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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, July 16, 2009
    Gwenallt calls down judgement on the city of Liverpool
     
    The moneyed Goliath rose up in Liverpool
    To shame and despoil the country people,
    Gathering rivers together to drown
    The community at Tryweryn:
    Come, David, with your river stones,
    And God behind your sling,
    To save the hymns of Capel Celyn,
    And the ballads of Bob Tai'r Felin
    From being murdered by the water in the devil's dam.

    Dewi, ask God in your prayers
    To save your people from the Philistines;
    The two Llywelyns and Glyndwr lead
    Your armies to Cwm Tryweryn:
    And you, great Michael of Bodiwan,
    If you were in Bala now,
    The empty graveyard of Capel Celyn,
    Homes and crops and songs and harps would not
    Be buried under the uncircumcised giant's dam.
    Researching the poetry of D. Gwenallt Jones (in translation from the Welsh), for a study session I'm leading next week, I rediscovered this chilling set of lines. Concerning the story of Cwm Tryweryn in which (as a previous blog explained) between 1955 and 1965 Liverpool Corporation's construction of a dam and a reservoir drowned the village of Capel Celyn with its houses, chapel, school and post office. In total, of the 67 people in the district 48 lost their homes. In their notes to the poem in Sensuous Glory, The Poetic Vision of D. Gwenallt Jones the editors Donald Allchin and D. Densil Morgan say that,
    The final HMI inspection of Ysgol Celyn (Celyn School) in 1958 described Cwm Tryweryn as 'a thoroughly Welsh speaking area with proud traditions of musical and literary culture'. In November 1956 the people of Tryweryn marched through the streets of Liverpool carrying a huge banner with the slogan 'Your homes are safe, save ours - do not drown our homes'. Some of the onlookers hurled abuse and spat at them. All but one of the Welsh MPs opposed the bill in Parliament. Even so it was passed. Cwm Tryweryn disappeared beneath the reservoir. Anger at the fate of this small community was a major factor in the growth of Welsh nationalism and the electoral successes of Plaid Cymru in the 1960s and 70s
    Gwenallt's poem is chilling because by the treatment of his genius pen the Cwm Tryweryn episode reaches biblical proportions... and it is the city of Liverpool he calls down judgement on.

    The other notes accompanying the poem are:
    the ballads of Bob Tai'r Felin Robert Roberts (1870- 1951), better known as 'Bob Tai'r Felin', was a very popular folk singer who farmed at Cwm Tirmynach near Bala.
    Dewi Dewi Sant (St David), the patron saint of Wales.
    The Two Llywelyns and Glyndwr Llywelyn the Great (1 173- I 240), prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (died 1282), prince of Wales, and Owain Glyndwr, leader of the 1400 rebellion.
    Michael of Bodiwan Michael D. Jones (1822-98) was the fiery principal of a theological college at Bodiwan, Bala, training ministers for the Annibynwyr (Welsh Independents or Congregationalists). His political views were both radical and Welsh nationalist and he played a leading part in the movement to establish a colony of Welsh speakers in Patagonia.

    Pic: A page from the Welsh Nation, August 1957 from Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales