THE NATIONAL EISTEDDFOD OF WALES
This event is one of Europe’s largest cultural festivals. It is a competition-based festival, attracting more than 6,000 competitors and over 160,000 visitors, and is traditionally held during the first week of August every year. It is a celebration of Welsh poetry, music, drama, dance, art and crafts – and the golden rule is that every performance has to be in Welsh. For those who do not speak Welsh a free translation service is available in the main pavilion.
The venue changes every year to enable people from all areas of Wales to become involved. Hundreds of tents, pavilions and booths are erected in an open space known as the Maes (field) and more fields are needed for car parking, camping and caravan sites. Good weather is something much hoped for!
The highlights of the week, for many, are the crowning and chairing of the winning bards, when the main literary prizes for poetry and prose are awarded. Presided over by the Archdruid it’s a colourful and dramatic ceremony, with prominent figures in Welsh cultural life dressed in white, blue and green druidic costumes. Flower dances, trumpet fanfares and a symbolic horn of plenty are there to greet the winners. In 1987 my husband’s cousin ‘Ienan Wyn’ won the chair – a great honour indeed.
One of the most dramatic and sorrowful events in Eisteddfod history was the award of the 1917 Chair to the poet Ellis Humphrey Evans (bardic name ‘Hedd Wyn’) for the poem ‘Yr Arwr’ (The Hero’). When announced, the crowd waited for the winner to stand up – but no one did. It was then announced that Hedd Wyn had been killed the previous month on the battlefields in Belgium. That Eisteddfod was, and still is, referred to as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair – the chair having been mantled in black.
My own Eisteddfod involvement is of taking part in the Schoolchildren’s Pageant in 1959 in Caernarfon, and again in 1978 in Cardiff when my own children took part in the opening ceremony. Over the last number of years my friend and I have volunteered as stewards – a job we thoroughly enjoy.
The first week in August every year is the spirit and sound of Welshness and to Welsh people it is a celebration of who we are.
Beryl Thomas, Trinity Methodist Church, Gregson Lane
(We are very grateful to Beryl for providing this article – with St David’s Day very much in mind. We wish her well as she prepares to return to the Caernarfon area.)
This year, the Eisteddfod takes place on Angelsey in August. www.eisteddfod.wales/anglesey-2017