THE OTHER SIDE OF THE IRISH SEA
Those who welcomed me in Dublin advised me to head for Bray where part of the Breton colony, already here, had settled in Daisy Bank, an old and rather dilapidated house. It seemed that this house belonged to a fairground manager, who directed the funfair attractions in the summer during the tourist season. These were situated at the end of the promenade on the seafront, at the foot of the steep hill of Bray Head that closes off the bay to the south. In the winter in Bray as in all seaside resorts, apartments and furnished houses to let can be found at very low prices. Their owners are able to let them to tourists during the summer at much higher prices for those few weeks of the season. These houses are generally unoccupied for the rest of the year. In Daisy Bank, the house faced directly on to the promenade with just a small unkempt garden in between. Those already settled in there were Jacques de Quélen with his wife and son Youenn, who had stayed with us on their way through Swansea the previous year, also Yann Goulet, ex leader of the Parti National Breton’s youth organization, with his wife and two children, Armelle being the eldest. Also staying there was Alphonse Le Boulc’h, baker from Pontivy, originally from Baud and long time member of Breiz Atao who had been sentenced on the pretext that he had been a chauffeur for German officers under the Occupation. Other Breton refugees passing through also sought temporary refuge there at times. I had become one of those.
Though quite large, the house was far too small for all these people who piled in as best as they could. The presence of families, in particular, was the source of problems difficult to resolve, and there was complete misunderstanding between the Quélens and the Goulets. Exile can lead to bitterness in certain characters and community living, always difficult even under normal circumstances, is even more so under circumstances that are not. The family unit always requires that each one feels at home and can avail of a minimum personal independence. I had already experienced this at the end of my period in Wales. At Daisy Bank the two families had reached the stage where they no longer spoke to each other. This did not make life any easier for those who wanted to maintain good relations with both. The notion of territory exists in the life of men and it is as essential to the human race as it is, generally speaking, to animals.
From time to time, Cathail O’Daly, an important member of the Saint Vincent de Paul society, would come to Daisy Bank to inquire about the needs of each one. He had previously held the important post of State Counsel in De Valera’s ministry under Fianna Fail, with De Valera the party’s leader. The latter had recently been replaced by a coalition government under the presidency of W.Costello, leader of the Fine Gael party that had made an alliance with Labour and with Sean Mac Bride’s Clan na Poblachta. The latter had thus become Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government. Cathail O’Daly had lost his government post with these changes, but he remained an eminent personality in the legal profession. A good number of years later, he became president of the republic, chosen by common accord by Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael, both parties having agreed to put forward his name. Having no children, he was devoted to the service of his more destitute compatriots. Amongst their number, he counted the Bretons in need, without ever adopting their quarrels, nor taking sides with the disputes that opposed them to France. Eamonn De Valera as well as Sean Mac Bride shared O’Daly’s sentiments as regards Celtic fraternity. De Valera who had become a simple deputy again, was at our side in attendance at some sessions of the Inter Celtic Congress that was held in Dublin a few years later, in 1953. MacBride had been brought up in France, where his mother Maude Gonne, the heroine with her husband of the Irish national liberation struggle, had been obliged to take refuge after her husband was shot by the English during the 1916 rebellion. He had retained an innate sympathy vis-à-vis the struggles of other groups of people for the affirmation of their national identities, a sympathy which he never ceased to express throughout his long militant life. It was known that he had been at the head of the I.R.A.’s General Staff in the thirties. This did not prevent him from being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later on, to which was added the Lenin Prize and his subsequent functions as Deputy Secretary General of the U.N.
Sean MacBride would sometimes relate certain incidents to those who would listen, which he did with me one day, when later on I became a member of the Irish section of Amnesty International when he was its President. In the course of his functions as Minister of Foreign Affairs, around the time when I arrived in Ireland, he received visits from the French Ambassador from time to time. The latter bore the strange name of Comte Ostrorog. A worthy emulator of Massigli, his colleague in London, he had already intervened several times for Breton refugees to be refused the permissions to stay that the Irish government was giving them. Was not the mere presence of these refugees likely to tarnish the image of France and endanger its international reputation, when France had for a long time been regarded as a faithful friend of Ireland? The ambassador was forgetting that whilst it was true that some French battalions had landed in Ireland in 1798 to help the Irish rise up against the English, who were at war with France at the time, it was also a fact that the French press, opinion and French government had combined to sully, condemn and advocate the elimination of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, guilty of rising up against the English, in the middle of a war where the English were now the allies of the French.
“Whenever Count Ostrorog arrived to visit me,” Sean MacBride related, “I always received him very kindly as the friend of France that I was and that I still am. But I would ask him straight off if he had come about the Bretons. If he indicated that it was one of the subjects that he wanted to discuss, I would simply reply, “Monsieur l’Ambassadeur, you know that nothing can be done regarding that matter. Therefore let us straight away address the other matters that are the object of your visit.”
De Valera was still leader of the government when Raymond Delaporte landed in Ireland. Through the intermediary of Oscar MacUilis, he agreed to receive Delaporte who wished to discuss the situation of the Breton refugees and their presence in the country. During the course of the discussion, De Valera assured him they had nothing to fear and that there was no danger of them being sent back to France. He enquired as to the name Delaporte was using to conceal his true identity, and told him: “Keep your assumed name. That way if the French Ambassador asks me about M.Delaporte, I can tell him that I do not know anyone of that name.”
De Valera was familiar with this form of reasoning that the French would describe as “jésuitique” but is not unusual in the Irish mind whose twists and turns are as mysterious as the maze and intricacies of the caves of Minos. When, after the civil war which set De Valera in opposition to the supporters of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and which was followed by the creation of the Irish Free State, he realised that the policy he had maintained of refusing to sit on the Dail , was not paying off in practice, he had renounced the policy with a similar line of argument. His refusal to sit in the Free State’s parliament had been based on the fact that the Irish who were elected had to pledge allegiance to the British crown before taking up their seat in parliament.
Following on the 1927 elections, he decided, together with all those elected, to his new Fianna Fail party, to put an end to this policy of abstention though he did not wish to reject it. He therefore declared, in substance, that to sit in the Dail it was first necessary to be elected by the people, which they were, then to sign a paper, a simple formality that he and those elected considered to be of no restrictive value. Thus all the deputies of his party followed him and signed the paper that was none other than the oath of allegiance which he had until then refused to accept. Anxious to explain this about-turn during one of the assembly’s sessions, he declared more or less in the following terms, the reasons for his new policy: “Yes, I did sign this paper, but in the same way as I would have given my autograph to a newspaper. If you were to ask me did I have any idea of its contents, I would reply yes, but no one read it out to me and no one asked me to read it.”
All this to point out that at the time when I arrived in Ireland, the foremost leaders of the Irish State, of whatever political allegiance, were aware of the Bretons’ struggle for their freedom. In any case, aside from any feelings of Celtic fraternity, they remained faithful to the policy of neutrality that they maintained during the last world conflict, by giving Breton refugees the right to stay and settle in their country.
The Bretons were actually not the only ones to benefit from this understanding attitude. The Basque Nationalist, Gallastegui, had already found refuge in Dublin before the war, shortly before Franco’s victory in Spain, and also some German and Central European refugees fleeing from Hitler’s dictatorship. The immediate aftermath of the war brought some Dutch and Flemish nationalists, fleeing as we were from the repression which had broken out in their respective countries at the end of the German occupation. However, Irish opinion was not well informed on the whole about all these problems. With the help of propaganda, there was an understanding that refugees had to flee those countries invaded by the German, but far less understanding of the need to flee from countries that, from their point of view, had recovered their freedom. This was the case with us, as it was with the Flemish. Our efforts to settle down in Ireland came up against these difficulties and this lack of understanding of the reality of our problems. It was certainly our responsibility to try by all possible means to put an end to it.
Here at least, unlike in Brittany and Wales, there was no question about the path that should be followed to obtain national freedom. It had taken practically a century of fruitless parliamentary struggles for Home Rule, to finally convince the Irish that national freedom could not be obtained without paying for it by the spilling of blood. It is this fundamental belief that today still inspires the I.R.A. fighters in Northern Ireland. It will carry on as long as the imperial power continues its refusal to apply bold political solutions to settle peacefully – and it can – a problem that has been left to fester for a century. In 1922 it had not yet managed to settle this, in spite of the political freedom it had then granted to twenty-six of the thirty-two counties that make up the whole of Ireland. This country of old traditions that understood remarkably well the need for the federation and independence of its former possessions overseas, absurdly refuses, just as France does also, to apply these on its own territory.
Yann Goulet and his wife Yvonne, who had worked in my “La Bretagne” newspaper’s offices, had offered me a bed at Daisy Bank in a small dark room that looked out onto the yard. It was in fact a short narrow divan to which we added an armchair on the end to make it the length of a bed. That was all they could offer me, as there was no other bed available in the house. In addition there was a table on which I could write, and a chair. I used my suitcase as a chest of drawers and my briefcase as well as the floor for my books. A temporary makeshift set-up but one I was very glad to find.
I did not linger there and would generally leave in the morning, availing myself of convenient trains running relatively frequently, linking Bray to Dublin, in order to attend to various matters and try to find some kind of work. Aside from the private French classes that we were all seeking, there were few openings possible. It was not reasonable to expect a regular teaching post in a secondary school, in view of the fact that the school year was in full swing. Not until September would there be some chance.
The Irish people we spoke to always received us with kindness. They all showed interest in our problems and were sympathetic to our difficult situations. We were becoming accustomed to this. I remembered my conversations with the principal of the commercial college in Swansea. Where the Welsh always maintain a reserve, the Irish always demonstrate enthusiasm. The former promise little, but usually fulfil their promises. The latter promise a lot but only fulfil a few. Their vivid imagination and their sensitivity often lead them to forget the realities of life. Maybe those long sessions in pubs and the pleasant euphoria that they induce have something to do with this. What struck us and bothered us was that in fact they never said no, fearing that if they did so they would disappoint or upset us. I confided in one of them one day of my surprise at this trait in their character. My question obviously embarrassed him.
“We became so accustomed over centuries of never saying no to the English, but to just go ahead and do whatever we pleased, that this trait of character must have remained,” he simply replied.
Aside from our knowledge of French, most of us had hardly any particular ability, nor for the moment anyway, any capital that would have enabled us to consider other activities.
Only Alphonse Le Boulc’h had found work in a garage as a mechanic and a new arrival, Christian Hirguair known as Job, had found work in an electrical business as an installer and repairer of radios. Yann Goulet was already trying to make a living from his art and soon after, when he finally became the only occupant of Daisy Farm, founded the L’Académie de la Rive Gauche, giving lessons in painting and drawing. However, he had no hesitation in taking on the hardest temporary work, when he went to the nearby construction businesses. Jacques de Quélen was trying his hand at photography, under the name of de Kerohan: thus repeating in modern terms the adventures of one of his ancestors in exile in London during the French Revolution, who made a living from painting miniatures.
Gwion Hernot and Charles Le Goanac’h, who had been the first to arrive, came to Dublin after a brief stay in Cork and made a living as best as they could, with private French classes, gardening work and help from various quarters. They were, like me, seeking posts as teachers. From time to time we would meet in Dublin, to exchange new information or useful tips. Our meeting place was generally in front of the small monument commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising that had been erected in the great hall of the central post office of Dublin. The building had been at the centre of the Rising and of the proclamation made at that time of the Republic of Ireland. Above the text of the proclamation is a representation of the legendary Irish hero, Cuchulain, who though wounded, had asked to be tied to a rock in order to have the glory and honour of dying standing up with a sword in his hand: a symbol that, in that place, could not have been better chosen.
We also sometimes met at the soup kitchen, as most of us did not have the means to eat at a restaurant, even a cheap one. Through our various dealings with Irish people, we came to realise that in general they were quite ignorant vis-à-vis the political and cultural problems and of the struggle Brittany and other nations that had been subjugated were waging on the continent. One of them, though he held a post as a teacher of Irish, even said to me one day: “Ah yes! Brittany, I know it. It is to the west of France. I have been to Le Havre”. A priest from a teaching order who had just done a year at the Sorbonne, was very surprised and hardly believed me when I told him that three years earlier, internment camps had existed in France where over 100 000 French citizens had been incarcerated, that there had been a number of executions and death sentences as well as heavy prison sentences, inflicted by special courts.
He had never heard of this during his stay there, he told me. French propaganda was very effective, especially as the newspapers and their printers were in the hands of new owners who had occupied and stolen them with the blessings of the first governments deriving from the French Resistance. There was a strong counter current to overcome. The Irish, absorbed by their own national struggle, had for too long been accustomed to considering that International affairs were for the English to deal with and not for them. Thus I made it my business to meet with some personalities from the world of journalism. The ground had to be prepared for the future: my improved knowledge of English now made it possible for me to contemplate writing some articles or communiqués for the radio, Irish as well as Welsh.
All this running around I was doing, for interviews and other matters, gave me the opportunity of getting to know Dublin better and the social problems resulting from the world war that, thanks to De Valera’s policy of neutrality, Ireland had avoided, as Spain had also, because of Franco’s policy. Neither Ireland, so few years after the difficult formation of a national State, nor Spain just after a terrible civil war, could have coped with all the sacrifices that even a small involvement in the world conflict would have entailed.
In both countries, urgent social problems owing to a generally low standard of living of the population needed to be addressed. In the working class areas of Dublin, children still ran around barefoot in all weather, likewise the young newspaper sellers who crowded around the entrances to stations and public buildings. They were often dressed in rags. Social security for the most destitute rested practically entirely on welfare and charity. Political independence had certainly not solved all the problems. But it had given the Irish the possibility and the power to solve these themselves, a possibility and a power they did not have before. Dublin had ceased to be the colonial capital it would have remained, if independence had not been obtained. However, having constructed the nation politically, it now had to provide a living for it, reducing the economic dependence it still had on Great Britain. The successive governments that Ireland had after the end of the civil war were applying themselves to this end.
Already, before the Second World War, De Valera had ceased paying the British Treasury the annual taxes destined to indemnify English landlords suffering expropriation from their land that had been brought about by the agrarian reforms and their emigration to England. The policy of neutrality would facilitate the straightening out of a chronically deficient balance of trade. The war had brought on severe restrictions in the standard of living of the British. Foodstuffs had become scarce in the large English urban centres, as it had generally in all countries on the continent that were at war or occupied. The English literally came to Ireland to eat and to stock up with supplies they could not find at home. In Great Britain, everything was strictly rationed. In Ireland, only imported products were.
But if the English came to Ireland to eat, many Irish went to work in England where the war had generated an enormous demand for manpower. The migration current, nearly exclusively turned towards the United States since the ‘Great Famine’ of the mid 19th century, was now mainly directed towards Great Britain. The earnings of the immigrants , frequently sent back to Ireland, contributed towards the recovery of the balance of payments, particularly as both countries had the same currency. It is undeniably in the policy of neutrality that the beginning of Ireland’s economic development lies.
The two political parties following each other in power in Dublin since the creation of the Free State hardly differed from each other on the economic and social policies that had to be pursued. Only the memories of the civil war, though already a quarter of a century old, still separated Fine Gael, who had accepted the creation of the Free State as a result of the Anglo-Irish treaty, and Fine Fail who had been opposed to it. The deep political divisions between them that were still expressed had no other origin. Hatreds and grudges are not easily forgotten. Also, it was possibly a case of both parties being reduced to fighting against policies when in the opposition, but which they applied when in power. As far as the Irish are concerned, life is a sort of vast scene in which they are the actors.
Those in Irish political life are always playing a role, just as their compatriots also do. They do not want to appear unfaithful to the roles their fathers or themselves have played in the past. This role is part and parcel of their tradition and political image. Nearly three quarters of a century after the civil war, these outdated divisions have not yet completely disappeared. The protagonists are just beginning to free themselves from these, though many, especially amongst the younger generations, only pretend to believe in them, realising more and more their artificiality and anachronism.
In spite of the persisting daily worries and uncertainties of the immediate future, I continued come what may and with the greatest possible regularity to maintain the publication of our small press bulletin. I also started writing one or two communications for Irish radio on Brittany and some of its traditions. I often carried out these tasks at the Dublin national library, a convenient place for research, and sometimes in Bray, in spite of the cold and lack of comfort of this temporary encampment, which was all Yann Goulet could offer me at the time and for which I was particularly grateful to him.
This stay gave me the opportunity of getting to know Yann Goulet better, as I had only been able to meet him on few occasions before, in spite of his presence in Rennes when I was living there also. We met a few times just before the war at Ker Vreiz in Paris and in the crêperies of the Montparnasse quarter. He had then been called up and had fought bravely in the French army. He was taken prisoner and directed the Breton prisoners’ camp in Germany, created by the German army after its offensive on the West, until its dissolution in October 1940. The conclusion of the Montoire agreement between Pétain and Hitler and the initiation of the policy of Franco-German collaboration, had brought about the abolition of the camp. On returning to Brittany, Yann Goulet had been asked by Raymond Delaporte to take charge of and to organise recruiting of the Bagadou Stourm, the Parti National Breton’s youth organisation. The political nuances and distinctions that it was important to maintain between the nationalist policies of the P.N.B. and those more moderate ones, which I led through my newspapers and the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, were the cause of our paths not crossing much whilst he performed his functions for the P.N.B.
He accomplished these functions with authority and efficiency, organising camps, marches and para-military exercises. He had no hesitation in confronting the conflicts and clashes that his activities provoked with the French police of Vichy. He even went as far as holding a police inspector from Brest a prisoner for twenty-four hours in the wilderness of the Monts d’Arré, subjecting him to a tough interrogation. The German police had been obliged to come and set the inspector free by manu militari. As a result of this incident, the Vichy authorities had imprisoned Yann Goulet with his lieutenant Yann l’Haridon. Both had gone on a long hunger strike before being released. As far as Yann Goulet is concerned, the French, no matter who they are, are his enemies: he will always consider them as such. When Célestin Lainé, towards the end of 1943, had undertaken the creation of the Formation Perrot, a force of Breton volunteers to take part in armed combat alongside German police forces against the French Resistance who had begun to assassinate Breton nationalists, he was opposed to this force of volunteers seeking recruits amongst the Bagadou Stourm. Also he had no liking for Lainé or the ex-members of the Formation Perrot. When some of these also began to seek refuge in Ireland, he kept them firmly at arms length. None of them, in any case, ventured to visit him.
Having left Rennes with his family after the city was evacuated by German troops, he had sought refuge in the Loire valley, where he had found work in a factory. It was only after the Court in Rennes had sentenced him to death that he decided, on the entreaties of Raymond Delaporte, to emigrate. The channels for the true-false passports that I had established and initiated in July 1946, were by then well and truly up and running. This made it possible for him to reach Ireland with his family, after passing through England.
In Bray, Yann Goulet with his wife and children led a very Spartan and frugal existence with undeniable courage. He ruled his family with authority and firmness, exactly as he had ruled over the Bagadou Stourm and would do so again had they not disappeared. He was as hard on others as he was on himself. Gwion Hernot would say that that Yann Goulet liked heroism and practised it at home.
“At Yann’s place, everything has to be done in a heroic manner,” he would say, “even the simplest actions of life.”
Having once and for all taken on this uncompromising role, he always found he was perfectly at home in Ireland and amongst the Irish, whose sacrifices and heroism he had often extolled to the youth of the Bagadou that he continued to call “mes jeunes”.
“Yann has always been very dramatic,” Raymond Delaporte once told me with all the affection and regard he had for him in his voice. “Hernot was right to say that Yann has always done the simplest things dramatically. His best sculptures are dramatic. However, he does sometimes forget that the Irish have always accomplished the most heroic deeds with simplicity.”
Thanks to his drive, his qualities and his artistic talent, Yann Goulet soon made a certain number of useful contacts amongst his new Irish compatriots. Together, we would frequently evoke the war years, memories of the Latin Quarter and of Ker Vreiz. As I listened to him, I would irresistibly be reminded of a sentence from Victor Hugo on his exile in Guernsey, maintaining his absolute, unconditional and implacable opposition to the empire: “And should there be only one left, I would be that one.” Thus, subsequently, even when the political situation was normalised and that statutory limitation and amnesty came into play, allowing him to return freely to France and Brittany, he always refused to set foot there again.
However, he remained implacably faithful to his homeland of origin, but finally became more Irish than the Irish themselves, criticising harshly the dishonourable behaviour of one or another with the English. He soon found a post as professor of Art in one of the technical colleges in Bray, where he settled for good. He gradually became an eminent citizen of his new homeland, which owes to him a number of its best public monuments. (1)
(1)Bourrc’hiz was the model for his statue of the soldier in front of the customs house.
I continued to meet with a number of people I had been advised could help me out, mainly in journalism and in teaching, but nothing concrete had materialised. I finally decided to try and return to Great Britain, where I could at least finish the school year in Tregyb and in the various establishments where I taught. I had not after all been forbidden to visit. Also the separation from my wife and children again, after being reunited for less than a year with them, weighed on me.
Unfortunately my French passport had expired. Rather than facing the French embassy in Dublin, I decided to go via Belfast, hoping to bluff the French consul living there into granting me an extension of the passport.
From Belfast I could get a boat to Liverpool attracting less attention. My bluff did not succeed. After endless talk, the French consul indicated that he was not authorised to grant extensions of passports, but that he would approach the local immigration authorities of my situation so that they would not prevent me from boarding. His approach obviously had the opposite effect to the one expected: henceforth I could not pass unnoticed.
After a tiring night spent partly stretched out on the floor of one of the covered decks, I landed without any problems in Liverpool. I quickly made my way to Birmingham in order to warn our Welsh friend Delwyn Phillips that I had given his name and his address as a reference to the border police. A member of Plaid Cymru and of the Inter Celtic congress, Delwyn at that time was working as a tailor in Birmingham. The authorities knew him as a reputable man. I spent a night at his place and took the train the next morning for Llandeilo where I arrived late afternoon, happy to be reunited with my family in Tregyb. I even took up my classes there again the next day.
Unfortunately, I was only able to remain there for a few days. Two days after my visit, Delwyn Phillips had received a visit from the Birmingham police, wanting to know where I was. He tried to keep them waiting for several days, but finally decided to warn me, advising me to leave again as soon as possible, as a deportation order would be brought against me if I was not found. There certainly did not seem to be any other solution in order to avoid the worst. I phoned the Birmingham police inspector in charge of the matter, who had left his contact number with Delwyn . I advised him that I was leaving again. He asked me to remain there, as he had some papers for me to sign before my departure.
What Delwyn Phillips had not been told however, was that Chuter Ide, the Home Secretary, had already signed the deportation order. I was still shaving the following morning, when the inspector arrived, accompanied by a police car and a guard in uniform with some of his colleagues from the local police.
“A deportation order has been issued against you,” he told me. “I have been sent to enforce it and am unable to do otherwise than to arrest you and escort you to the border.”
“Which border?” I asked him.
“Undoubtedly the French border,” he told me, “as your passport is a French one.”
“If you do, you will be deliberately throwing me into the lion’s mouth. I was about to leave again for Ireland, which I have just come from, when you arrived.”
I explained my true situation to him as there was no longer any point in hiding it and I asked to be considered as a political refugee.
“All this is not up to me,” he told me, “and I have no authority to make any decisions on that score. There is nothing stopping you from making an appeal against this deportation: but for the time being I have to carry out these orders. I have to take you to London, where you will stay at a police station, until arrangements can be made to take you back to the border. Do not take any money with you. If you have any on you, I will be obliged to make you pay for your fare on the boat and for the train. In any case,” he added, probably to reassure me, “we have no intention of letting the French police know about your arrival.”
I did not believe him of course, knowing the close links and exchanges of information between the police forces of the States that had been allies in a war barely over. In any case, my passport would have attracted attention. Whilst I continued to get ready, I asked Marie-Madeleine to telephone Gwynfor Evans in Llangadock immediately, to let him know the situation and to ask him if he could to come over urgently. He was only a few kilometers from Tregyb. I delayed my preparations as long as I could, until the police inspector lost his patience in the end, reminding me that we had a train to catch for London. We were to board the train at Llannelli, the nearest station.
I held Marie-Madeleine close in my arms, trying to reassure her. Meanwhile, the children, except for baby Erwan, had left for school. The police car taking me had just started down the avenue leading to the road, when Gwynfor appeared coming from the opposite direction. He stopped his car right in the middle of the pathway, thus forcing the car I was in to stop. He introduced himself to the police inspector and renewed the protest I had already made against my deportation.
“The final decision regarding the fate of Doctor Moger depends entirely on the Home Secretary,” replied the latter. “I have not been personally informed of the motives for his deportation. I have simply been put in charge of taking him to London to be remanded in custody before his deportation.”
Shortly after my departure Rhiannon came to replace Gwynfor alongside Marie-Madeleine. Once back home, he got down to work immediately, alerting the press and the Welsh parliamentarians he knew personally. At the time, Plaid Cymru did not have any representative in the House of Commons, but it had a certain amount of sympathy from amongst parliamentarians of the Liberal Party, that was in opposition to the Labour Party in power at the time. At the beginning of the century, it was the Liberal Party that was in favour of Home Rule for Ireland and of cultural autonomy for Wales. The spirit of the stand it took then had not yet been lost amongst the few parliamentarians still in the British parliament.
“I spent nearly twenty-four hours on the telephone,” Gwynfor told me much later when we recalled the events that marked those two days. ” I did not stop after alerting Hopkin Morris, the Liberal deputy for Camarthen, whom I know as he is the deputy for my constituency: but thanks to Cyril Jones, attorney and lawyer from Wrexham who has already written frequently to the press, drawing the attention of public opinion to the situation of Breton refugees, I was also able to contact several Labour Deputies, one of them being Robert Richards, the Wrexham deputy, and a few others, so that they could put pressure on their party.
J.E Jones, for his part, immediately gave information and interviews, from the headquarters of the Welsh party in Cardiff, to representatives from Welsh and British newspapers. That same evening, my ex-students from Swansea University organised a petition to protest the measures taken against me.
In the train taking me to London, I composed a letter to the Home Secretary, setting out my case and requesting, either to be considered as a political refugee, or to be allowed to return to Ireland where I had come from. My guardian angel, who was Scottish I later discovered, promised to hand it over to his superiors at the Home Office for the attention of Chuter Ede, the then undersecretary of State in charge of these matters. He allowed me to telephone from the station in London to Geraint Dyffnallt Owen, Merion’s brother, who was then working at the B.B.C. News Office, alerting him to what had happened and giving him the address of the police station in London that I was being taken to. That same evening, the B.B.C. mentioned the case in its news bulletin and the following morning the Welsh daily Western Mail and a number of British newspapers carried the story, picking up on the protest movement that was emerging.
It was already mid afternoon by the time we reached the central police station in London. My suitcase and briefcase were taken from me before locking me up in a dark cell, lit only by a skylight with wire mesh, but with a comfortable couch, easily converted into a bed. I was brought a light meal.
My thoughts were certainly not optimistic: the lack of occupation and the loss of freedom of movement were not conducive to making them any brighter. I had already experienced the limited back and forth that can be performed within a restricted space: it can stimulate thought but can not make you forget the uncertainty that is the most painful part of the ordeal…Thus I was particularly grateful to Geraint Owen for trying to see me. It was already very late at night when he called at the police station where I was locked up. He was not allowed to see me, but the sergeant on duty brought me the message that he had wanted to give me.
“Your friend from the BBC has just called around,” he told me. ” He requested me please to tell you that according to the initial enquiries he has made, there is a very strong chance that you will be sent back to Ireland and not to France.”
I thanked him profusely. Geraint’s message lifted a heavy weight from me. It allowed me to sleep better. The day dawned with brighter thoughts. I only learnt later, owing to the fact that I remained incommunicado, deprived of all contact with the outside until my return to Ireland two days later, that the French embassy, by means of a public statement from M.Massigli, who had still not forgotten the conclusions of the Welsh Eisteddfodd report, requesting, early on the morning following my arrest, that I be handed over to the French authorities. New discussions had taken place at the Home Office at a higher level. Chuter Ede continued to be harassed by the Welsh deputies who threatened to publicly bring up in the Chamber of Commerce the matter of my deportation, as well as that of the other Breton refugees in Great Britain, if he persisted in wanting to send me back to France. He was worried about having a new political problem on his hands: he was fairly certain the press would get hold of it and that the role ascribed to him would not be a good one.
“Since the Irish are prepared to have him and to keep him,” he finally decided, “let him then be sent back to Ireland.”
I had not been told about all this of course: I was still despondently at the police station in London where I was locked up. The uncertainty was still there. It was only lifted when the police inspector from Birmingham who had brought me to London, came once more to collect me towards the end of the afternoon.
“You will no doubt be very glad to hear,” he told me laconically, “that I am taking you back to Birmingham, and from there you will be taken to Holyhead. Remember, however, that from henceforth you are banned from setting foot in Great Britain again, and that the deportation order brought against you remains in force.”
Thus, once more, I picked up my suitcase in one hand and my brief case in the other. My burden felt lighter now. We had not been allocated a police car this time and I had difficulty keeping up with the policeman walking along the streets and crowded footpaths. He was hurrying me along: afraid of missing the train that would take him back to his home base. He was apparently no longer afraid that I would fade into the background.
It was already dark when we reached Birmingham. This time there was a car waiting for us: it took us directly to the security quarters of Steel House Lane police station.
“It is too late to take you to the boat for Ireland tonight. One of my colleagues will come to collect you tomorrow. You will spend the night here.”
With these words the inspector left me, having first promised me that he would telephone Delwyn to notify him of my presence at the police station. The latter would in turn take care of notifying Marie-Madeleine and Gwynfor Evans to thus reassure them as to my fate.
“The evening meal time has already passed,” the sergeant on duty told me, after the policeman had left me. “But we could bring you a cup of tea and some sandwiches, and for the morning what would you prefer with your breakfast, tea, hot chocolate or coffee?”
I looked at him in surprise. I was not used to this type of welcome in the prisons I had frequented before. I thanked him warmly before being taken by a guard to my quarters for the night. It was a very dark building and resembled a prison rather than a police station. Lengthways on both sides of a vast hangar with overhead lighting, rows of cells were laid out, each one equipped with a type of bed and a toilet. They were open on the side facing the central space, and separated from it with solid gates equipped with large locks, in the style of American prisons as one sees them in films. Very few of them appeared to be occupied.
“How many blankets do you want?” the guard asked me as he stopped in front of one of the cells that was empty.
“It is not cold, so one or two should be enough.”
“I do not think that will be enough,” he told me, “look closer.”
The bed was made up of thick solid polished wood planks, well secured, with indeed no mattress whatsoever. Only some extra blankets could do instead.
“They are not rationed,” the guard told me. “As you can see, we do not have many clients tonight.”
Even with the extra blankets the bed was hard. I consoled myself with the thought that it was better for the body than a bed that was too soft. The emotional events of the day had tired me out and I spent a reasonable night in spite of the depressing surroundings of this new prison. Many an Irish nationalist must have shared these cells before me: and it was undoubtedly an honour to be the first Breton patriot to come after them.
The following day, and in particular the afternoon, seemed to me to be terribly long. I had been allowed to wash and shave in the section of the building reserved for the guards. In the police station cells, just as in prison cells, razors, even the safety razors, were forbidden and disposable razors with the blade incorporated had not yet been invented. I had therefore been obliged to leave my toilet bag with most of my meagre possessions in the clerk’s office. After returning to my cell I could not concentrate on the reading material that had been left there for me. I realised that I would not feel reassured until I had boarded the boat for Ireland. I knew, of course, that the boat only left Holyhead at night, to reach Dun Laoghaire, in Ireland, in the early hours of the morning, and that the crossing was relatively short.
My long, anxious and endless wait was only broken by a visit during the afternoon from Delwyn Phillips and his wife, Elwin Roberts and Marie-Madeleine who had been advised by them of my presence in Birmingham.
However, I was only allowed to see them for a few minutes and even that was just through the small opening with a wire screen fitted into the front door. The chocolate bars they had brought me had been carefully unwrapped and broken up as required by the rules.
Night had long since fallen, as far as I could make out through the glass roof of the central space, and the evening meal long since over, when a police inspector, a great hulk of a man, built like the side of a house, came to collect me. He was put in charge of taking me to the boat. At the station I was able to meet for a few minutes with Marie-Madeleine, Delwyn Phillips, his wife and Elwyn Roberts, all reassured to see me reaching the end of these three anxious days. My guard left me to speak with them freely.
In the train, he involved me in a game of cards, probably thinking it would take my mind off things. He finally left me at the top of the gangway into the boat, after solemnly handing me two half-crown coins, being five shillings.
“That is the rule,” he told me. “All those we deport and who’s fare we have paid, receive this small sum to help them buy some food or a train ticket.”
Five shillings after all, at the time, was what I received for giving a one-hour private class!
The boat was full and it was already the middle of the night: passengers from the London train had already boarded. Once again I had to make do with the floor on one of the decks. The crossing and arrival were trouble-free. At Dun Laoghaire train station, which is adjacent to the harbour station, I caught a train for Bray, arriving there around seven in the morning. I headed for Daisy Bank. I found Yvonne Goulet already cleaning her windows at this early hour of the morning. Yann had already left.
“Here I am back again sooner than I expected,” I told her. “You will never guess where I have been.”
“Yes,” she said, after taking in at a glance my badly shaved and tired looks, together with the creased gabardine. “You must have just come out of prison. You should go and rest now.”
I was back on the short little narrow divan with the armchair on the end. I decided to make up for lost time, to catch up on the lack of sleep and follow her advice.
Thee Welsh adventure was definitely over.Imperceptibly, inevitably, I drew closer to the legendary kingdom of Brandan and to the country of the first distant sailing routes on unknown seas of the extreme west. However, at the end of my wanderings would I find, as the saintly monk did, the enchanted shores of the sacred springtime islands, where the sparkling weapons and invincible armour of the gods are forged, where there is no grass without flowers, nor trees without fruit, and where uncertainty, bitterness, distress, sorrow, pain and death are unknown?