How can such a small nation have so many iconic locations and modern day heroes concentrated in such a small area? I’ve just returned from a holiday in Ireland where I was also taking the opportunity to research some of the history associated with the internment of 1800 Irish prisoners in Fron Goch internment camp near Bala.
As a passionate student of Welsh history, I am inordinately envious of the Irish people every time I visit Dublin. I stood outside the General Post Office in O’Connell Street and looked at the statue of Jim Larkin, probably Ireland’s greatest trade unionist. Somehow I can’t see a statue of a really great trade unionist appearing in Parliament Square in London anytime soon. Straight across the road was another statue of the great Irish writer James Joyce.
Dublin is full of buildings and open spaces that are tingling with the inspirational history of people and events that have shaped that nation. Everybody knows the Post Office as the focal point for the 1916 Easter Rising, but a mile or so away is the beautiful St Stephen’s Green, anather major site associated with the Rising. Then there’s Kilmainham Gaol and Glasnevin Cemetery, both dripping with history.
I could go on at length about people and places in Ireland that have inspired me. However, it always leads me to a sense of sadness that we don’t have the people and places here in Wales that cause people to be excited, motivated, energised and inspired like those in Ireland. I know there are glorious exceptions to this principle and names like Owain Glyndŵr, Aneurin Bevan and Robert Owen spring to mind – three great people who shaped this nation. If you look at the list of 100 Welsh heroes , they are numbers 1,2 and 9 respectively. There are many people whose names are near the top of the list that have achieved much in their field but have not shaped the nation of Wales. For example, number 3 on this list is Tom Jones, Richard Burton 5, and Catherine Zeta Jones, 9 – talented certainly, but hardly changing the direction of this nation.
I probably should have included Gwnyfor Evans (4), whose political party I don’t support, but he certainly was key to bringing about S4C, the Welsh TV channel and he underpinned support for the Welsh language. Others like Dylan Thomas (7), David Lloyd George (8) were great Welshmen, but their contribution was much wider than just the land of Wales.
There is is similar difficulty in identifying locations which are focal points for pivotal points in our history. We have a string of castles built suit to subdue the Welsh people, so they are hardly suitable, but I couldn’t think of a single place where one would make a sort of pilgrimage to salute individuals who had shaped our history.
It was at that point a light came on. Most of our heroes have gone unmarked in history. They are the hundreds of thousands of miners that worked underground to bring coal to fuel a nation that went on to build the biggest empire the world had ever known. They are the quarrymen bringing the granite and slate to produce the cobblestones and the roofs of roads and houses throughout Europe. They are the foundry workers who worked in the iron and steel works building the ships and railways of the world. They are the true heroes of Wales, that shaped not just this nation, but the United Kingdom and many other nations.
And places of pilgrimage? A cemetery in Aberfan where many of the 144 victims of the 1966 disaster are buried; memorials in Senghenydd, Gresford, Cilfynydd, Abercarn and in so many towns and villages where countless thousands of miners died in pit accidents or through the lingering death of pneumoconiosis, silicosis or emphysema. Yes, Cymru Bach is a land of heroes.