In 1965 a small Welsh village in Gwynedd, north Wales was drowned to quench the thirst of an English city.
In 1956, a private bill sponsored by Liverpool City Council was brought before Parliament with the intention of backhandedly developing a water reservoir in the Welsh valley of Tryweryn for the sole intention of supplying water to Liverpool. The proposal included the flooding of the Welsh speaking village, Capel Celyn; one of the last remaining Welsh only speaking communities left. By seeking an Act of Parliament, Liverpool council would not require planning consent from Welsh local authorities and could avoid a planning enquiry at which arguments against the proposal would have undoubtedly been expressed. At the time of the Parliamentary vote in 1957, 35 out of 36 Welsh Members of Parliament opposed the bill (the other abstained), but a show of support from English MP’s meant that the bill was passed. As a result, the idyllic village of Capel Celyn was sentenced to death by submergence under millions of gallons of water.
For eight long years, the community fought to prevent the destruction of their community. Public demonstrations were held in Liverpool in a desperate attempt to plead for retention of their homes. In response to the proposed bill, Emyr Llewelyn, Owain Williams and John Albert formed the controversial group ‘Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru’. On the night of 9th February 1963, the three men travelled to the construction site of the reservoir dam and planted a 5lb bomb at an electricity transformer which was powering the entire project. Although immensely bold, their actions were unsuccessful in the overall aim of halting the project. Within a week of the bomb explosion Emyr Llewelyn was picked up by the police and after refusing to name his co-conspirators he was sentenced to twelve months in jail.
There are many suggestions that Tryweryn was the watershed moment in Welsh history which led to the rise of Plaid Cymru as a political force, renewing nationalist support and ultimately paving the way for ‘y Llywodraeth Cymru’ (the Welsh Government). The voices of Wales were not heard between 1956 and 1965 but today, we finally have our platform from which our voices can have power.
In 2005, Liverpool City Council issued an apology to the people of the Tryweryn valley but many felt that this “useless political gesture came far too late”. This act of barbarism displaced a community, drowned their memories and left painful scars on the hearts of ‘Y Cymry’.
The ‘COFIWCH DRYWERYN’ motto is famous for its graphitised imprint on the wall of a ruined cottage outside of Aberystwyth. It serves as a message to all Welsh-speakers: remember the destruction of that Welsh-speaking community, remember what that valley went through, and above all else, remember to safeguard ‘yr iaith Gymraeg’.
By Meryl Hanmer