Local residents in Frongoch (near Y Bala, North Wales) organised a series of events over the weekend of June 10th and 11th 2016 to commemorate the Frongoch Interment camp and the 1,800 Irish men who were interned there after the Easter Rising in 1916. The organisers stated;
“Sadly, this important part of Welsh and Irish history, although well-known in Ireland, is little known in Wales. To mark the centenary of the arrival of the prisoners and the contribution to Irish freedom that they made, a commemorative event will take place.”
The majority of the prisoners interned had not taken part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin but were arrested from all over Ireland. Their time in Frongoch together was invaluable in raising morale, discussing tactics and planning for the next phase of the fight for Irish freedom.
A contingent of Celtic League Irish branch members attended the events where they joined with members of the Welsh branch, met with local activists and partook in the parades in Y Bala and at Frongoch. Many other Irish came along for the commemoration including some whose relatives had been interned in the camp.
On the evening of 10th a lecture was given by Professor Terence Dooley of Maynooth University, Ireland. He outlined the events leading up to the Easter Rising in Dublin but took the same revisionist standpoint as the Irish government by arguing that a plurality of commemorative events, including ones for the British who suppressed the Rising, had been a positive factor. In dealing with matters within the camp no mention was made of one of the key forms of resistance offered by the prisoners to the authorities – their refusal to identify themselves to protect those who had lived or worked in Britain, or had been born there, and were therefore liable to be conscripted. Dooley also understated the poor conditions and atrocious food in the camp. Unfortunately, there was no question and answer session afterwards.
On the Saturday morning a parade was held through the main street of Y Bala. This was led by a banner ‘1916 – 2016 Fron-goch, Ollscoil na Réabhlóid (sic)’ carried by two of the organisers of the commemoration and accompanied by Lyn Ebenezer, author of the book ‘Frongoch Camp 1916 – the Birth of the IRA’ (see Carn 164 and News Archives). The Liverpool Irish Drum and Flute Band came close behind (see photo below).
The Celtic League contingent then followed led by the Irish Tricolour and the Draig Goch, then the flags of the Rising (Starry Plough, Cumann na mBan flag and Irish Republic flag) and, finally, the flag of the Celtic League. Up to 200 marched from Ireland and Wales and near the rear came the Cambria Band. A second parade also took place later in the morning at Frongoch.
At Frongoch a primary school, Ysgol Bro Tryweryn, now exists on the site of the old South Camp. The staff and pupils had organised an excellent exhibition in the school which told the story of Frongoch camp and created models of the camp as it existed in 1916. Photographs of the camp at the time were also displayed. See http://www.hiraeth.wales/frongoch/ for an outline map of Frongoch camp. The blue star on the map is the layby location of the commemoration plaque erected in the early nineties by the Liverpool branch of Conradh na Gaeilge. The plaque is now joined by a permanent information board erected by the local committee.
In the early afternoon came the official speeches by the Local Committee Chairman, a representative of the Irish Ambassador, the Head Teacher of Ysgol Bro Tryweryn and Lyn Ebenezer. The author noted that there were still Welsh Republicans about as the Irish Ambassador’s representative had been booed by some of the crowd when he mentioned his attendance at the English Queen’s 90th birthday celebration!
The children of the school sang an especially composed song about Frongoch and a Welsh male voice choir also performed. Tours of the Frongoch camp site were provided and there was entertainment later in the afternoon by Welsh and Irish groups and by a Welsh folk rock group in the evening in Y Bala.
The event received some funding from the Welsh Government. However, the government representative on the committee had decreed that Adam Philips, founder of Band Cambria, would not be allowed to speak. This occurred despite Philips having pioneered commemoration parades at Frongoch in the last few years with assistance from Aled Cottle. Rather ironic as he had received a letter of praise from another part of the government complimenting him for his work in promoting pride in Wales through Balchder Cymru events. But Adam, not to be outdone, gave his own speech after the official event and asked those who were relatives of those Irish interned in Frongoch to come forward and they were very happy to do so and name their relative.
All in all, a weekend to remember. A special thanks must go to the local members of the organising committee and Siop Awen Merion for their help. It is only through attending such events and visiting each other’s countries that we gain a real appreciation of the culture and politics of our Celtic cousins.
Posted by Cathal Ó Luain, Irish Branch member and CL Convenor