Gary Jones writes: The salty old seaport town of Fishguard sits at the far west of Wales looking out over the Celtic sea. It is a land famous for its ancient standing stones, great castles, magic and poetry. It has a rugged coastline with a rich history of seafaring and trade, with stories of pirates and smugglers, shipwreck and rescue. It also keeps a close relationship of language and people with Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany. All this rich web of history lives on in the folklore, music and song of the region.
Since earliest times the area has been a place of adventure and travel. The Bronze and Iron Age forts and great standing stones bear testimony to waves of settlers and raiders who came and went, seeking a foothold in this place.
The Celtic Saints, St David and St Patrick, took ship back and forth to Ireland from here.
The Norsemen and Viking raiders named the town and left it with a taste for piracy and lawlessness.
Black Bart, one of Britain’s most successful pirates, grew up here. It was he who invented the 'skull and crossbones' on the black flag and became the 'Jolly Roger' of history, until his head was lost to a cannon ball in 1722.
Fishguard was the last town in Britain to be raided by pirates. Back in 1776 a pirate ship dared sail into the harbour and there fought with the locals, broadside on. Even today canon balls can still be found in the walls of some of the old buildings.
A lasting memorial of the pirate raid, with more than a whiff of gunpowder about it, is the fort and magazine built to defend the town. Built too late to save the town from the pirates, it was the fort and its long nine-pound cannon that prevented the French from landing in 1797.
The story is that the French fleet, carrying 1,000 soldiers, intended to land in Ireland, where they had been sent to help Irish rebels. In the winter gales it was blown off course, lost contact with the rebels and, as second choice, attempted to land at Fishguard on 22nd February 1797.
Persuaded that Fishguard's fort would put up a heavy defence, the French invasion fleet landed their troops at inhospitable windswept Caregwastad, miles from the town. This proved a very unfavourable spot and the rest, as they say, is history. The locals, abandoned by the gentry, turned out with pitchforks to round up the cold, wet and demoralised Frenchmen. It is said that local women, dressed in their traditional costume of tall black hats, red shawls and white aprons, were mistaken by the French for regular troops. This mistake persuaded the French to surrender to the small force of Fishguard Fencibles - as the pitchfork-wielding local militia was called. Jemima Nicholas, a local woman, captured 14 French soldiers herself and put them into the Fishguard jail.
...thus reads her epitaph on the wall in St Mary's Churchyard...
"In Memory of Jemima Nicholas of this Town who boldly marched to meet the French Invaders
who landed on our shores in February, 1797. She died in Main Street July 1832. Aged 82 years.
At the date of the Invasion she was 47 years old, and lived 35 years after the event".
So ended the last invasion of Britain, the surrender treaty for which was signed at the Royal Oak pub,
birthplace of the Fishguard Folk Festival!!
The story of this invasion is told in the Fishguard tapestry, worked by more than 70 stitchers as a community project. The work of art was initiated by the Fishguard Arts Society as their contribution to the 1997 Bicentenary of the Last Invasion of Britain.
The Tapestry measures 100 ft (30.4 metres) long. 178 different colours of wool were used in the embroidery and more than 40,000 hours went into the stitching. The tapestry incorporates actual events and local legends of the historical facts. The colours of the tapestry flow from day to night to day. The main events are described briefly in Welsh and English lettering in the borders. The first character in the tapestry is Nelly Phillips, a nine year old, who was the first to sight the approaching ships.
Another legend says a maidservant was so scared she ran to a nearby farm without spilling a drop of the beer she was carrying. Memorabilia of this 'invasion' can be found at the Royal Oak Inn in Fishguard.
The tapestry is on display in the new library,
which is situated in the Town Hall, Market Square.
Open during library hours
Lots more information
Links to friends of ours...
(It would be great if you could mention this site when enquiring/booking)
Fishguard 01348 875177
Boots, Market Square Fishguard 01348 872856
27 West Street
23 West Street, Fishguard
Vergam Dental Practice,
6 Vergam Terrace,
Fishguard 01348 873227
Local bus timetables & more
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