Two years ago I co-edited the book Public Archaeologies of Frontiers and Borderlands in which Dr David Howell published a fascinating chapter ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn: The Frontiers of Contemporary Welsh Nationalism, as seen through the Creation of Contested Heritage Murals’ (Howell 2020). This post wishes to reflect on further observations about the original mural and its proliferation, reflecting on examples from north-east Wales I know best.
Dr Howell introduces the protest movement surrounding the flooding of the Afon Tryweryn valley and its Welsh-speaking community of Capel Celyn which inspired the original Cofiwch Dryweryn (‘Remember Tryweryn’) mural appended to a Ceredigion roadside ruined cottage wall near Llanrhystud in 1962.
Howell’s chapter reviewed the complex biography of this original mural from its inception through its various adaptions, repainting, being vandalised and restored, and now possesses a partial official recognition through being included as a ‘modern commemorative monument’ in the Archwilio Historic Environment Record.
Howell then explored the many copycat murals over the years and specially the proliferation beyond murals as ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’, white-on-red, has become a slogan for Welsh independence used across media and globally, from car bumper stickers to social media. In this way, the protest, the original mural, and its manifold adaptions in fixed places and upon portable material cultures, have become an integral part of the Welsh Independence movement. The ‘submerged’ history of the valley and its largely Welsh-speaking community are symptomatic of a far longer and more complex history of English colonisation, subjugation and appropriation of the Welsh landscape and its resources but also of Welsh people and their language and cultural identity.
Notably, Howell focused on how the Cofiwch slogan and murals burgeoned in significance during recent years. Specifically, vandalism of the original memorial inspired a flurry of mural painting across Wales as part of the ‘Cofiwch’ movement during 2019 and 2020. Indeed, it has become integrated within the most recent manifestation of the Welsh independence vision: the ‘Yes Cymru’ campaign and movement.
Howell has not simply charted this phenomenon, his research has applied his archaeology and heritage expertise to mapping and evaluating over 115 locations with Cofiwch Dryweryn murals, considering where and how these murals are situated and where they are not as part of his Cofiwch Dryweryn Mapping Project. Check out his live Google map:
The Cofiwch Dryweryn Map
Howell argued that Cofiwch Dryweryn murals have come to materialise the otherwise intangible boundaries of ‘Welsh’ Wales in ongoing political discourses on nationalism, language, landscape and Welshness. Indeed, Howell suggested these murals are not simply reflective, but active in effecting and transforming attitudes towards Wales and the Welsh. Specifically, he argued the murals have played ‘a significant role in redefining ideas of contemporary Welsh identity’. This is because the murals have ‘re-bounded Wales’ through their semi-permanent presence as a collective distribution.
For a further reflection on the trauma of memory through the Cofiwch muruals, see this post by Cerri Subbe. Still, Howell’s account remains unique in tackling directly the mutability and enduring power of the material presence of the murals in the landscape in a fashion literary discourses cannot.
In a previous post I reflected on my encounters with Cofiwch Dryweryn murals, both by visiting Llyn Celyn as well as when encountering a temporary graffiti near Nant Mill on the boundary wall of the Plas Power estate. This latter specific example interested me because it was located so close to Offa’s Dyke: the significance of which I’ve evaluated in print regarding Welshness and concepts of the English/Welsh border (Williams 2020).
I’ve subsequently seen further ‘Cofiwch’ murals Here I want to recognise that last year I finally got to visit the original mural for the first time since its 2020 restoration.
I visited in March 2022 and I think the materiality of the ruin itself needs greater consideration in understanding the power of the mural. The ruin affords a sense of loss – of people and of place. Moreover, I noticed how the mural is currently comprised of two layers which draw the visitor from the publicly accessible into the ruin and away from the road. Each mural is marked by white-on-red script. Accessible from the road is the prominent ‘Cofiwich Dryweryn’ (‘Remember Trywyern’) statement, yet behind it is the motto of the Free Wales Army ‘Fe Godwn ni eto’ (‘We will rise again’), half hidden from the road itself but visible once one has walked to the fenceline.
Whatever the future fate of this semi-permanent mural, I would also like to point out that its public location beside a road is both a blessing and a curse for its survival. It has been subject to repeated attacks by vandals, but also this same public location renders it readily observable and any damage swiftly rectified, as Howell (2020) documented.
In short, the stark trauma of the abandoned farmhouse upon which it is painted evokes a trans-Welsh sense of dislocation and trauma – this is more than a mural, it is an appended ruin which is rendered meaningful through its painting and repainting.
As included in my video above, I also revisited Llyn Celyn where the rocks of the dam and nearby farm buildings are replete with murals as material expressions of protest and resistance. I didn’t take still photographs, but the powerful assemblage of rocks along the dam itself afforded a range of contemporary Welsh nationalist slogans should be considered in relation to the Cofwich Dryweryn murals now found across Wales. Here, the dam itself has been turned into a landscape of protest through graffiti.
Elsewhere, I’ve encountered further examples of Cofwich Dryweryn muruals. Notably, at the Trevor Rocks, the walls of the historic quarry are marked with the symbol of the Free Wales Army in white, the red ‘Free Wales’ and in white below ‘Cofiwich Drywern’. This location is as meaningful as the slogan itself – a popular walking spot, the now-fading statement looks out over the Vale towards Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke and the Cheshire plain beyond. It thus is a modern graffiti version of the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran – another articulation of Welsh identity in the contemporary landscape in ruinous form.
As marked Howell’s Google map, there are also two locations on bridges along the Llangollen Canal near Llangollen one can find more examples of the Cofwich Dryweryn murals ‘guarding’ key approaches into Wales, close to Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke: like the Trevor Rocks signs. Again, the choice of prominent industrial architectures upon which to mark this message can be seen as far from arbitrary, but a claiming of landscape and specifically a canal which fed Welsh resources to England.
I have encountered related graffiti elsewhere in Wales, including on my recent visit to the Llyn Peninsula, such as the Cofwich Drywern mural at a road junction south of Tudweilog.
The sign on the side of a hut upon Nefyn beach.
And in the ‘Free Wales’ on top of the Iron Age hillfort of Garn Boduan.
A further related public protest is the blotted out of English place-names, as here for Porthor whose English name ‘Whispering Sands’ has been redacted.
The final observation though is that these are faded and do not look refreshed. Therefore, one wonders whether the 2019/2020 phenomenon mark a high watermark of mural creation, or new versions will appear at future junctures. Furthermore, I wonder in particular whether the English-language stickers that are ubiquitous now appended to public signage in my village and elsewhere across Wales of the ‘Yes Cymru’ #IndyWales movement are providing a ready alternative which can be proliferated far more widely and project a vision for the future rather than reflect on the trauma of the past? After all, they utilise the same colour scheme and clearly cite the tradition of Cofwich Drywern. Or are these messages complementary and/or serving different purposes and for contrasting audiences?
Howell, D. 2020. Cofiwch Dryweryn: the frontiers of contemporary Welsh nationalism, as seen through the creation of contested heritage murals, in K. Gleave, H. Williams and Clarke, P. (eds) Public Archaeologies of Frontiers and Borderlands. Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 94-116.
Williams, H. 2020. Collaboratory, coronavirus and the colonial countryside. Offa’s Dyke Journal 2: 1–28.
I was devastated when the original was defaced; I”m glad it has been restored, even though I’m not Welsh. My family come from Brittany originally.
I feel the call to Wales, having quite a lot of Celtic genetics, but, much as I would love to, I can’t in good conscience.
I got really angry when I heard some other English politician chuntering on about wanting another valley flooded to provide water for England in the midst of the drought. Told them Wales had given enough, and maybe they should try Cumbria! More rainfall up there!
Radio Wales has produced a (mainly English language) documentary podcast series about some of the causes, events and emotions of the flooding of Tryweryn and Capel Celyn.
Three episodes (and a very short introduction) are currently available, with more to come I believe. They can be heard via the BBC Sounds app (search for ‘Drowned – The Flooding of a Village’) and also online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0f245q6