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An eisteddfod (Welsh: [ə(i)ˈstɛðvɔd], plural eisteddfodau Welsh: [ə(i)stɛðˈvɔdaɨ]) is a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance. The tradition of such a meeting of Welsh artists dates back to at least the 12th century, when a festival of poetry and music was held by Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth at his court in Cardigan in 1176, but the decline of the bardic tradition made it fall into abeyance. The current format owes much to an 18th-century revival arising out of a number of informal eisteddfodau. The closest English equivalent to eisteddfod is "session"; the word is formed from two Welsh morphemes: eistedd, meaning "sit", and bod, meaning "be".[1]

Pronunciation of 'Eisteddfod'


The date of the first eisteddfod is a matter of much debate among scholars but boards for the judging of poetry existed in Wales from at least the early 12th century. These judging boards had probably derived from ancient Celtic bardic traditions. The first recorded eisteddfod was held under the auspices of The Lord Rhys at Cardigan Castle in 1176. There he held a gathering to which were invited poets and musicians from all parts of Wales. A chair at the Lord's table was awarded to the best poet and musician, a tradition that prevails in the modern day National Eisteddfod. The earliest large-scale eisteddfod that is historically known is the Carmarthen Eisteddfod in 1451 under Thomas ap Gruffydd of Llandeilo (his illegitimate son was the soldier Rhys ap Thomas).

The next recorded large-scale eisteddfod was held in Caerwys in 1568. The prizes awarded were a miniature silver chair to the successful poet, a little silver crwth to the winning fiddler, a silver tongue to the best singer, and a tiny silver harp to the best harpist. Originally, the contests were limited to professional Welsh bards who were paid by the nobility. In the 16th century, Elizabeth I of England commanded that the bards be examined and licensed to ensure performance standards. But interest in the Welsh arts declined during the 17th and 18th centuries, leading to the standard of the main eisteddfod deteriorating. Gatherings also became more informal; poets would often meet in taverns and open spaces and have "assemblies of rhymers". These meetings kept traditions alive; the winners even still received a chair.

A chair was a prized award because of its perceived social status. Throughout the medieval period, high-backed chairs with arm rests were reserved for royalty and high-status leaders in military, religious and civic affairs. As most ordinary people sat on stools until the 1700s, an armchair conveyed status to a winning bard.

In 1789, Thomas Jones organised an eisteddfod in Corwen, where for the first time the public were admitted. The success of this event led to a revival of interest in Welsh literature and music. The earliest known surviving Bardic chair made specifically for an Eisteddfod was built in Carmarthen in 1819.

Eisteddfod revival[edit]

Iolo Morganwg (bardic name of Edward Williams) founded "Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain" (Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain) in 1792 to restore and replace the ancient eisteddfod. The first eisteddfod of the revival was held on Primrose Hill, London.

The Gentleman's Magazine of October 1792 reported on the revival of the eisteddfod tradition.

This being the day on which the autumnal equinox occurred, some Welsh bards resident in London assembled in congress on Primrose Hill, according to ancient usage. Present at the meeting was Edward Jones who had published his "The Musical and Poetical Reelicks of the Welsh Bards" in 1784 in a belated effort to try to preserve the native Welsh traditions being so ruthlessly stamped out by the new breed of Methodists.

The Blue Books' notorious attack on the character of the Welsh as a nation in 1846 led to public anger and the belief that it was important for the Welsh to create a new national image. By the 1850s people began to talk of a national eisteddfod to showcase Wales's culture. In 1858 John Williams ab Ithel held a "National" Eisteddfod complete with Gorsedd in Llangollen. "The great Llangollen Eisteddfod of 1858" was a significant event. Thomas Stephens won a prize with an essay demolishing the claim of John Williams (the event's organiser) that Madoc discovered America. As Williams had expected Stephens's essay to reinforce the myth, he was not willing to award the prize to Stephens and, it is recorded, "matters became turbulent". This eisteddfod also saw the first public appearance of John Ceiriog Hughes who won a prize for a love poem, Myfanwy Fychan of Dinas Brân, which became an instant hit. There is speculation that this was a result of its depiction of a "deserving, beautiful, moral, well-mannered Welshwoman", in stark contrast to The Blue Books' depiction of Welsh women as having questionable morals.

The National Eisteddfod Council was created after Llangollen, and the Gorsedd subsequently merged with it. The Gorsedd holds the right of proclamation and of governance while the Council organises the event. The first true National Eisteddfod organised by the Council was held in Denbigh in 1860 on a pattern that continues to the present day.

List of eisteddfodau[edit]

National Eisteddfod[edit]

Prifardd Robin Owain in the bardic chair, 1991
The National Eisteddfod of Wales, Mold 2007

The most important eisteddfod is the National Eisteddfod of Wales, the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe. Its eight days of competitions and performances, entirely in the Welsh language, are staged annually in the first week of August, usually alternating between north and south Wales.[2] Competitors typically number 6,000 or more, and overall attendances generally exceed 150,000 visitors.[3]

Urdd National Eisteddfod[edit]

Another important eisteddfod in the calendar is 'Eisteddfod Yr Urdd', or the Youth Eisteddfod. Organised by Urdd Gobaith Cymru, it involves Welsh youth aged 7 to 24 in a week of competition in singing, recitation, dancing, acting and musicianship during the summer half-term school holiday. The event is claimed to be Europe's premier youth arts festival.[4] Regional heats are held in advance and, as with the National Eisteddfod, the Urdd Eisteddfod is held in a different location each year. With the establishment of the Urdd headquarters in the Wales Millennium Centre, the eisteddfod will return to Cardiff every four years.

The International Eisteddfod[edit]

The International Eisteddfod is held annually in Llangollen, Denbighshire each year in July. Choirs, singing groups, folk dancers and other groups attend from all over the world, sharing their national folk traditions in one of the world's great festivals of the arts. It was set up in 1947 and begins with a message of peace. In 2004, it was (unsuccessfully) nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Terry Waite, who has been actively involved with the eisteddfod.

Other eisteddfodau[edit]

Smaller-scale local eisteddfodau are held throughout Wales. One of the best known is the Maes Garmon Eisteddfod, Mold (Welsh: Eisteddfod Ysgol Maes Garmon, Wyddgrug). Schools hold eisteddfodau as competitions within the school: a popular date for this is Saint David's Day.

Eisteddfodau in the United States[edit]

The 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod: Welsh Festival of Arts in Los Angeles was sponsored by the Meriwether Lewis Memorial Eisteddfod Foundation in association with Americanwyr Cymreig, Welsh American social network, and A Raven Above Press, a small Welsh-American owned and operated press. The Barnsdall Art Park was chosen as the site for the festival, as it was made famous for its architecture of Welsh-American Frank Lloyd Wright and its location adjacent to Griffith Park, known for its founder Griffith J. Griffith, a Welsh-American philanthropist.[5] The festival consists of lectures and book readings by authors, film festival, music, art competitions, and an outdoor marketplace. Americanwyr Cymreig founded the festival in 2009 in Portland, Oregon, with the name Left Coast Eisteddfod.[6]

There are also several smaller, regional eisteddfodau in the United States, which include the Cynonfardd Eisteddfod in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania. The 123rd Cynonfardd Eisteddfod will be held on 28 April[when?] at the Dr. Edwards Memorial Church, Church and Main Streets, Edwardsville. The music and poetry competition is one of the longest-running in the United States, behind only the Jackson School Eisteddfod in Jackson, Ohio.[7] Welsh Heritage Week [8] Cwrs Cymraeg,[9] two ambulatory Welsh language and culture courses held annually mostly in the United States, also feature a mini-Eisteddfod, and the North American Festival of Wales has recently incorporated one as well.[10]


Eisteddfods (Australian plural) have also been adopted into Australian culture. Much like the Welsh original, eisteddfods are competitions that involve testing individuals in singing, dancing, acting and musicianship. The Royal South Street Eisteddfod in Ballarat has been running since 1891.[11] At least 20 years earlier, as described in the diaries of Joseph Jenkins, Ballarat's Welsh community was conducting an annual eisteddfod each St David's Day (1 March). The Sydney Eisteddfod commenced in 1933 and offers some 400 events across all performing arts, catering to 30,000 performers annually. Modern equivalents in Australia are competitions reserved for schoolchildren, though many have open sections where anyone (including professionals) may participate and compete. Typically, a prize may be a scholarship to pursue a further career. Many young Australian actors and dancers participate regularly in the various competitions scheduled throughout the year. Many other communities host eisteddfods, including Alice Springs, Darwin, Brisbane and Melbourne.


Chubut Eisteddfod Association in Trelew.

Eisteddfodau have been held since the initial Welsh settlement in Argentina in the late 19th century. Competitions nowadays are bilingual, in Welsh and Spanish, and include poetry and prose, translations (Welsh, Spanish, English, Italian, and French), musical performances, arts, folk dances, photography and video among others. A youth eisteddfod is held in Gaiman every September, and the main Chubut Eisteddfod is held in Trelew in October. An annual eisteddfod is also held in Trevelin, in the Andes and Puerto Madryn[citation needed] on the coast.[12]

Non-Welsh specific eisteddfodau[edit]

There are cultural youth events in the Methodist Church in different parts of England called eisteddfodau, for example an annual eisteddfod in Kettering in Northamptonshire.

In Cornwall, an analogous event is known as "Esethvos Kernow" (Cornish for "Eisteddfod of Cornwall") and is connected with Gorseth Kernow.

For many years Teignmouth Grammar School in Teignmouth, Devon held an Eisteddfod annually in the Easter term, comprising art, music and drama competitions.

The eisteddfod idea has been taken up by non-Welsh speakers in the Channel Islands, particularly for the preservation of the local dialects Jèrriais and Guernésiais, and is called such. See Jersey Eisteddfod.

In Ireland, Seachtain na Gaeilge is similar to an eisteddfod; it celebrates Irish music and culture and promotes the use of the Irish language.

The Scottish Gaelic Mod and the Breton Kan ar Bobl both have similarities to an eisteddfod.

An "International Eisteddfod" was held on 28 July 1915, in San Francisco, California, at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition which drew competing choruses from around the nation, including one mixed group composed of the German members of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus from New York. The tightly-rehearsed all-male Orpheus Club of Los Angeles was judged the winner and awarded $3,000.[13]

In 1926, the Pasadena Playhouse in California, USA, undertook an Eisteddfod of one-act plays by local authors presented to the public, offering a prize for the best. This subsequently evolved into an annual Summer One-Act Play Festival.

The Bristol Festival of Music, Speech and Drama was formerly known as the Bristol Eisteddfod,[14] with the name still being used by the Bristol Dance Eisteddfod.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harper, Douglas (2001–2011). "Eisteddfod". Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  2. ^ Williams, Sian. "Druids, bards and rituals: What is an Eisteddfod?". BBC. Retrieved 2 March 2016. 
  3. ^ Berry, Oliver; Else, David; Atkinson, David (2010). Discover Great Britain. Lonely Planet. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-74179-993-4. 
  4. ^ Urdd Gobaith Cymru. "Urdd Gobaith Cymru". Archived from the original on 28 April 2006. Retrieved 31 January 2007. 
  5. ^ West Coast Eisteddfod slated for Barnsdall Art Park | The British Weekly
  6. ^ West Coast Eisteddfod - Barnsdall Arts Park, Los Angeles 2011 - Americymru
  7. ^ Jackson Eisteddfod
  8. ^ WHW
  9. ^ Welcome to the Cymdeithas Madog Website
  10. ^ Home
  11. ^ Welcome - Royal South Street Society
  12. ^ Brooks, Walter Ariel. "Eisteddfod: La cumbre de la poesía céltica.". Sitio al Margen. Retrieved 4 October 2006. 
  13. ^ Musical America, 7 August 1915, p. 4.
  14. ^ http://www.bristolfestival.co.uk/
  15. ^ http://www.bristoldance.com/

External links[edit]