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Water for Liverpool

Perhaps the greatest symbol of the struggle of the Welsh language during the twentieth century is Tryweryn.  The campaign to save the Tryweryn Valley and the village of Capel Celyn from being flooded to supply water to the city of Liverpool began on 20 December 1955 with the announcement of the intention to build a reservoir in the heart of Meirionnydd.

The private bill was passed by the Conservative Government and the Liverpool Corporation without consultation with Welsh authorities and was not supported by any of the Welsh MPs.  The reservoir would be the largest in Wales, drowning an entire valley and the village of Capel Celyn.  48 residents of the village and nearby farms were to be uprooted and hundreds of acres of fruitful agricultural land lost.


The battle to save Capel Celyn

The scheme was fiercely opposed.  The residents of Capel Celyn gained support from notable individuals, local authorities and national institutions and groups were formed to co-ordinate activities in opposition to the scheme.  One such group was called ‘Pwyllgor Amddiffyn Tryweryn’ (Tryweryn Defence Committee) and included individuals such as the founder of the Urdd national youth movement, Ifan ab Owen Edwards; Megan Lloyd George, the daughter of ex-Prime Minister David Lloyd George; T. I. Ellis, the son of the Liberal Whip T. E. Ellis; and Lord Ogmore.


Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (The National Party of Wales),  or Plaid Cymru as it became known around this time, also lent their weight to the campaign with President Gwynfor Evans particularly vocal in his opposition.  To them, as to many others, the threat to the village of Capel Celyn, in the heart of Welsh-speaking Meirionnydd, was seen as symbolic of the plight of Wales as a whole.  For decades, Plaid Cymru had argued for the need for a greater degree of self-governance, and the helplessness of the Welsh MPs and authorities in the face of the Liverpool Corporation with parliamentary backing made their argument seem all the more relevant.


The battle was lost

Despite the fierce opposition of the Welsh public and without any support from Welsh MPs, the Liverpool Corporation Act was passed on 1 August 1957.  The £20 million project began three years later but opposition continued.  Though direct action was never overtly supported, a number of individuals felt compelled to take measures against the project and arrests were made for criminal damage on the site and two men were imprisoned in 1963. 


A community drowned

The dam was completed in August 1965 and the official opening of the reservoir was held on 28 October.  The reservoir submerged the houses, land, school and chapel which made up the village of Capel Celyn.  Some of the graves from the chapel cemetery were exhumed and removed to the nearby village of Llan-y-cil, while others were covered with concrete.  Not all the buildings were completely demolished before the village was drowned and, when the water is unusually low, they appear from beneath the reservoir as an eerie reminder of the lost community.


Remember Tryweryn

In 2005, on the fiftieth anniversary of the announcement that the Tryweryn valley was to be drowned, Liverpool City Council issued a formal apology on behalf of its predecessor for the ‘insensitivity’ of the scheme which had such a destructive impact on the community of Capel Celyn.  The personal impact on the residents of Capel Celyn was enormous; many were forced to leave homes that had been in their families for generations.  Their loss, and all that it represented, has become iconic in Welsh politics and in the struggle over the Welsh language.  ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ [Remember Tryweryn] remains one of the most powerful slogans in the Welsh language and is seen as a rallying call of Welsh nationalism.