Remains of Fishguard Fort

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On the promontory north of the car park here, the Wales Coast Path winds past the remains of Fishguard Fort, built during the American War of Independence.

The catalyst for the fort’s construction was an attack on Fishguard in 1779 by Stephen Manhant, commander of an American privateer (a ship authorised by a government to attack another nation’s ships). America had declared independence from Britain three years earlier, but it was not until 1783 that Britain formally recognised the separation. In 1778 the inventor Benjamin Franklin had been sent to France, effectively becoming America’s first ever ambassador, and he encouraged French attacks on Britain.

Manhant’s ship, Black Prince, sailed under a French flag. Franklin wrote in 1779 that this “small cutter” had been fitted out as a privateer at Dunkirk and that Manhant, a native of Boston (like Franklin himself), had destroyed more than 30 British ships in three months. He was “more willing to encourage such armaments” because the prisoners taken by privateers could be exchanged for American prisoners.

Manhant demanded a large financial ransom from Fishguard. Rebuffed, he used the ship’s guns to fire on the town, damaging some buildings. A local ship owner, said to be a smuggler, returned fire. When cannon fire from the coastline entered the fray, Manhant sailed away.

The attack convinced the government that Fishguard’s harbour needed better defence. The fort was constructed in the early 1780s.

In 1797 French forces tried to invade Britain through Fishguard but were thwarted by clever local residents. The fort’s gunners began their response by firing blanks, to conserve their small stock of ammunition. They made enough noise to convince the French to land at Llanwnda, well away from the harbour!

The fort fell out of use in the early 19th century. Remains you can see today include a ditch hewn from the rock, the ammunition storehouse and parts of the gun battery.

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