Eileen Beasley, a pioneering Welsh language activist, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 91 on Sunday.
Mrs. Beasley, along with her husband Trefor, attained near-legendary status among Welsh activists when the couple decided to convert their deeply held commitment to the language into direct action.
In the 1950′s, you see, Welsh had no official status or protections. Despite the fact that 90% of the Beasleys’ neighbors in the village of Llangennech spoke the Welsh language, all local government business was conducted in English. 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.
As a result, the couple was hauled to court repeatedly over a period of 8 years. In lieu of the unpaid taxes, bailiffs came more than once for their personal possessions, at one point leaving the empty room barren of everything except a jar of homemade jam. In 1960, the Beasley’s were finally successful, and the council agreed to send bills in both Welsh and English.
In an obituary posted on Wales Online, Adam Phillips, chairman of Balchder Cymru, called Mrs. Beasley the “Rosa Parks” of the Welsh language movement, saying
“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. It’s people like these activists that make things happen. She and her husband did it peacefully, but suffered for it.”
The Beasleys’ protest inspired other Welsh language activists, leading to the founding of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) and eventually to a variety of political and cultural gains for the Welsh language, such as the passage of the Welsh Language Act in 1993.
Former Cymdeithas yr Iaith chair Angharad Tomos told the BBC that the Beasleys ” lit the flame of hope” with their fight for Welsh, which “persevered for a decade at a time when such action was unheard of in Wales.”