Is History The Past?


One of the many highlights at this year's Plaid Cymru Ysgol Haf in Bala was the visit to Frongoch and Tryweryn organised by Dafydd Williams of the Plaid Cymru History Society. We had never been to either place before, but were pleased to join the full coach party. We were ably guided by Coun. Elwyn Edwards who not only 'represents' both places on Gwynedd county council but his family is from the drowned village of Cwm Celyn.

Perhaps the most noticeable feature of Frongoch is that there is now so little to see. The camp's significance as Ireland's "University of Revolution" has been ably told by Lyn Ebenezer, Sean O'Mahony and others. There's also the 2007 S4C documentary . Despite it incarcerating the revolutionaries of the 1916 Easter Rising and future leaders of the Irish War of Independence, the only site marker is a small plaque at the side of the A4212, unveiled in 2002. Yet, Elwyn told us that Irish people visit the site all the time. Frongoch's significance, not only for Ireland, but other nations struggling for freedom, surely deserves greater recognition? At least, the Ddraig Goch and the Irish tricolour should fly permanently side by side! We should also recognise its social, linguistic and tourist potential for this part of Meirionydd, whose citizens were apparently friendly to its political prisoners.

It should also be on any national tour of significant political sites for its historical and contemporary significance. Throughout Europe, small and middle-size sub-state nations are successfully striving towards political autonomy, even member state status. All this is being achieved without violence. The Arab nation-states are also striving towards dignity, democracy, social justice and, yes, independence; sometimes peacefully (Tunisia and Egypt), sometimes violently (Libya) and elsewhere (Bahrain, Syria) uncertainly. The imperially-resisted and eventually bloody fight for Irish independence can still be studied for its "do's and don'ts". After all, they are our other near neighbour.

Of course, these principles also apply to Trwyeryn, the ruthless flooding of which by Liverpool City Council in 1965, we surely must commemorate in 2015. It was, after all, the trigger for our current arc of history. Gwynfor Evans' Carmarthen by-election victory followed a year later. In commemoration, the national movement must also bring to fruition the spectacular sculpture created by John Meirion Morris  in time for the 50th anniversary. With water increasing in importance as one of our many national, natural resources, we need to educate our citizens of its value and potential. The way that Trwyeryn was seized, colonial-style, is also essential to understanding that and similar issues today.

We are always pleased to commemorate significant events and places in our national story: Penyberth and Cilmeri as well as Tonypandy 1910, Llanelli 1911, Greenham and many, many more. But as a nation we must do better. The sad loss of Rhobert ap Steffan who, amongst many other things, has given us the splendid statue of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd ap Fychan in Llanymddyfri should surely spur all of us on to mark the iconic moments, locations and personalities that still resonate today. Self respecting nations do this as a matter of routine.

And we must not image that history is somehow neutral. We would argue that our predominant national school of history is firmly British Labour. Its most well known exponents are the resident 'experts' routinely called on by the media here to comment on contemporary events through the lens of history. Their presumption is that 'Welsh history' only started with the industrial revolution; anything else is peripheral. They equate the 'true' beginning of our history with the end of agrarian culture and thinking. Their 'Wales' too is mostly confined an imperial 'South Wales'.
This predominance allows them to place the British labour movement - and the Labour and Communist parties - at the centre of their narrative of history. This narrow construct, of course, buttresses the political hegemony of today's British Labour Party here. For them, crudely, the wedge issues are 'South Wales' / 'North Wales', modernism contra anti-modernism, socialism contra conservatism, internationalism (sic) contra nationalism.

As part of the current (re-) building of our political initiative, the national movement needs to foster an alternative Welsh National school of history, from the bottom up if needs be.

Alan Sandry and Syd Morgan formed the Welsh Nationalism Foundation in 2008 to research and debate contemporary civic nationalism here and in the rest of the EU. The Foundation is affiliated to the Centre Maurits Coppieters, a pan-European political foundation which is part of the European Free Alliance family.

© Welsh Nationalism Foundation, 2011