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War! What is it good for; Apparently not for marketing the sites of Wales' biggest and most important battles, says Ian Parri.

Byline: Ian Parri

THE sheep munching contentedly on the windswept scrub are serenely oblivious to the fact that they're wandering around what to many remains hallowed ground. At the very least it's the blood soaked battleground where a nation's future was forged.

This is Culloden Moor, near Inverness. It was here on April 16, 1746 that Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Jacobite army was crushed by English forces led by the Duke of Cumberland in the last major battle fought in mainland Britain.

The fighting was over and done within one brief but vicious hour, but it remains a seminal point in history for most Scots. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, people flock here in their thousands.

They take in the emotion that still lingers in the air, visit Leanach cottage which survived the battle raging around it, or pore over weapons and artefacts housed in the fascinating Culloden Visitor Centre. The actual battlefield today features reconstructed dykes to reflect how it would have looked on that fateful day.

Meanwhile south of the border on Ambion Hill, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, visitors flock to the Battle of Bosworth visitor centre. They learn how Richard III lost his crown and his life in August 1485, handing the English throne into the hands of the Welsh Tudor dynasty.

One of the most important battles in English history, involving 25,000 soldiers, the fact that nobody knows for certain where it occurred does nothing to hinder its appeal. Now archeologists have been handed pounds 1m from the Heritage Lottery fund to help them find the actual battlefield.

Shift the focus westwards into Wales. The huge 10-ton granite block standing in a well-tended paddock serviced by a simple lay-by on the outskirts of Cilmeri near Builth Wells - just a few fields away from the site of this week's Royal Welsh Show - is the national memorial to Llywelyn II - Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf.

The last native Prince of Wales was killed near here by an English soldier, Stephen de Frankton of the Shropshire Contingent, in the aftermath of the Battle of Irfon Bridge on December 11, 1282.

Concrete steps lead to a simple well struggling to fight off the weeds and covered by a hinged wooden lid. This is the poignantly neglected spot where some say that Llywelyn's head was washed after being hacked off to be presented to the English court.

Historical records say that the head was mounted on a pikestaff and paraded through London to celebrate the supposed end of Welsh independence.

It's a simple memorial to a man who did much to shape today's Wales. Yet there's little else in Cilmeri - formerly known as Cefn y Bedd (the back of the grave) - to remind us of this great iconic figure.

An interpretation board of his life history tucked away in another lay-by at the other end of the village is so faded to be virtually illegible.

The village pub is called the Prince Llewelyn Inn, but the Llewelyn Holiday Park in the village makes no mention of the great man in its marketing leaflets. A man rolling a cigarette outside his caravan asks in a Birmingham accent: 'Loo-ellin? Never 'ear d of 'im, mate.' Nearby in Garth, the Irfon River Camping and Caravan Park - which could well be sited on the very spot where the battle raged or where Llywelyn met his death - offers its visitors fishing, bird watching, walking, mountain biking and pony trekking among the area's many attractions.

Not a word, though, about its most obvious historical association. At the Tourist Information Centre in Builth Wells, I pick up a puny leaflet describing a walk through 'Llywelyn country' in and around Cilmeri. But that's all. Notions of visitor centres like those that mark important battlefield sites in England and Scotland, funded by generous Lottery grants, are merely the stuff of archeologists' dreams.

And it's the same throughout Wales. Yet packed houses achieved by battle re-enactment societies shows that the public revels in history if it's colourfully presented. Swansea historian Gethin Gruffydd describes the Battle of Irfon Bridge as the 'most pivotal military engagement in Welsh history' . He's been at the forefront of a long-running campaign to establish a Welsh Battlefields Trust that would create a register of sites of great historical interest and care for them. He's also campaigning to see a Welsh military history interpretive centre established, preferably in Builth Wells.

He says: 'Would England have ignored (the Battle of) Hastings as much as we have ignored the Battle of Irfon Bridge? 'It symbolises not only much to do with the 'Battle for Wales' during the Middle Ages, but also the matter of the way that we have ignored our historic battlefields.' However he concedes: 'Even with a heavyweight enthusiast such as Sir Winston Churchill available to point the way, it took England a long time to catch up with the important matter of battlefield preservation, protection and promotion.' Mr Gruffydd says it was the threat of a motorway being run through the English Civil War battle site of Naesby that sprung our neighbours into action. This resulted in the Battlefields Trust being set up in England. Brian Malaws of the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales has drawn up a list of Welsh battlefield sites considered to be among the most important. However he concedes that the list has no legal standing, and that pinpointing the actual sites of battles that happened many centuries ago can be a stumbling block. '."

There was a move by the Ordnance Survey to remove them from maps because they weren't tangible, mappable things. Cadw weren't tremendously happy about doing a register because it's so difficult to pinpoint the battles, so I offered on behalf of the Commission to compile a list of the key battles in Wales. 'We identified 22 battles that were historically or politically important. I can sympathise with Cadw because I've been trying to fix them for mapping purposes. '."

It's very difficult. The information on location isn't tremendously good with a lot of them. 'If Cadw were to produce a register as they've done in England, you could blight people's properties or falsely raise people's hopes. '."

Everybody has the best intentions, because these events are part of Welsh history and should be recorded.

'We're always on the look-out for good information. It's a problem we as an archaeological community need to address, but it needs such massive resources poured into it.'

Gethin Gruffydd though feels that the National Assembly and other government bodies are failing in their duty to record our past and to promote it.

'Surely what's good enough for England is equally true of Wales?' he says.

'These Welsh battles are certainly as important to Welsh history as they are to British history. 'We are not in a position to know how many have already been developed on and lost forever or how many are under threat at this present time. 'I am most certainly aware that the possible site of the Battle of Irfon Bridge may be under a golf course, while private housing is slowly encroaching on Cilmeri's sacred acre


Llywelyn the Last died on Friday December 11, 1282 near the banks of Afon Irfon, close to Builth Wells

He was slain after his personal bodyguards were killed in a brutal battle with English forces The original monument in Cilmeri was put in place by English landowner SPM Bligh in 1902

The 13 oak trees that surround the present monument, erected in 1956, represent the old Welsh shires

Other ancient Welsh battlefields

Maes Garmon, near Mold Site of the Alleluia Victory of the Britons over the Saxons in AD 420. A stone obelisk on a pedestal was erected in 1736 to commemorate the battle Coleshill, Flintshire Where King Henry II and Owain, Prince of Gwynedd, fought in 1157 Mynydd Carn, near Templeton Believed to be the site of a battle in 1081 between Gruffydd ap Cynan, prince of Gwynedd and Rhys ap Tewdwr, prince of Deheubarth, against Trahaiarn of Gwynedd.

St Fagans Skeletons, small cannon balls and a pike are said to have been recovered from the alleged site of a victory for the Commonwealth on May 8, 1648.

Tuthill, Caernarfon A battle during the Wars of the Roses and largely ignored by historians


Battle re-enactments like this are popular, so why don't we promote the scenes; of our own important conflicts; This monument honouring the fallen Prince Llywelyn in Cilmeri, near Builth Wells, is all that marks the Battle of Irfon Bridge; Picture: ROBERT PARRY JONES
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 20, 2005
Previous Article:Help for Welsh ex-pats to dig up their roots; Digital archive to be housed in old chapel.
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