Drown that poor thing

Put it out of its misery

Condemn it to its future

Deny its history

The story of the drowning of the Tryweryn valley following a private bill by Liverpool City Council was controversial. Indeed, it has remained a key part of the history of the landscape of North Wales and a symbol of Welsh resurgent national identity from the late 1950s and early 1960s. The drowning embodies innumerable tensions between England’s use of Welsh natural resources, specifically in the Dee Valley. Ensuring water for Liverpool, but strongly opposed through popular protests and by Welsh MPs, the valley was flooded in 1965 to create the reservoir Llyn Celyn. This process submerged a Welsh-speaking village including a chapel and cemetery of Capel Celyn and a number of surrounding farmsteads.

The stones from the chapel were reused to make a new memorial chapel. But what of the dead? Familes had the option of reburial, and 8 bodies were translated for burial elsewhere. Headstones were removed and the cemetery covered in gravel and concrete. The burial ground was briefly revealed by low water levels during the droughts of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Liverpool City Council formerly apologised in 2005 and there was a march in 2015 by former residents and their families. It has been called a defining moment in the history of Wales that was part of the roadmap towards devolution.

“Dusting the past off my mind”

Near the roadside that circumvents Llyn Celyn, there is a large stone with a bronze plaque fixed to it at the north end of the lay-by, commemorating the living and the dead of Hafod Fadog. This drowned farmstead had been a Quaker meeting place in the 17th and 18th centuries, with subsequently connections through emigration with Pennsylvania.

The irony is that the stone is a large quarried rock, similar to those used to create the dam that sealed the valley’s fate. Moreover, this monument brings to the fore the question of whether memorials seal historical processes as ‘complete’ and concede their effect as beyond question. Do they serve, as the Manic Street Preachers song lyric suggests, in the ‘dusting [of] the past off [the] mind’? Or do these memorials remind visitors of the cost in houses and land that comes in the quest for fresh drinkable water for Welsh towns and English cities? Is this memorial about remembering or forgetting?

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