North Wales’s University of Revolution and the Other Easter Rising

Easter means many different things to people. In Ireland at Easter, people think of two risings: the Christian resurrection and a different rising which happened 99 years ago at Easter 1916. It turned out that Wales was to play a major part in the aftermath of that aborted rebellion against British rule.

By 1916, many Irishmen grew tired of the failure of various Home Rule Bills in the British Parliament, the latest of which was the Government of Ireland Act 1914, which would have given limited home rule to Ireland. It was never implemented due to the outbreak of the First World War despite the efforts of Welsh minister David Lloyd George, then Minister for Munitions. On Easter Monday 1916, an insurrection took place in Dublin mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing an Irish Republic. The uprising was swiftly and brutally crushed by British military forces and 15 of the leaders of the uprising were executed.

Michael Collins

On 10 June 1916, Michael Collins (left) and more than 1,800 other Irishmen who had been captured following the Easter Uprising in Dublin, arrived at an internment camp in the tiny village of Fron Goch*, three miles from Bala in North Wales. None of the men had been charged with any crime and when it became clear that large numbers had been wrongly arrested, some simply being in the wrong place at the wrong moment, the number of detainees gradually reduced to between five and six hundred.

Internees at Fron Goch campThe camp was housed in a former whisky distillery which was made bankrupt in 1910. At the beginning of World War I, it was used as a prisoner of war camp for German prisoners who were subsequently relocated, except for a few who were too ill to be moved, to accommodate the large number of Irish prisoners. Initially, there were two camps at Frongoch; the South Camp and the North Camp. The South Camp was based in the former whisky distillery while the North Camp was a few hundred yards up the road in the direction of nearby Capel Celyn. Capel Celyn was another blight on the history of Wales when it was submerged, against the will of local people and all Welsh MPs, to form the reservoir on the river Tryweryn in1965. The North Camp was no longer used routinely when a major release of prisoners took place in June and the remaining prisoners were all located in South Camp. However, it continued to be used to confine prisoners charged with discipline offences.

Despite questions being asked in Parliament about the status of the prisoners, they were not properly treated as prisoners of war. For instance, POWs could write letters (subject to censorship) and they would not require a postage stamp. This privilege was not extended to the Irish prisoners. The censors of the camp were disadvantaged in that some of the incoming mail was written in Irish and prisoners were placed in the farcical position of having to translate their own letters aloud for the censors!

The Irish prisoners had considerable contact with Welsh people working at the prison camp and they were both inspired and impressed by their love for their language. One Irish prisoner, Batt O’Connor recalled,

“We marvelled at the fine national spirit of those men, and their love for their native tongue, that they should have been able to preserve it, and they living alongside the English without even a bay between.”

Many of the Irish protesters were highly educated men and started classes in the Irish language and also in Welsh, Spanish, French and even Latin. Welsh was a popular subject, second only to Irish. Many of those interned were ashamed that they could not speak their native language and one of the key leaders of the Easter Rising, Michael Collins, was a keen student of Welsh obtaining a dictionary from John Roberts, a 16-year-old who worked at the camp who subsequently became a great friend of Collins.There were also classes in bookkeeping, mathematics and shorthand. as well as in many other subjects for all those imprisoned at Fron Goch. It’s encouraging to think that Wales may have played a part in a renaissance of the Irish language.

Most significantly, because the men were left to their own devices during the day, it gave Michael Collins and the other leaders the opportunity to train men in guerrilla warfare and military strategy. Subsequently, Fron Goch, became known as ollscoil na réabhlóide – the University of Revolution or sometimes Sinn Féin University. In fact, it was at Fron Goch that the name Irish Republican Army was used for the first time, instead of the Irish Volunteers or Irish Citizen Army.

The prisoners were treated badly in Fron Goch. The food was particularly poor and the barracks were run by an authoritarian commandant. The camp was plagued by rats, there was inadequate heating as summer moved to winter and prisoners were not supplied with adequate blankets. There were a number of conflicts with the authorities at Fron Goch, on one occasion when they attempted to force prisoners  to clean the British guards’ quarters. The prisoners refused and several were taken back to North camp where they lost all privileges. There was a long stand-off but eventually the authorities capitulated and the men were sent back to the main camp. Another attempt was made to undermine morale when the authorities stated that although the Irish were exempt from conscription, those who had lived in Britain would not be exempt. Fortunately, the ludicrous position of forcing men into an army which they had already fought against was realised and the proposal was not followed through. The primary reason, though, was that the men had gone on hunger strike and a local doctor reported that because of the poor diet at Fron Goch many would not survive.

Public opinion was very much against the internment of the Irishmen and on the day after he became Britain’s first and only Welsh-speaking Prime Minister, 23 December 1916, David Lloyd George signed the order for the men to be released and all were back in Ireland for Christmas. History has shown that Fron Goch was a huge blunder and in Michael Collins made the point that the Irish were trained in military tactics at England’s expense. Thirty of those detained would go on to become TDs in the Irish Dail (Parliament).

Wales’s own Guantanamo Bay turned out ultimately to have created a huge problem for the British Government 60 years later.

Next year there will be huge celebrations in Ireland to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising and I hope that there will be a ceremony at Fron Goch to mark this significant Welsh connection with Irish history.

-oO0-

Further reading:

“Fron-Goch Camp 1916 and the birth of the IRA” by Lyn Ebenezer (Pub Garreg Gwalch, 2012)
“Frongoch: University of Revolution” by Sean OMahony (Pub TDR Teoranta, 1987)
“With the Irish in Frongoch” by W J Brennan-Whitmore (Pub Mercier History, 2013. Reprint of 1917 original.)

BBC Piece on Fron Goch
Some documents related to Fron Goch
Irish TV programme about Fron Goch on YouTube

*Fron Goch is the usual Welsh spelling for the village, but it is alternatively written as Frongoch or Fron-Goch in other documents.

16,534 comments on “North Wales’s University of Revolution and the Other Easter Rising

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I honestly think this site needs a lot more attention. Iíll probably be back again to read through more, thanks for the advice!

  2. Great web site you have here.. Itís hard to find quality writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  3. After looking over a number of the articles on your web page, I really like your way of blogging. I book marked it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my web site too and let me know your opinion.

  4. Good day! I could have sworn Iíve been to your blog before but after browsing through a few of the articles I realized itís new to me. Nonetheless, Iím certainly happy I found it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

  5. I’m extremely pleased to discover this website. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this particularly wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new information in your web site.

  6. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this brilliant blog! I suppose for now I’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this blog with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

  7. I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this site. I really hope to view the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own site now 😉

  8. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It will always be helpful to read through articles from other authors and use something from their websites.

  9. Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the issues. It was definitely informative. Your site is useful. Many thanks for sharing!

  10. Greetings! Very useful advice within this article! It is the little changes that make the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing!

  11. You are so interesting! I do not believe I’ve truly read anything like this before. So good to discover another person with some original thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This website is one thing that is needed on the web, someone with some originality!

  12. Good day! I could have sworn Iíve visited your blog before but after looking at some of the posts I realized itís new to me. Regardless, Iím certainly pleased I discovered it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

  13. The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it doesn’t fail me just as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I really believed you’d have something interesting to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something that you could possibly fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

  14. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be useful to read through articles from other writers and practice a little something from other sites.

  15. A motivating discussion is worth comment. I believe that you ought to publish more about this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but typically folks don’t speak about these issues. To the next! Many thanks!!

  16. I simply wanted to write down a quick word to say thanks to you for those wonderful tips and hints you are showing on this site.

  17. Hello there! This is my first comment here, so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Thanks.

  18. Sometimes additional bonuses are available only available when ordering very early. These can involve insider features and suggestions the ordinary general public is not going to have access to.

  19. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it won’t fail me just as much as this particular one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I actually believed you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something you could possibly fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention.

  20. Spot on with this write-up, I honestly feel this amazing site needs much more attention. Iíll probably be back again to read through more, thanks for the information!

  21. Hi, There’s no doubt that your website might be having browser compatibility problems. When I look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in I.E., it’s got some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Besides that, wonderful site!

  22. I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this blog. I really hope to check out the same high-grade content from you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own site now 😉

  23. I was extremely pleased to uncover this page. I want to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every bit of it and i also have you book marked to check out new stuff on your blog.

  24. I truly love your site.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself? Please reply back as Iím looking to create my own personal site and want to learn where you got this from or what the theme is named. Thanks!

  25. Iím impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog thatís equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy that I came across this during my search for something regarding this.

  26. Iím impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog thatís both equally educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which too few people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I found this in my search for something relating to this.

  27. Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this content together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

  28. That is a great tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise informationÖ Thank you for sharing this one. A must read post!

  29. This is the perfect webpage for anybody who wishes to find out about this topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I personally would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a topic which has been discussed for many years. Excellent stuff, just wonderful!

  30. Everything is very open with a precise description of the issues. It was definitely informative. Your website is very helpful. Many thanks for sharing!

  31. An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you should publish more about this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people don’t speak about such issues. To the next! Best wishes!!

  32. Iím amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog thatís both equally educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I found this in my search for something regarding this.

  33. Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t fail me just as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I truly thought you’d have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something you could fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *