Irish Ambassador to speak at Aberystwyth University conference

07 September 2016

A special one-day conference at Aberystwyth University will explore the historical and cultural links between Ireland and Wales, including how a disused whisky distillery in Meirionethshire had far reaching consequences for the Irish independence movement.

The event on Wednesday 14 September 2016 is being organised by the Wales–Ireland Research Network with the support of the Welsh Government’s First World War centenary programme, Cymru’n CofioWales Remembers 1914-1918.

Entitled ‘1916 in Ireland and Wales’, the conference will bring together leading historians as well as the Irish Ambassador to the UK to focus on that momentous year.

Delegates will also consider the wider implications of other 1916 events including the Easter Rising in Ireland and the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, analysing the contrasting cultural and political contexts in which they have been interpreted and memorialised in both countries.

Central to discussions on the day will be the pivotal role played by the village of Fron-goch near Bala following the Easter Rising of April 1916.

The rising was mounted by Irish republicans in a bid to end British rule in the country and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily involved in the First World War.

In the immediate aftermath of the failed revolt, the British Government moved 1,800 Irish prisoners to a former whisky distillery in Fron-goch, who were now considered prisoners of war and included the future leader Michael Collins and the future Hollywood actor Arthur Shields.

The camp was soon to become known as the “University of Revolution” due to Michael Collins giving impromptu lessons in guerrilla tactics and the spreading of a revolutionary gospel among the prisoners.

What took place there during 1916 helped shape the political careers of some key figures in Irish public life and the name of Fron-goch still resonates in the story of the struggle for Irish independence.

One of the speakers at the conference, His Excellency Daniel Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland to Great Britain, describes the significance of this experience: “Fron-goch holds a very special place in modern Irish history, for it was there that 1,800 internees from Ireland spent a formative period in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. The time they spent at Fron-goch had a major impact on the lives of those involved and their subsequent contribution to Ireland’s struggle for independence.”

Other topics to be discussed on the day include some of the other important historical events of 1916, including the election of the first Welshman as Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and the costly attack  by the 38th (Welsh) Division during the first battle of the Somme at Mametz Wood, an event memorialised visually by the painter Christopher Williams and in print by the poets Robert Graves and David Jones, who both took part in the action.

Conference organiser Professor Paul O’Leary, who is a lecturer in the Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth University as well as one of the managers of the Wales–Ireland Research Network, said:

“With this year marking the centenary of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, it is an opportune moment to explore the close cultural and political ties that Welsh people share with our Irish counterparts and how the events of 1916 have had a profound impact on our recent history right up to the present day. I’m extremely grateful to all who have agreed to take part, and for the support we’ve received from Cymru’n CofioWales Remembers 1914-1918 and the Welsh Government, for making possible what I’m sure will prove to be a very interesting and lively discussion.”

The conference is being held in Room A14, Hugh Owen Building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth University on Wednesday 14 September. Attendance is free but advance booking is essential and the full programme, along with further information on how to register can be found online at