The ‘Iron Ring’ would be a blow to Wales – but will our politicians listen?

Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure at Flint Castle

 

Huw Williams

If the story of erecting a £400,000 iron ring in Flint Castle was a parody, it would be a wonderful allegory of modern day Wales.

Unfortunately, difficult though it is to believe, it is not a made up story.  This is real life, and it tells us much about what must happen for our political and public life to move forward.

It was all looking so promising for the Year of Legends.

Finally, a tourism campaign that sought to reflect and make the most of our unique heritage that has for so long been misappropriated. We might even have started to reclaim Arthur by the end of it.

Perhaps we should have known that the minister hadn’t quite bought into it all, after he led a shameful rejection of an Assembly vote to protect our place names.

There doesn’t appear to be much interest in protecting our homegrown artists either.

In time honoured fashion, rather than providing a grant to a renowned Welsh artist –  someone like Bedwyr Williams who was brought up on the North Wales coast – we award a massive £400,000 to a company from London.

When will we stop spraying money at companies the other side of Offa’s Dyke? And wouldn’t it have been much better value to use our local talent?

Disaster

With respect to money, a question has to be asked at a time of austerity and hardship for so many (the arts included) whether spending the best part of half a million on a vanity project justifiable?

As ex-Labour MP Gareth Thomas commented it seems a ‘prodigal and crass use of public money’.

We are not a rich nation, but we seem to want to act like one and live by the values and standards of London (which we should remind ourselves is a world city, not even an English one).

What about virtues such as parsimony, sustainability, and investment for the long term?

In this respect, the whole debacle smacks of the kind of failures we have seen time and again with respect to EU money – the tragic consequence of which was the inability to persuade many hard up communities of the real value of the funding during the referendum.

How money and resources are spent on such projects is a major issue not unique to Wales, but we’ve had enough practice by now.

It can be done; I’ve witnessed at a local level in Grangetown how Cardiff University has successfully worked hand in hand with the community – but it is not easy.

It takes hard work, commitment, sensitivity and project leaders who are embedded and actually care.

What happens when you get things wrong on all these counts is the disaster that awaits us at Flint Castle: something that is entirely unfit for purpose.

In one sense you can’t blame a London company for coming up with a tribute to Edward I – what else would you expect them to think of?

On the other hand, of the many mock names doing the rounds on social media it is #anusofthenorth that nails it.

It reflects the ongoing obsession reflected in the design with trying to emulate the Angel of the North through an outsized structure visible from space.  Where is the originality or Welshness in that?

Flint Castle. Picture by Matthew Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Denial

In the end, much of this comes down to fundamental questions about identity and who we are as a nation.

The Year of Legends suggests a country with new found confidence, connecting with its past to sell itself on the world stage.

This latest episode, however, is probably more in keeping with a country that systematically denies its children a thorough understanding of its own history; a country unsure of how to handle and interpret its past with confidence and common sense.

This needs to be addressed, not just as an educational issue (see another petition); as economists will tell you, those places who make a success of themselves culturally and economically know who they are.

Perverse pleasure

We can and should be able to remember Edward’s castles and make money out of them – as symbols of what it took to oppress us, as monuments to our own historical struggle, as the nation that took the best blows of a tyrant and a war machine that was left too weak to conquer their other neighbour.

We should view them from the perspective of the remarkable survival of our history, culture, and language.

We don’t, however, need to take a perverse pleasure in the Norman conquest and draw more attention to historical monuments that ultimately speak for themselves.

Indeed why does the ‘iron ring’ need representation anyway?  It is there for tourists to explore the length and breadth of Wales; do we feel the need to build a monument to our wonderful coastline?

For this project to be pushed through to completion will be a collective blow. It will be a warning that in terms of our politics, our democracy and our sense of self, 20 years of devolution has only built up the veneer of a mature, transparent and responsive Welsh polity that reflects the pride of its nation.

History is not kind to those who flatter to deceive.

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flofflach
Guest
flofflach

lots of very pertinent points.
But the one about using a “local” artist is a sticky issue. Using the right artist to create the most appropriate work is important. If it is always the “local” artists, then no artist will ever make work outside of the arbitary borders of theor local – town, county, region, country…. On the other hand sometimes a local artist is best and it helps the art economy locally

David Lewis
Guest
David Lewis

This whole episode is insulting to the extreme! Just like asking the descendants of American slaves trade to pay for artwork to celebrate the KKK. Also please tell me how giving a contract and huge sums of money to a London firm in any ways helps to regenerate Flint.

Billprice
Guest
Billprice

I’ve complained to Cadw, through their online form and received a copy and paste note back to their statement on the 24th

Melindwr
Guest
Melindwr

If only history was as simple and straightforward as we like to believe it is. When I was a boy, growing up in South Wales, the symbols of English oppression around me weren’t towering castles or crumbling fortresses, but the ugly slag heaps that I played on and the narrow, overcrowded terraces where we lived. Then, as I began to read a bit, I discovered that Welshmen could be grasping iron-masters, too; our own gentry was every bit as privileged as the English toffs; and in Tredegar, only a few decades before I was born, the townspeople sparked off riots… Read more »

Margaret Donegan
Guest
Margaret Donegan

As a Scot I am outraged on behalf of the people of Wales on learning of the plans to build an iron ring at Flint Castle to commemorate the conquest of Wales by Edward I; known in Scotland as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’. That this edifice should also cost the good people of Wales £395,000 for its construction simply adds insult to injury. The general lack of knowledge of Welsh history from those who proposed this expensive piece of ‘artwork’ is also quite shocking and as someone who has visited Wales on several occasions I am one tourist who… Read more »

Kelvin Jones
Guest

celebrate Wales with shackles ??? Spending £400.000 , why not use it on improving Wales for tourism. How about removing parking charges on our seaside areas and our parks. You could do the former and probable still have £200,000+ to improve the roads going to them. They are thinking so far out of the box that they are approaching la la land. Did I miss the legalisation of marijuana or something. The council here spent £80,000 on a concrete pillar (supposed to look like a woman!) . Everybody objected under their breath but said nothing. If we don’t complain, ALL… Read more »

Jestyn
Guest

No need for it, a bad idea, but a lot of sense in what Melindwr says. A complex period of history made more complex by modern revisionism.

A Gog
Guest
A Gog

I wish the people of my Nation would wake up. This Iron Ring is not about the money, let’s be honest Labour wastes £Thousands every day anyway, the money is irrelevant. This symbol is just about Oppression.

Graham Daniel
Guest
Graham Daniel

When you,ve got this money (I hope not the EU) a better coruse would be to spend it on the Youth Hostels of Wales Get our Young people and Schools into these Projects!

John Young
Guest
John Young

My email to Dai Lloyd (AM) was replied to in 26 minutes. He said he was totally against the idea and had just been on Radio 5 Live saying so. Ten minutes later I had an email from Rhydian, one of Plaid’s support staff, explaining that Dai had urged Ken Skates to reconsider this idea. I then received the Plaid response within another three hours saying amongst other things ‘Plaid Cymru will never allow a clueless Labour government to bring shame upon our nation in this manner and we will campaign vigorously against the iron ring’. A very good and… Read more »

Martin
Guest
Martin

I said about this the other day. Honestly see it alot, Plaid getting blamed for “not speaking out” when they are all over the media doing exactly that. There are either some strange agendas at play, or it is psychological and we blame our own side; which would be very normal in colonial type situations. But those of us who appreciate political activity simply need to leave a comment saying so.

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

For once Plaid discovered that it does, after all, have a backbone. Dai iawn, credit where credit is due, but even slow Plaid probably realised that it had better get in with it’s opposition quickly or look pointless. Now all Plaid needs to do is replicate it’s stance over everything else that it allows the Welsh Labour Government to get away with. I’ve been trying to find out what Plaid’s policies are, as in a document that actually contains Plaid’s in detail. Nothing on the website, except dumbed down summaries with no substance. Meanwhile, Plaid could really learn a lot… Read more »

Martin
Guest
Martin

My view is a bit different, I think the Plaid politicians were genuinely against the ring of iron, but the end result is the same and it’s better not to argue amongst ourselves. I like the California link you posted, some good policies. The need for infrastructure investment sounds very similar to Wales.

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

And at least the CNP posts it’s policies where they are easy to find and in a clear manner that is accessible to all. Plaid doesn’t seek to make it’s policies accessible. Basically, with Plaid we’re being asked to vote for a pig in a poke. No wonder why people opt for the default choice in Wales. We know it’s not the best, (to say the least!) but it’s a known quantity. ‘Better the Devil…” Part of being a grown up democracy is debate and criticism. Whether Wales is a grown up democracy is of course debatable in itself, but… Read more »

Graham Evans
Guest

All that money spent on what seems a symbol not in Welsh interest, historically or otherwise. Spend the money on something which will benefit the area and its people.