Capel Celyn was a rural community to the north west of Bala in Gwynedd, Wales, in the Afon Tryweryn valley. The village and other parts of the valley were flooded in 1965 to create a reservoir, Llyn Celyn, in order to supply Liverpool and Wirral with water for industry. Capel is Welsh for chapel, while celyn is Welsh for holly.
Tree stumps at Capel Celyn in 2006, exposed by low water level of reservoir
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
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In 1960, a private bill sponsored by Liverpool City Council was brought before Parliament to develop a water reservoir in the Tryweryn Valley. The development would include the flooding of Capel Celyn. By obtaining authority via an Act of Parliament, Liverpool City Council would not require planning consent from the relevant Welsh local authorities and would also avoid a planning enquiry at Welsh level at which arguments against the proposal could be expressed. This, together with the fact that the village was one of the last Welsh-only speaking communities in the area, ensured that the proposals became deeply controversial. Thirty-five out of thirty-six Welsh Members of Parliament (MPs) opposed the bill (the other did not vote), but in 1962 it was passed. The members of the community waged an eight-year effort, ultimately unsuccessful, to prevent the destruction of their homes.
When the valley was flooded in 1965, the village and its buildings, including the post office, the school, and a chapel with cemetery, were all lost. Twelve houses and farms were submerged, and 48 people of the 67 who lived in the valley lost their homes. In all, some 800 acres (3.2 km²; 320 ha) of land were submerged. A new reservoir, Llyn Celyn, was formed. Many of the stones from the original chapel were re-used in the construction of the new Memorial Chapel.
The water in the reservoir is used to maintain the flow of the River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy) so that water may be abstracted downstream, and additionally to improve the quality of white-water sports on Afon Tryweryn.
A full list of the submerged properties (broadly from west to east) is as follows:
|Glan Celyn + y Llythyrdy (Post Office)||Y Capel (Chapel)|
|Y Fynwent (Cemetery)||Tŷ Capel (Chapel House)|
|Tynybont||Yr Ysgol (School)|
|Cae Fadog||Penbryn Fawr|
|Coed Mynach||Dol Fawr|
|Garnedd Lwyd||Hafod Fadog (Quaker meeting place) and|
Mynwent y Crynwyr (Quakers' Cemetery)
|Y Tyrpeg (The Turnpike)||Tyddyn Bychan|
Families who had relatives buried in the cemetery were given the option of moving them to another cemetery. Eight bodies were disinterred and the remainder left. All headstones were supposed to be removed, and the cemetery was to be covered in layers of gravel, then concrete, but this was not done.
When the reservoir dried due to a drought in the 1980s and early 1990s the village became visible. The whole of the walled cemetery next to where the chapel stood was completely covered in concrete. There were no gravestones left standing. The removed headstones can be seen at the new chapel at the Bala end of the lake.
Under these waters and near this stone stood Hafod Fadog, a farmstead where in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Quakers met for worship. On the hillside above the house was a space encircled by a low stone wall where larger meetings were held, and beyond the house was a small burial ground. From this valley came many of the early Quakers who emigrated to Pennsylvania, driven from their homes by persecution to seek freedom of worship in the New World.
Almost unanimous Welsh political opposition had failed to stop approval of the scheme, a fact that seemed to underline Plaid Cymru's argument that the Welsh national community was powerless. At the subsequent General Election the party's support increased from 3.1% to 5.2%
Of perhaps greater significance, however, was the impetus the episode gave to Welsh devolution. The Council of Wales recommended the creation of a Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales early in 1957, a time when the governance of Wales on a national level was so demonstrably lacking in many people's eyes. By 1964 the Wilson Government gave effect to these proposals.
The flooding of Capel Celyn also sharpened debate within Plaid Cymru about the use of direct action. While the party emphasised its constitutional approach to stopping the development, it also sympathised with the actions of two party members who (of their own accord) attempted to sabotage the power supply at the site of the Tryweryn dam in 1962.
A more militant response was the formation of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru ("Wales Defence Movement") or MAC, which blew up a transformer on the dam construction site in February 1963. MAC went on to carry out a number of other bombings in the next six years.
In October 1965 the Llyn Celyn reservoir opened, and there was a sizeable Plaid Cymru-organised demonstration. A year later, Gwynfor Evans won Plaid Cymru's first Parliamentary seat in Carmarthen. But according to some commentators, Capel Celyn did not play a major part in Gwynfor Evans's victory: in addition to Carmarthen's long distance from Tryweryn, they claim that Plaid Cymru's victory owed as much to an anti-Labour backlash in the constituency's mining communities as it did to Plaid's successful depiction of Labour's policies as a threat to the viability of small Welsh communities.
On 19 October 2005, Liverpool City Council issued a formal apology for the flooding. Some in the town of Bala welcomed the move, though others said the apology was a "useless political gesture" and came far too late.
The flooding of the village inspired a Manic Street Preachers song "Ready For Drowning" and Enya's song "Dan y Dŵr" ("Under the water"). It is referenced in the Los Campesinos! song "For Flotsam" on their album No Blues. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event, English composer Michael Stimpson released an album entitled Dylan & The Drowning of Capel Celyn, which featured a work for solo pedal harp, inspired by the flooding.
The events provide inspiration for the eleventh episode "Achub Y Morfilod" ("Saving the whales") in Season 6 of the American animation series Archer. Guest-starring Matthew Rhys, a native Welshman, the episode was the result of a story told by Rhys on a night out with the show's creators (earning Rhys a writing credit).
Capel Celyn (1997) is a floor piece made up of five thousand cast wax nails inspired by the discovery of one rusty five inch nail which Welsh artist Tim Davies reclaimed one rainless summer from the dried up bed of the Tryweryn reservoir.
In the 2010 British-Argentine drama film Patagonia by Welsh director Marc Evans, Capel Celyn is the place of origin of one of the film's protagonists. Scenes near the end of the film include a visit to the reservoir.
Capel Celyn and the reservoir also play a part in the 2016 Welsh film Yr Ymadawiad (The Passing, in English). The flooding of the valley seems to provide inspiration for the film's plot, and the movie is better understood and takes on a deeper level of poignancy when the history of the flooding is known.
It is referenced in The Crown, Season 3 Episode 6 ‘Tywysog Cymru’. A young Prince Charles stays in Wales to learn the Welsh language at University of Wales, Aberystwyth. His tutor, Edward Millward and his wife Silvia, are members of Plaid Cymru and briefly tell him about the village.
Cofiwch Dryweryn ("Remember Tryweryn") is a motto referring to the drowning of Capel Celyn in 1965. It urges Welsh speakers to remember the destruction of a Welsh-speaking community and to safeguard the language. The most famous instance of this motto is a graffito on the wall of a ruined stone cottage by the A487 at Llanrhystud, outside Aberystwyth which has come to be regarded as a "national landmark". Meic Stephens claimed to have been the first to paint the wall in the 1960s, with the slogan Cofiwch Tryweryn (sic, without the initial soft mutation and therefore grammatically incorrect). Since then, a number of people have repainted the wall, and the word Tryweryn has been corrected to Dryweryn.
The wall has been painted over on a number of occasions. In May 2008, the words were altered to "Angofiwch Dryweryn" (forget Tryweryn). The monument was defaced in April 2010, and a spokesperson for the Welsh Government said they were "disappointed" by the incident. Incidents of vandalism also occurred throughout the years, e.g. in 2013 and 2014. In 2017, the words Cofiwch Aberfan 1966 ("Remember Aberfan") were added underneath the original message. The original message was repainted in August 2018 but was again defaced in February 2019. After the memorial was repainted, vandals had knocked over parts of the wall. In response to the vandalism a wave of 'Cofiwch Dryweryn' memorials were painted throughout Wales and further afield also.
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"Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad" - materion gwleidyddol ac economaidd yng Nghymru yn yr 1960au a'r 1970au" (PDF). WJEC (exam board). Retrieved 23 October 2020.
Roedd yn un o’r cymunedau olaf uniaith Gymraeg yn yr ardal.
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- "Los Campesinos!: No Blues Album Review - Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
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- The Guardian, April 26, 2019
- Owens, David (16 February 2018). "Manic Street Preachers release new video featuring iconic Welsh landmarks... and the Welsh language". Wales Online. Retrieved 5 August 2018.