16 February 2006

Did Wales create first terrorist prison camp?

icwales.co.uk

Darren Devine
Feb 16 2006
Western Mail

WALES 'pioneered' Guantanamo-Bay-style prison camps with a detention centre used to hold the men who went on to win the Republic of Ireland's independence, it was claimed yesterday.

About 1,800 Irishmen were held at the Frongoch camp near Bala, in North Wales, including figures who would go on to play key roles in the Republic's first Government.

The author of a new book on the camp points to parallels between the treatment of Irishmen imprisoned at Frongoch after the Easter Rising rebellion of 1916 and the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.

Welsh broadcaster and journalist Lyn Ebenezer, whose book Fron-Goch and the birth of the IRA is being launched in Ireland later this month, said, "In Frongoch they were there without charge and without trial as in Guantanamo. Of the 500 in Guantanamo only 10 have been charged.

"Another interesting connection is that at Guantanamo the detainees have turned to hunger strikes, which also happened at Frongoch.

"In 1916 there were as many as 200 on hunger strike in Frongoch."

Among those imprisoned was Michael Collins, who later negotiated the settlement with the British authorities that led to the creation of the Republic.

Instead of crushing the sprit of those detained, Frongoch effectively became a university for nationalists from all over Ireland and reinvigorated their opposition to British rule.

Mr Ebenezer believes Guantanamo, as was the case with Frongoch, contains a mix of radicals and apolitical prisoners who were simply caught up in the US's war on terror.

At Frongoch, those indifferent to politics were radicalised by their closeness to so many leading Irish nationalists and Mr Ebenezer believes Guantanamo may be similarly counter-productive.

"There were men at Frongoch who had nothing to do with the Easter Rising, but they were all thrown in together and they then became sympathetic to the movement.

"There must be a few in Guantanamo with no connection with terrorism. Some will have been together there for four years - that's long enough to generate a hell of a lot of hatred.

"At Frongoch the longest anyone stayed for was seven months."

Frongoch started life as Wales's first whiskey distillery, but when the company folded the building was later converted to a prison camp for German soldiers captured during the First World War.

When they left, the men who orchestrated the Easter Rising took their place in January 1916 and most of these were released around seven months later, with only a hard-core remaining.

The men held at Frongoch were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, but they would later rename the organisation the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Mr Ebenezer said the prisoners attracted the sympathy of local Welsh people, but throughout the rest of Wales they were viewed, as in England, as terrorists.

"All the research I've done shows they were treated very fairly by local people, who deplored the way they were treated by the British.

"But as far as the rest of Wales goes the reaction was exactly as it was in England - even trade unionists turned against them and regarded them as terrorists."

During the 1930s the prison camp at Frongoch fell into dereliction, with some of the buildings sold off to local farmers.

Ironically, relatives of those imprisoned there returned in the 1950s - but not to see the site of their forebears' imprisonment.

Instead, the Irish who arrived 40 years later came to work on the controversial Llyn Celyn reservoir, which was created after the tiny Gwynedd village of Tryweryn was drowned.

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