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Fire in Llŷn


The story of the influential actions of three Plaid Cymru members at Penyberth on the Llŷn Peninsula in 1936.


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Saunders Lewis, D.J. Williams and Lewis Valentine

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Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and D. J....

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A fire in Llŷn

On 8 September 1936, three men entered the property of the RAF’s training school at Penyberth on the LlŷnPeninsula. Saunders Lewis, D. J. Williams and Lewis Valentine, three of the main figures of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (The National Party of Wales), were intent on damaging the property of the bombing school.

They set fire to the buildings before presenting themselves at Pwllheli police station to accept responsibility.  

This action would become one of the most significant in the history of the Welsh language. 

Opposition to the presence of the bombing school in Pen Llŷn was widespread in Walesat the time.  Many objected on pacifist and environmental grounds but for Lewis, Williams and Valentine, the school represented the oppression of the English over the Welsh and the imposition of English warmongering and violence on the peaceful Welsh countryside.  The government had intended to build similar establishments in Northumberland and Dorset but had yielded to the protests of naturalists and historians.  But Baldwin, the Prime Minister, refused to listen to a deputation representing over half a million of the people of Wales.

Confession

The building of the ‘bombing school’ began exactly four hundred years after the passage of the Act of Union.

All three were notable members of the party; Valentine had been Plaid Cymru’s first President. But they were frustrated at Plaid Cymru’s failure to act since the RAF announced their intentions in August 1935 and therefore decided to take matters into their own hands. 

Having confessed their crime at Pwllheli police station, Lewis, Williams and Valentine were put on trial at Caernarfon on 13 October 1936. The jury were unable to reach a decision and the trial was transferred to the Old Bailey in London, where the three men were sentenced to nine months in prison.

Strong feelings

The ‘Fire in Llŷn’ aroused strong feelings. By the time of the second trial in London, Saunders Lewis had been dismissed by his employers at UniversityCollege, Swansea.  This, the decision to move the case to London, and the judge’s scornful treatment of the case at the Old Bailey angered many in Wales. 

Following their release from prison on 27 August 1937, Lewis, Williams and Valentine were greeted at Caernarfon pavilion by a crowd of around 12,000.  Such displays of support were seen across Wales, demonstrating the impact the event had on contemporaries, particularly the Welsh-speaking community.

Though many hoped that Penyberth would cause the strengthening of the nationalist movement in Wales, there was no significant increase in membership or support and the outbreak of war in 1939 meant that such concerns were effectively put to one side.

Lasting significance

Today, Penyberth ranks alongside Tryweryn in its significance in the fight for the Welsh language.  The stance of Lewis, Valentine and Williams was an inspiration to Welsh language campaigners for decades and their continued efforts to advance Walesand the Welsh made them three of Wales’ most notable political activists.  Saunders Lewis went on to broadcast the famous ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ speech in 1962, giving rise to the formation of the Welsh Language Society which campaigns for the rights of the Welsh language to this day.

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