Radical political analysis, commentary and discussion in Wales
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Wales's Guantanamo Bay and a drowned community

Two miles from the historic North Wales town of Bala is the tiny hamlet of Fron Goch. Blink and you'll miss it as you travel westwards on the A4212, past the beautiful Llyn Celyn. However, in the minute or so it takes to drive between Fron Goch and the lake you will have passed the sites of probably two of the greatest injustices ever to take place on Welsh soil.

In 1916, many Irishmen grew tired of the failure of various Irish Home Rule Bills in the British Parliament, the latest of which was the Government of Ireland Act 1914 which was never implemented due to the outbreak of the First World War. On Easter Monday 1916, an insurrection took place in Dublin mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic. The uprising was swiftly and brutally crushed by British military forces and 15 of the leaders of the uprising were executed.

The British authorities were then left with a problem of 1,863 prisoners taken during the uprising. Their solution was to ship the prisoners to the Welsh hamlet of Fron Goch and intern them in an abandoned distillery which had been turned into a barracks. Originally it had housed German prisoners of war but these were relocated and the Irish prisoners occupied the prison enduring insanitary conditions and malnourishment. The prisoners were held without charge for roughly eight months until they were finally released.

Plaque commemmorating
the Fron Goch camp
Ironically, the incarceration turned out to be a serious mistake by the Government because the time in the prison camp was used as a training camp for what was to become the IRA. Key leaders like Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith taught revolutionary tactics and the camp became known as "Sinn Féin University". Wales's own Guantanamo Bay turned out ultimately to have created a huge problem for the British Government.

The Irish prisoners had considerable contact with Welsh people working at the prison camp and they were both inspired and impressed by their love for their Welsh language. One Irish prisoner, Batt O'Connor recalled,
"We marvelled at the fine national spirit of those men, and their love for their native tongue, that they should have been able to preserve it, and they living alongside the English without even a bay between."
The second shameful act occurred more recently. In 1956, Liverpool city council sponsored a Private Parliamentary Bill to develop a water reservoir, the east end of which was a little over a mile from Fron Goch. Despite huge opposition, the Act was passed although all Welsh MPs voted against it, except for one Conservative MP. In 1965 the Treweryn Valley was flooded including the village of Capel Celyn which was completely lost, thus creating Llyn Celyn.

"Remember Tryweryn" graffiti
Again, Government steam-rollering of Welsh opinion resulted in outcomes that they would never have wished. It gave huge impetus to Welsh devolution; it resulted in the creation of a Welsh Secretary of State and Plaid Cymru gained its first Member of Parliament.

In the same way that the IRA emerged from the Fron Goch prison camp, Treweryn spawned similar freedom organisations: the Free Wales Army (FWA) and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru. Both were republican, nationalist organisations who were responsible for a number of subsequent bombing incidents. Interestingly, in 1966 the FWA took part in Irish celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, marching in Dublin, effectively renewing the Fron Goch link with the IRA.

In October 2005, Liverpool City Council issued a formal apology for the flooding which many felt was a 'useless political gesture which came far too late.'

Fron Goch may be a tiny and insignificant dot on a map, but in 2012 it stands as a warning to Governments, that they should learn the lessons of history: short term political expediency to the detriment of communities may lead ultimately to those communities achieving far more.