Somesay Island Railway

A Note On The Present State Of The Historic & Archaeological Studies Of
The Island of Somesay

from The Annals of Cambria


Recent study has focused on the Celtic name for the island, Ynys Siaradwyr, and the origins of this name.  It is now thought that this may derive from a series of gatherings of druids and tribal leaders that met there every five years or so in the period before the Roman conquests of Gaul and Britain, during which there would have been much poetic and other declamation.  Our evidence for this is indirect, for the Celts themselves left no written records, but Caesar in his Gallic Wars does refer to such meetings on the island.  As is usual with classical references to the Celts, Caesar is both pejorative and derogatory about these gatherings, but there does seem to be a kernel of truth underlying what he says.  While it would be both very inaccurate and highly anachronistic to describe these gatherings as being anything in the nature of a governing assembly or parliament, it is now taken as evidence for the existence of some kind of informal tribal amphictyony between the Celtic tribes on the Gallic and Britannic sides of the Channel in the pre-Roman period.  The last of these gatherings seems to have taken place at around the time of the Boudican revolt.

As a consequence of the above it is now thought that Ynys Siaradwyr (The Island of Talkers) is the oldest extant name for the island and that the modern English and French names, Somesay Island and L’Ondit, are derivations, and to some extent corruptions, of this Celtic name.

Moving on to the early Christian period, the saint most associated with the island is St Pedrog.  While most of his active life seems to have been spent in Cornwall, scholars are now reasonably confident that the town that bears his name, Llanbedroc, is the site of a Clas (early Christian Celtic monastic settlement) actually founded by him in person.  While there he seems to have made some innovative developments with regard for transport.  Our evidence for this derives from an incunabulum now in the library of St Cecilia’s College, Cambridge, entitled Hanes Seintiau Cymru (History of the Saints of Wales), which contains a Life of St Pedrog.  Printed sometime in the late 1490s, it is obviously a transcription of manuscripts no longer extant.  Written in medieval Welsh, the description is not at all easy to follow, suggesting that the author had not seen at first hand and did not really understand what it was that he was trying to describe.

However, it appears to describe 2 sets of parallel stone troughs, at a set distance of 3 feet centre to centre, each trough being made of 3 slabs of stone, a horizontal one in the centre with 2 vertical ones on either side of it; this suggestion is that cart wheels ran in these troughs.  If this is correct, perhaps St Pedrog can be credited with the invention of an early means of making it possible to haul heavy carts across muddy ground.  A considerable number of these stone slabs were recently found in the ground during the construction of the new station on the Somesay Island Railway at Llanbedroc.  Intriguingly, some of these stone slabs appear to be able to fit together to make a kind of Y joint in the trough section.  Can we speculate therefore that while St Pedrog may not have invented the railway, perhaps he can be said to have invented the point?