Letter From Frongoch



From top: Roadside memorial at Frongoch, Merionethshire, North Wales  Dan Boyle

After the Easter Rising hundreds of Irish ‘prisoners of war’ were sent to Frongoch, a distillery-turned-internment camp in Wales.

All that is left is a fading plaque.

Dan Boyle writes:

Last Sunday on the 100th anniversary of The 1916 Rising, I made a planned visit to Frongoch. There was once housed an internment camp where more than 1800 Irish prisoners from The Rising were taken.

What strikes you on arriving is the sparsely populated isolation of the place. What exists there is a primary school and a small shop/cafe. Nothing else.

The road it is on links the not exactly sprawling but picturesque metropolis of Bala and the eerie destination of Trawsfynedd, which hosts one of the two (now decommissioned) nuclear plants in Wales.

The region seems to have been ideal for generations of decision makers as the best repository for social, political and environmental dumping.

It seems there was once a more thriving Frongoch. The internment camp had once been a distillery. I imagine some Whitehall wag thought this was the most appropriate place to send a small town of bothersome Irish people to.

Nothing exists now of that distillery or the prison it became. There is a just an empty field. A thought occurs that like Hitler’s Berlin bunker, someone has decided it should not be seen as it once was, lest it becomes a place of unwelcome pilgrimage.

On the roadside as part of a parking lay by a memorial stone has been erected. The plaque has lost its lustre. On it a simple sentence of historical fact has been embossed. It is in Irish, Welsh and English.

At its base there are a smattering of ageing flowers, a plastic tricolour and a laminated Declaration of The Republic. The impression given is that of a handful of souls who want it to be remembered, with no body being officially responsible.

For the few brief years of its history as a place of incarceration, Frongoch seemed to almost transcend its grimness. It became known as the University of the Irish Republic.

These idealistic young men, once detached from blood lust, sought to imagine a new nation. For the most part they succeeded.

The place where they plied their learning deserves more recognition than it has. Perhaps the thought of the British Empire beginning to collapse from within Britain itself is not a narrative some may want to hear. We should hope that relations between our nations have since evolved beyond that.

Separatism as a movement has gained a lot traction in recent years in the UK. I can’t see any real parallels with the Brexiters of today. They are seeking to renew old dreams of past glory into a new world of splendid isolation. The internees of Frongoch were more intent on bringing a new nation to stand with and work alongside other nations.

I remain uncomfortable with the use of violence to further any political end. I have come to accept that the context of then cannot be applied to now. That tolerance does not, nor should it apply, to those from 1970 who sought to emulate the Frongoch generation.

That generation was engaged in a programme of nation building, the other has been an exercise of national frustration.

Dan Boyle is former Green Party TD and campaign manager works with the Greens in Wales. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

20 thoughts on “Letter From Frongoch

  1. leesider

    once detached from blood lust……?! That migth need further explanation.

    I think BS has a really high standard of people writing really interesting columns each week. Dan Boyle is the reliable exception to that.

    1. Dan Boyle

      I would take exception to that if I thought you had read any of it. Still I’m glad your knee still jerks.

    2. Owen O'F

      jesus. a sea of Leather Jacket Guy posts, and you pick out an interesting, informative post about Irish history to dump on?

      1. leesider

        I know what you mean but I only look at the articles, not so much at the rest.

        I don’t think it was that interesting or informative to be honest. I knew about Frongoch and didn’t understand whether Dan wanted to get across a central point or what. I probably shouldn’t have been so harsh in any case. I didn’t mean to troll or insult Dan. I honestly didn’t like the article.

    3. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

      I think the internet has a really high standard of people writing really interesting comments.. Broadsheet is the reliable exception to that.

    4. Kieran NYC

      “BS has a really high standard of people writing really interesting columns each week.”


      Move over, LJG. THAT’S comedy!

    5. leesider

      Sorry Dan. I just honestly didn’t enjoy the articles I have read by you.

      I did read this article. I then commented straight away – if that is what you mean when you say knee jerk then you are correct.

      You could have just explained what you were talking about when you said “…once detached from blood lust…” Maybe it would make more sense then.

      1. They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab

        Dan’s articles are complete junk

        most of the time I just gloss over them

  2. Turgenev

    I hope the detachment from blood lust stops Mr Boyle from attending commemorations of wars and revolutions in London, Washington, Paris, etc.

    How is it that some people draw their skirts aside from the fight for freedom, while happily taking advantage of the freedom fought for…

  3. scottser

    I usually hate your posts, but I found this one very interesting. I never knew about Frongoch- fair play Dan..

  4. Raskol

    “We should hope that relations between our nations have since evolved beyond that.”

    Beyond what, remembering and bringing up what you had just remembered and brought up?

  5. Terry Crone

    If fellas didn’t know about Frongogh (I’m surprised wasn’t on school curriculum in south), I suppose they’re even less likely to know about what happened in the north east of Ireland from ’69, the northern nationalist refugees, etc

    I don’t say this to be argumentative, it’s just a sobering thought that the Falls Curfew, whole streets burnt, brutal police incursions, etc, probably isn’t known about in the South – no wonder the Sindo find it so easy to run their SF-hating campaign

    I’m not justifying anything – walk a mile in other fella’s shoes, etc etc

    1. Dan Boyle

      Some know. Wouldn’t see it as justification for appalling deeds that were in justification. Sindo is OTT but PIRA can’t be immune from historical analysis.

      1. Terry Crone

        As I say above, not justifying anything

        Provos should indeed be subject to historical analysis, rigorously so.

        Indeed, the President is likely right – the problem with revisionism is that it has been far too limited

        One wonders what Dan Breen, Liam Mellows, Collins, et al, would have done if they had been young men in the Bogside in ’69, whether they would have been peaceful, Gerrymandered into a permanent minority in their own country & violently suppressed

        One could argue that the Sindo isn’t harmlessly OTT, but systemic in a dangerous politics that says Sands was criminal whereas the lads of Frongogh weren’t. Dangerous because it hinders the absorption of northern nationalists, & other C20th energies, into wholly peaceful politics, casting them beyond the Pale. Yes, one can point to things like the Disappeared, but those who look beyond the defused version of the Tan War as a cross between Roy of the Rovers & costume drama can see that those atrocities happened in Cork too. In the ’50s, FF TDs were chuckling about disappearing people in the good old days.

        One final point – all armies attract bad as well as good people – legal armies do, so illegal ones are bound to.

  6. Truth in the News

    Yes transplant the Micheal Collins, Dan Breens and the rest of them to the
    North in 1968 and had they and the generations before them undergone the discrimination implemented by the Unionists since 1920’s it would not have taken
    to ’68…..the chattering elite that complain about revolt in the North, are they very
    class that occupied seats of power and privelage in the South and would do nothing lest it would jepordise their hold on Power…..if it was right in 1916 how
    come it was wrong in 1968.

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