This excellent documentary novel brings to life one of the critical events in Welsh history: the creation of the Tryweryn Dam to provide water for Liverpool Corporation by the drowning of the village of Cwm Celyn.
The author sets the scene following a brilliant introduction when she notes that all the homesteads and families are soundly asleep on the Monday night a week before Christmas in 1955 after which their lives will never be the same again.
The memorable scenario in the chapel as one of the elders, Dafydd Roberts, reveals the plans to drown the village to the faithful congregation. He asks them to stay together and that with the promises of support from a range of agencies, he tells them that he and the other congregation leaders are confident that they can succeed in getting Liverpool Corporation to rethink their plans once they realise the consequences of their actions. One can picture how emotional Dafydd is as he addresses the congregation in his belief that his trust in his faith, love for his way of life and social justice will be on their side.
She contrasts this with the New Year celebrations of two of the leading Liverpool councillors, Frank Cain and John Braddock, and the New Year 1996 discussions of a group of students in Neuadd Pantycelyn. The author initiates an in-depth analysis of the problems facing those who wish to challenge Liverpool Corporation.
We read about the inept Welsh speakers who have forsaken the language and those who do not want to start a “commotion” and wish to challenge by acceptable constitutional methods. In contrast, she focuses on the group in the college who see the use of alternative unconstitutional action as the only way forward.
Readers will become emotionally involved as the characters in the village of Capel Celyn and neighbouring areas prepare to protest on the march in Liverpool. Manon Eames highlights the insensitive attitudes of the councillors in Liverpool as they pour scorn on the efforts of Gwynfor Evans in his attempts to change their plans to flood the village. The reader becomes emotionally involved as the author focuses on the efforts of first language Welsh speakers in their efforts to write letters, in English, to the officials at Liverpool Corporation, for them to gain insight and understanding of the feelings of the residents of Capel Celyn.
The author brilliantly portrays the emotional stress suffered by the Capel Celyn residents as Elizabeth Riley, a girl from Capel Celyn who works with Liverpool Corporation, becomes the personal assistant to Mr Braddock. She is given the job of typing invitations to the Inauguration of the Reservoir Llyn Celyn on 21st October, 1965. One of the other office assistants notices she is crying. She asks Elizabeth if she is alright to which Elizabeth replies: “Yes, just something in my eye”. I am sure that when they read this, many readers will shed a tear in common with Elizabeth at how the residents of Capel Celyn were treated.
It is within the chapter on Tystiolaeth (Evidence) that the author drives home to the reader that protests by small communities against the actions of powerful companies or conurbations are doomed to failure without political change to back them up. Faith, love and connections are inadequate against political and multi-national company power.
Ms Eames has produced a powerful novel based on actual events which directly affected the lives of the residents of Capel Celyn. The resultant impact of the flooding of the valley and the disbursement of residents, many of whom had rented farms and houses from the Rhiwlas Estate, resulted in a massive attitude change by the Welsh people to political authority. Groups developed who were determined to take up the challenge to achieve parity for the Welsh language and the goal of devolution. The resultant growth in the use of the Welsh language in everyday life, schools and commerce undoubtedly resulted from the suffering of the residents of Capel Celyn and insensitive destruction of a Welsh-speaking community.