This year, a graffiti slogan began to appear on walls across Wales. Typically spray-painted in white letters on a red background, it read Cofiwch Dryweryn—“Remember Tryweryn.”
The phrase first appeared half a century ago, on a wall in a Welsh seaside village, and the mural quickly became a local landmark. It commemorated the village of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn Valley, which was flooded in 1965 to create a reservoir. The “drowned village” was Welsh, as were the 70 residents who were forced to leave their homes. The water supply was destined for the English city of Liverpool. Remember Tryweryn: Remember what England does to Wales.
The destruction of the village was a deep enough wound to feature on the most recent season of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown: Over dinner with his tutor Edward Millward, a Welsh nationalist, Prince Charles sees a photograph of Capel Celyn. “I have so many places to visit,” he says, wistfully. “You wouldn’t be able to visit anymore,” is Millward’s brisk reply.
Cofiwch Dryweryn. Remember Tryweryn. Clearly, many in Wales do: Earlier this year, the original mural was defaced, and soon after, the phrase began popping up elsewhere, as if in sympathy. WalesOnline reported more than 50 sightings within a month, from Newport in the south to Anglesey in the north. “It’s a symbol of English rights over Wales,” Liz Silversmith, a Labour Party activist and environmental campaigner, told me. She had seen four examples of it herself.
The United Kingdom is a union of four nations. England, the largest, most populous, and most dominant, conquered Wales by force in the 13th century and absorbed Scotland in the 17th. (Northern Ireland is the most tenuously attached, having remained under British rule when the rest of Ireland became independent in the early 20th century.) The union has often been uneasy, and in the last two decades, independence movements in Scotland and Wales have followed very different paths. At a time when many states in Europe are threatened by fragmentation, what does their experience tell us about what these movements need to thrive?