Everyone has heard of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when Britain was invaded by William the Conqueror but they would be wrong to think that this was the last time mainland Britain was invaded by a foreign army. On February 22nd 1797 four French warships sailed into Fishguard Bay with a force of 1400 soldiers led by Colonel Tate, an Irish / American veteran of the American War of Independance. They hoped to set up a base in Fishguard and recruit a revolutionary army to march on England. However Fishguard was well defended by a fort, the ruins of which can still be seen on the cliffs overlooking Lower Town, and when it fired its cannon at the small fleet as it entered Fishguard bay, they beat a hasty retreat landing instead at Carreg Wastad near Llanwnda, a few miles down the coast from Goodwick. Three days later the army surrendered in the Royal Oak pub on Fishguard Square and the Battle of Fishguard was over. This event is commemorated by one of the finest tapestries to be found anywhere in the world, larger even that its more famous counterpart in Bayeux, on display for free in Fishguard Library in the Town Hall just opposite the Royal Oak.
While Fishguard is famous for the last invasion, Goodwick is famous as the site of the first flight across the Irish sea, on 22nd April 1912 when Denys Corbett Wilson flew a Beriot XI from a field near Harbour Village to Enniscorthy in County Wexford. The flight took 40 minutes and the landing was far from smooth, and it is amazing to think that just a century later jumbo jets use Strumble Head as a navigation point as they fly at 30,000 feet on their way to America. There is a plaque near Harbour Village that marks the field where Denys Corbett Wilson started his historic flight.
Goodwick is famous as the site of another 11th century battle, the battle of Goodwick Moor or Pwllgwdig (literally Goodwick pool) which took place just 12 years after the battle of Hastings, in 1078 when Rhys ab Owain was defeated by Trahaearn of North Wales. Although not as famous as the battle in Sussex it is nonetheless important as it helped set up the Tudor Family in Pembrokeshire where almost four centuries later Henry VII was born in Pembroke Castle.
Fishguard derives its name from the Norse word fiskigarðr meaning fishtrap and the remains of the medieval traps can still be seen in the bay at low tide. The fish would swim in on the high tide and then get trapped in the pools created by these traps as the tide went out. The Welsh name for Fishguard is Abergwaun, meaning the mouth of the river Gwaun which meanders through one of the finest examples of a valley formed by glacial meltwaters at the end of the Ice Age.
Fishguard lies at the foot of the the Preseli Mountains where according to the latest research the so called bluestones in Stonehenge were mined from a spot known as Carn Goedog. How they were moved from Pembrokeshire to Salisbury Plain about 4,500 years ago is a complete mystery and an attempt to replicate the feat in 2000 failed when a vessel carrying a three-ton megalith sank after just 4 miles at sea. There are many cromlechs still standing in farmers’ fields all round Fishguard & Goodwick and everywhere you can see standing stones used today as gateposts. In Harbour village you there is a line of four cromlechs in row and it is said that many more were destroyed when the harbour was first built.
Pembrokeshire was once upon a time famous for its pirates and probably the most successful of them all, Barti Ddu, or Black Bart, was born in Casnewydd-Bach between Fishguard and Haverfordwest. His real name was Bartholomew Roberts and he was mentioned by name in Treasure Island,
“It was a master surgeon, him that ampytated me – out of college and all – Latin by the bucket, and what not; but he was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle. That was Roberts’ men, that was, and comed of changing names of their ships – Royal Fortune and so on.”