The new ‘Iron Ring’ sculpture at Flint Castle makes all the same mistakes again
Ifan Morgan Jones
It’s two years since the original ‘iron ring’ sculpture at Flint Castle was proposed, with Welsh taxpayers essentially being asked to pay £630,000 for a memorial to their own conquest.
The ‘Iron Ring’, or ‘Anus of the North’ as it was rather unkindly dubbed, was a monument to the ring of castles of the same name that Edward I built when conquering Wales.
Predictably, as a monument to Wales’ conquest, it went down very badly and after a petition signed by over 7,000 signatories, it was scrapped and seemed to be gone for good.
It must be Halloween because the plan has now re-emerged zombie-like. But despite going back to the drawing board for over two years those backing the plan don’t seem to have learnt their lesson.
The new ‘circular’ design, selected from a shortlist, is made up of 300 vertical columns arranged across 12 meters, designed to invoke one of the towers of the castle itself.
I.e. it is an iron ring on its side in 300 parts rather than one.
But as with the original Iron Ring, it’s the proposed symbolism of the sculpture that’s the real problem. The Bristol-based sculptor said this new sculpture would celebrate the lives of the labourers and craftsmen who built the castle and in so doing “were responsible for the creation and growth of Flint as a town”.
It seems quite incredible that after receiving such a poor reaction the last time, Cadw and others have gone and proposed essentially the same design with the same symbolism again.
The only difference this time is that rather than paying homage to the castles themselves, they are creating a monument to those who built them instead.
The same rather obvious point remains as last time – you do not celebrate the building of the castles themselves, which were tools of oppression and exploitation.
As Welsh historian, Professor Martin Johnes said in response to the new sculpture: “You think someone might have learnt after last time. If you are going to build a memorial or sculpture at a place of conquest and colonialism it has to be dedicated to the victims.”
We do not need monuments to Wales’ colonisation, because the castles themselves remain as powerful reminders of their history, purpose and the efforts of those who built them.
You don’t need to build a sculpture that mirrors one of the towers of the castle when those towers are still standing.
It’s no surprise therefore that a petition has quickly sprung up to oppose this new installation too.
I honestly do not think this is the artist’s fault, whose work overall seems excellent. The artist has previously worked alongside poet Rhys Iorwerth to create an anti-colonial work of art at Caernarfon Castle.
It is Cadw whose job it was to offer that Welsh input and a different historical perspective and be aware of these sensitivities when picking the winning design.
This is ultimately a matter of perspective. We can continue telling Wales’ history from an outside, colonial perspective, where Wales’ own conquest was a positive development.
On the other, we can tell Wales’ history as experienced by the people of Wales itself. For them, the Norman invasion was not a pleasant experience.
Perhaps this tendency to spend lavishly on monuments to our own conquest wouldn’t be as galling if we were not so lacking in monuments to our own national history.
Just 30 miles away from Flint castle is the home of Owain Glyndwr at Sycharth – marked with nothing but a tiny information board.
All that marks the drowning of Tryweryn is a wall that can easily be painted over or knocked down by any vandal that happens to be passing.
This is despite the fact that a fantastic monument has already been designed by a world-renowned sculptor. It would cost £250,000 – the same amount as Alun Cairn’s gigantic ‘Prince of Wales Bridge’ signs.
It seems that public art that tells Welsh history from a Welsh perspective is too much to ask for. But even when there’s a huge outcry the first time, monuments to Wales’ conquest must go ahead, come what may.