiffs come into your house and take everything you own because you refuse to pay on a point of principle – imagine the shame of that in those days with people looking down their noses at you,” he told WalesOnline.
“It’s people like these activists that make things happen,” Phillips added. “She and her husband did it peacefully, but suffered for it.”
Beasley and her husband Trefor became leading campaigners for the right to use Welsh, beginning in the 1950s.
At that time Welsh had no official status or protection. Despite the fact that 90 percent of the Beasleys’ neighbors in the village of Llangennech spoke the Welsh language, all local government business was conducted in English, according to The Language Blog.
“In protest, Eileen Beasley and her husband simply refused to pay the tax bills sent (in English) from their local council until the bills became available in Welsh as well,” the blog added. “They refused to pay their tax bills until they were written in Welsh.”
This refusal led to the couple being taken to court 16 times over the course of eight years, according to WalesOnline.
The couple finally won their battle in 1960, at which point the district council in the Beasleys’ area agreed to print tax bills bilingually in Welsh and English.
The protest helped lead to the creation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society).
The Welsh Language Society describes itself as a pressure group campaigning for the future of the Welsh language.
Established in 1962, its efforts have resulted in many gains for the language, including two Welsh language acts, bilingual road signs and the establishment of S4C, the Welsh language television channel.
The Welsh Language Board indicated in 2004 that nearly 22 percent of the population of Wales was able to speak the language, which represented an increase of nearly 1 percent from three years earlier.
“I would call her the founder of Cymdeithas yr Iaith because what she did in 1952 in asking for a Welsh form – nobody had ever done that before,” former Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg chair Angharad Tomos said.