Irish history has been part of my life since my first encounter with an Irishman called Michael Collins in 2000. I had been wanting to visit Fron- goch for years and it is, for me, no coincidence that a welcome twist of fate allowed me to go there; of all times, in July of this centenary year, 2016!
The Welch village of Fron- goch lies a few miles North- West of Bala. On the 9th of June 1916, the first batch of Irish rebels captured after the Rising arrived at the local disused distillery that had been converted into a camp for German prisoners at the outbreak of WW1. By the end of the month, the two sections of the camp —North, which was a collection of wooden huts and South, based in the old distillery—housed about 1850 Irish prisoners. Among them Michael Collins, ready to make the best of the situation, knowing the fight that was still to come.
Through my Dublin fellow Irish Volunteers, I had a contact in Fron-goch and at the entrance to the village, was Alwyn, waiting for me!
The Irish prisoners were brought to Fron-goch by rail, from various English prisons and landed at the station, which
Former Railway Station At Frongoch, Now A Dwelling House is one of the few buildings still visible. It has been converted into a house now, which was not lived in at the time of my visit, but the structures still portrayed its original purpose.
A narrow road runs along what was the limit between the South and North camps. The local school stands on the site of South Camp and on this centenary year, the pupils did their bit in the commemorations. On one of the buildings’ walls, a nice (if slightly inaccurate) ceramic plaque highlights the
major events and characters of The Rising and The War of Independence.
One of the officers’ houses, now a private home, is still standing nearby. Further down was, at the time, a vegetable garden. Beyond is the river, where the camp’s medical officer, unable to bear the pressure he was put under by the British authorities, took his own life.
Close-by lies the field, nicknamed Croke Park, where the prisoners used to play Gaelic football. Earlier this year, a commemorative re-enactment of a match was held there.
Nothing remains of the wooden huts of North Camp, where the prisoners had named the lanes Pearse Street and Connolly Street.
By the roadside, further up the A4212 to Trawsfynydd, overlooking the former camp, is the memorial; a big boulder with a plaque, unveiled in 2002. Beside it is a very well made map of the area, highlighting the major locations. At the time of my visit, tricolor wreaths, an Easter lily and a few notes were there, showing that the spirit of the 1916 University of Revolution is still alive and well.
While we were at the memorial, Alwyn showed me a reproduction of a drawing that I already knew, made by Cathal Mc Dowell, who was among the prisoners. It shows some of the North camp huts and in the background, the silhouette of an easily recognisable mountain. That very same mountain I was facing, across the road! And suddenly, Fron-goch came so alive around me.