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In Welsh culture, an eisteddfod[a] is a festival with several ranked competitions, including in poetry and music.: xvi The term eisteddfod, which is formed from two Welsh morphemes: eistedd, meaning 'sit', and fod, meaning 'be', means, according to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "sitting-together." Edwards further defines the earliest form of the eisteddfod as a competitive meeting between bards and minstrels, in which the winner was chosen by a noble or royal patron.
The first documented instance of such a literary festival and competition took place under the patronage of Prince Rhys ap Gruffudd of the House of Dinefwr at Cardigan Castle in 1176. However, the subsequent loss of Welsh independence at the hands of King Edward I, the closing of the bardic schools, and the Anglicization of the Welsh nobility made it fall into abeyance. The current format owes much to an 18th-century revival first patronized and overseen by the London-based Gwyneddigion Society and later co-opted by the Gorsedd Cymru, a secret society of poets, writers, and musicians founded by Iolo Morganwg whose beliefs were, "a compound of Christianity and Druidism, Philosophy and Mysticism.": 191
Despite the Druidic influences and the demonstrably fictitious nature of Iolo Morganwg's doctrines, rituals, and ceremonies, both the Gorsedd and the eisteddfod revival were embraced and spread widely by Anglican and nonconformist clergy. The revival therefore proved enormously successful and is credited as one of the primary reasons for the continued survival of the Welsh language, literature, and culture after more than eight centuries of colonialism.
During his two 20th-century terms as Archdruid of the Gorsedd Cymru, Albert Evans-Jones, whose bardic name was Cynan and who was a war poet and minister of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, created new rituals for both the Gorsedd and the eisteddfod which are based upon the Christian beliefs of the Welsh people rather than upon Modern Druidry.
Since its 18th-century revival, the eisteddfod tradition has been carried all over the world by the Welsh diaspora. Today's eisteddfodau (plural form) and the National Eisteddfod of Wales in particular, are in equal parts a Renaissance fair, a Celtic festival, a musical festival, a literary festival, and, "the supreme exhibition of the Welsh culture.": 52
In some other countries, the term eisteddfod is used for performing arts competitions that have nothing to do with Welsh culture or the Welsh language. In other cases, however, the eisteddfod tradition has been adapted into other cultures as part of the ongoing fight to preserve endangered languages such as Irish, Cornish, Breton, Scottish Gaelic, Guernésiais, and Jèrriais.
The proclamation is to read as follows, "When the year of Our Lord ----, and the period of the Gorsedd of the Bards of Britain within the summer solstice, after summons and invitation to all to all of Wales through the Gorsedd Trumpet, under warning of a year and a day, in sight and hearing of lords and commons and in the face of the sun, the eye of light, be it known that a Gorsedd and Eisteddfod will be held at the town of ----, where protections will be afforded to all who seek privilege, dignity, and license in Poetry and Minstrelsy... And thither shall come the Archdruid and the Gorsedd and others, Bards and Licensiates of the Privilege and Robe of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, there to hold judgment of Chair and Gorsedd on Music and Poetry concerning the muse, conduct, and learning of all that may come to seek the National Eisteddfod honours, according to the privilege and customs of the Gorsedd of Bards of the Isle of Britain:
- "Voice Against Resounding Voice
- Truth Against the World
- God and All Goodness.": 154-155
According to Jan Morris, "The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol flourishes as never before, having matured from cranky antiquarianism through rigid chapel respectability to a fairly pragmatic tolerance of public views and social styles. Though its competitions are confined solely to the Welsh language, and even though many Welsh-speaking writers and musicians prefer to have nothing to do with it, still it remains the Chief public expression of the Welsh culture's continued existence, the one occasion when a stranger can realize that the language is still creative, the traditions are not lost, and the loyalty of the Welsh to their origins is not dissipated. Honorary membership in the Gorsedd is still the only honour the Welsh nation can bestow upon its sons and daughters, and in a key and of back-handed symbolism, the British Government's Secretary of State for Wales is generally invited to open the festival's proceedings (generally having to learn a few words of Welsh in order to do so). The Eisteddfod in full fig is rather like a military encampment. All its tents and pavilions are erected around a big central space, the Maes, or Field, which is usually scuffed and slippery with mud by the end of the week.": 155-156
Morris continues, "Most institutions of modern Wales are represented on the Maes, Gas Board to University of Wales Press, the genteel Society for the Protection of Rural Wales to the fiery Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg the Welsh Language Society. There are shops selling harps, and comic stickers, and Lol the lewd and racy student magazine, and pottery, and evangelical tracts, and lots and lots of books.": 156
Also according to Morris, "the Eisteddfod is essentially competitive: there are competitions for penillion, and englynion, and male voice choirs, and poems in strict meter, and poems in free metre, and essays, and translations, and plays, and short stories." Also, according to Morris, "outside the Pabell Lên, the Literary Tent, poets mutter couplets to themselves, or exchange bitter Bardic complaints.": 156-157
However, the most important events at any eisteddfod are the chairing of the bard who has written the best awdl, or poem in strict meter, based on a title chosen by the judges, and the crowning of the bard who has written the best pryddest, or poem in free verse, with a similarly predetermined title.
According to Morris, "When Welsh poets speak of free verse, they mean forms like the sonnet or the ode, which obey the same rules as English poesy. Strict Metres verse still honours the immensely complex rules laid down for correct poetic composition 600 years ago.": 152
During these ceremonies, according to Morris, "the whole assembly seems to turn towards the Grand Pavilion, claimed to be the largest movable structure in the world. Multitudes jam its doors then, as cameras swing about its gantries, and the worthies of the Gorsedd of the Isle of Britain, robed in green, white, and blue, are unloaded from buses at its entrance.": 157
Before the Archdruid of the Gorsedd reveals the identity of the winning poet, the Corn Gwlad (a trumpet) blares to the east, west, north, and south to symbolically call the people together from the four corners of Wales. The Gorsedd Prayer is then recited. Flanked by his fellow members of the Gorsedd in ceremonial Neo-Druidic robes, as well as the Herald, the Recorder, and the Swordbearer, the Archdruid partially withdraws the Great Sword from its sheath three times, and asks, "A oes heddwch?" ('Is there peace?'), to which the assembly replies, "Heddwch" ('Peace'). The Great Sword is then driven fully back into its sheath, and is never drawn again until the next eisteddfod the following year. "Green clad elves come dancing in", escorting a young local married woman, who presents the Horn of Plenty to the Archdruid and urges him to drink of the 'wine of welcome'. A young girl presents him with a basket of 'flowers from the land and soil of Wales' and a floral dance is performed, based on a pattern of flower gathering from the fields.: 157
According to Morris, "Harps play. Children sing. The tension mounts, for nobody in that immense audience yet knows who is to be the recipient of all this honour. The winning poet is somewhere among them, but first he must be found.": 157
The Archdruid then asks one of the judges to comment on the winning entry and explain the reasons why it was chosen. After the judge does so, the Archdruid thanks the judge for his or her, "excellent adjudication". The Archdruid then announces that if the poet or writer whose awdl, pryddest, or essay was submitted under a certain nom de plume is present, then he or she is stand up.
According to Morris, "the poet has really known for some time that he is the winner, but he pretends a proper astonishment anyway, and is raised faintly resisting to his feet, and out to the aisle, and away up to the platform escorted by Druids. The organ blazes a grand march, the gathering rises to its feet, the cameras whirr, and the bard is throned upon his Bardic throne, attended by elves and trumpeters and druids, in a haze of medallions, oaken wands, gleaming accoutrements and banners talismanically inscribed. Gently he is seated upon the Chair which is itself his prize, and he is proclaimed a champion: not because he won a war or a football game or even an election, but because he is judged by wise men of his nation to have composed a worthy cywydd concerning the nature of clouds.": 157-158
To win the chair or the crown competitions, particularly at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, grants even previously unknown poets and writers enormous publicity and prestige. The winner of the bardic chair and crown at the National Eisteddfod both receive the lifelong title prifardd ('chief-bard'). For the same poet to win both the chair and the crown at the same eisteddfod is almost unheard of, but Alan Llwyd and Donald Evans have both succeeded at doing so twice.
According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, the ceremony of presenting the Prose Medal, which has been awarded since 1937, has progressively grown in importance, "but still trails far in the wake of the Chairing and Crowning. The poet is not to be upstaged by novelist, short-story writer, autobiographer, biographer, or what have you. All attempts to transfer the Crown from poetry to prose have been forestalled, the poets rallying to the defense of what is 'rightfully' theirs with the cry of, 'What we have, we hold.'": 67
At the National Eisteddfod, a Gold Medal (Welsh: Medal Aur)) is annually awarded in three categories; Fine Art, Architecture, and Craft and Design. Furthermore, the National Eisteddfod's open exhibition of art and craft, Y Lle Celf ('The Art Space') is one of the highlights of the calendar for Welsh artists.
Welsh bardic tradition
According to Jan Morris, "Welsh creativity is unusually disciplined, for since the earliest times the Welsh artistic tradition has been governed by codes and conventions – perhaps since the Druids, relying as they did entirely upon their memories, drew up rules of composition to make it easier for themselves. In the Wales of the Independence the Bards and Harpers were institutionalized, with their own allotted places in society, their established functions to perform. They regarded poetry and music as professions, for the practice of which one must qualify, like a lawyer or a doctor. There were agreed measurements of value for a work of art, and the subjects of poetry were formalized, consisting at least until the fourteenth century mainly of eulogies and elegies. Musicians were restricted by intricate rules of composition. Poets were governed by the Twenty-Four Strict Metres of the classical Welsh tradition. Among the Cymry Cymraeg the Metres still prevail.": 152
According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "The Eisteddfod, then, has evolved from a medieval testing-ground-cum-house of correction for professional Bards and Minstrels into a popular festival which annually highlights the literary scene with the aid of the Gorsedd. Lectures and discussions in Y Babell Lên, followed by reviews of the Cyfansoddiadau a Beirniadaethau in a variety of publications help to encourage a deeper and more abiding interest in Welsh literature. That 'The National' acts as a means of heightening an awareness of language and literature as humanizing forces which no society can neglect with impunity is not too large a claim to make for it ": 73
According to Edwards, there is a legend that the first eisteddfod took place at the royal behest of Maelgwn Gwynedd at Conwy during the 6th century. It was Maelgwn's wish that the assembled bards and minstrels would compete against each other. First, however, Maelgwn decreed that they must all swim the River Conwy first and that the minstrels must do so carrying the harps on their backs. For this reason, the bards, whom Maelgwn favoured, ended up winning the contest.: 3
According to legend, Gruffudd ap Cynan (1055–1137), the Dublin-born King of Gwynedd from the House of Aberffraw and the descendant of Rhodri Mawr, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, and Brian Boru, not only reformed the Welsh bardic schools to accord with those that trained the Irish language bards, but also served as patron to an eisteddfod at Caerwys during his reign.: 9
The first documented eisteddfod was hosted by Rhys ap Gruffydd, the grandson of Gruffudd ap Cynan through the maternal line and monarch of Deheubarth through his paternal descent from the House of Dinefwr, at Cardigan Castle on Christmas Day, 1176. According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, what few details are recorded of the event in the Brut y Tywysogion, "encourage the view that it could not have been the first of its kind.": 6
Rhys awarded two chairs as prizes, one for the winner of the poetry competition and the other for music. The bardic chair went to a poet from Gwynedd, while the musical chair went to the son of Eilon the Crythwr, a member of Rhys's court. Armchairs were a valuable asset, normally reserved for people of high status.
In 2007, Welsh historian Roger Turvey, writing of Dinefwr Castle, suggested that The Lord Rhys' idea for a competitive festival of music and poetry at Cardigan Castle may have been inspired by similar contests in other parts of Catholic Europe. In those other countries, aspiring poets were trained through apprenticeship to master craftsmen or by attending schools run by poets' guilds such as the Puy of France or the Meistersingers of the Holy Roman Empire, which also organized eisteddfod-like contests between poets on patronal feast days of the Roman Catholic liturgical year. The Lord Rhys, Turvey suggested, may have learned about the Puy tradition from the Anglo-Normans in the Welsh Marches or from Welsh mercenary soldiers returning from France.
When asked about Turvey's theory, recognized eisteddfod historian Hywel Teifi Edwards said, "It's conjecture, but there's no doubt that there was a bardic tradition of competition for status before this time." Edwards further stated that any foreign influence was an indication of how very cosmopolitan Medieval Wales had been. "It's a sign of a healthy culture to accept – and marry with – other cultures," he added.
The next large-scale eisteddfod that is historically known is the three-month-long 1450 eisteddfod at Carmarthen Castle under Gruffudd ap Nicolas. At the eisteddfod the Cadair Arian ('Silver Chair'), which is said to have been fashioned by Gruffudd ap Nicolas himself, was won by a cywydd in honor of the Holy Trinity composed by Dafydd ab Edmwnd, a Welsh poet who did not depend on noble patronage, from Hanmer, Flintshire.: 6-8 Welsh poet and Roman Catholic priest Llawdden, however, accused Gruffudd ap Nicolas of accepting a bribe from Dafydd ab Edmwnd in return for the Silver Chair.
Dafydd ab Edmwnd's cywydd exemplified the 24 strict metres of Welsh poetry, previously codified by Einion Offeiriad and Dafydd Ddu o Hiraddug, as Dafydd ab Edmwnd had personally reformed them. He deleted two metres and replaced them with the more complicated Gorchest y Beirdd and the Cadwynfyr.
The reform of the 24 metres presented by Dafydd was formally accepted at the 1450 Carmarthen eisteddfod and was widely adopted by bards throughout Wales. The consequence of Dafydd's reforms was that greater emphasis was placed by the bardic elite upon adhering to the stricter metres rather than to the theme or content of their poetry.
Until this time, the training of Welsh poets had always been a secret, with the craft handed down from teacher to apprentice, but, as the poetry of the professional bards became increasingly incomprehensible, less complex and more popularly oriented works of Welsh poetry began to be composed by bards with humbler origins and less formal training.
According to John Davies, a team of researchers led by Dafydd Bowen has demonstrated that the Welsh bards of the 15th century were completely dependent upon the Welsh nobility and the monks and abbots of monasteries such as Strata Florida and Valle Crucis Abbey for both hospitality and patronage in return for praise poetry. Davies adds, however, that, "in a notable article", Welsh nationalist and traditional Catholic writer Saunders Lewis argued that the Welsh bards of the era, "were expressing in their poetry a love for a stable, deep-rooted civilization." Lewis added that the bards "were the leading upholders of the belief that a hierarchical social structure, 'the heritage and tradition of an ancient aristocracy', were the necessary precondition of civilized life and that there were deep philosophical roots to this belief."
In 1523, an eisteddfod was held at Caerwys under King Henry VIII's charter and was led by Welsh bard and future Franciscan monk, Tudur Aled. At the urging of the aristocratic Mostyn family of Talacre Hall, a Statute, which was attributed to King Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, was used as the basis for the eisteddfod. The Statute listed the rights of bards in Welsh culture and under traditional Welsh law, while also arguing that bards should not drink to excess, womanize, or gamble.: 8–10 In addition, the Statute further stated that a true bard must never write satirical poetry: 28–29 and codified the rules of praise poetry at a time when the Welsh bardic tradition of was increasingly under threat and, "demanded that the bard celebrate in elevated language the orderliness of a God-centered world.": 8–10
The Welsh Reformation
Queen Elizabeth I of England commanded that Welsh bards be examined and licensed by officials of the Crown, who had alleged that those whom they considered genuine bards were, "much discouraged to travail in the exercise and practice of their knowledge and also not a little hindered in their living and preferments.": 10 Unlicensed bards, according to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "would be put to some honest work." Although Edwards has compared the unlicensed bards of the era with, "today's abusers of the Social security system,": 8–10 historian Philip Caraman quotes a 1575 "Report on Wales" that reveals an additional reason for the decree. During the Queen's ongoing religious persecution of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, many Welsh Pencerddau ('head bards') were, according to the report, acting as the secret emissaries of Recusants in the Welsh nobility and were helping those nobles spread the news about secret Catholic masses and religious pilgrimages.
This was no idle claim. When Welsh Recusant, schoolmaster, and unlicensed bard Richard Gwyn was put on trial for high treason before a panel of judges headed by the Chief Justice of Chester, Sir George Bromley, at Wrexham in 1583, Gwyn stood accused of refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, denying the Queen's claim to be Supreme Head of the Church of England, of involvement in the local Catholic underground, but also of composing satirical poetry aimed at the established church and reciting, "certain rhymes of his own making against married priests and ministers." Gwyn was found guilty and condemned to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. The sentence was carried out in the Beast Market in Wrexham on 15 October 1584. Just before Gwyn was hanged he turned to the crowd and said, "I have been a jesting fellow, and if I have offended any that way, or by my songs, I beseech them for God's sake to forgive me." The hangman pulled at Gwyn's leg irons hoping to put him out of his pain. When he appeared dead they cut him down, but he revived and remained conscious through the disembowelling, until his head was severed. His last words, in Welsh, were reportedly "Iesu, trugarha wrthyf" ('Jesus, have mercy on me').
Richard Gwyn was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His feast day is celebrated on 17 October. Following Catholic Emancipation in 1829, six works of Christian poetry in the Welsh language by Richard Gwyn, five carols and a satirical funeral ode composed following the assassination of Dutch Revolt leader William the Silent by Balthasar Gérard, were discovered and published.
Likely due to the continued existence of poets like Richard Gwyn, the 1567 and 1568 Caerwys eisteddfodau were patronized by the Queen, so that, "all or every person or persons that intend to maintain their living by name or colour of Minstrelsy, rhymers, or bards... shall.. shew their learning thereby",: 192 and overseen by the officials of her Council of Wales and the Marches.: 8–10 By royal decree, only Welsh bards licensed by the officials of the Queen were permitted to compete.
At the eisteddfod held in Caerwys in 1568, the prizes awarded were a miniature silver chair to the winning 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. The chief chaired bard of the event was Robert Davies (from Nant-glyn) and the second being "Twm o'r Nant".
The official Anglican translation of the Bible into the Welsh language, which continues to have an enormous influence on the Welsh poetry submitted to the eisteddfodau, saw its first publication in 1588. The translator, Reverend William Morgan, was a Cambridge graduate and later became Anglican Bishop of Llandaff and St Asaph. He based his Biblical translation on the Hebrew and Greek original Bibles, while also consulting the English Bishops' and Geneva translations. Y Beibl cyssegr-lan, as it was called, also included original translations as well as adaptations of William Salesbury's Welsh New Testament. No other book in the Welsh language has been anywhere near as influential in linguistic or literary terms. Bishop Morgan skillfully moulded the Middle Welsh literary language of the medieval bards (Yr Heniaith, or 'the old language') into the Elizabethan-era Cymraeg Llenyddol ('literary Welsh') still in use today. Even though there is a major difference between Cymraeg Llenyddol and all 21st century spoken dialects of the Welsh language, eisteddfod submissions are still required to be composed in the literary language of Bishop Morgan's Bible, which remains the foundation upon which all subsequent Welsh literature has been built.
According to Marcus Tanner, Queen Elizabeth I's experiment at royal patronage of the eisteddfod did not catch on and, as the 16th and 17th centuries progressed, the Welsh nobility became increasingly Anglicized and ceased to grant employment or hospitality to Welsh-language poets. Although eisteddfodau continued, the gatherings became more informal; Welsh poets would often meet in taverns, cemeteries, or inns to have "assemblies of rhymers".: 192 But the interest of the Welsh people dwindled to such a point that the eisteddfod held at Glamorgan in 1620 attracted an audience of only four people.: 192 The winners, however, continued to receive a chair, which was a highly 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, or political affairs. As most ordinary people sat on stools until the 1700s, the award of an armchair immediately changed the social class of a winning bard.
In 1701, an eisteddfod was held at Machynlleth in order, "To begin to renew the eisteddfod of bards (as they were in olden times), to reprimand false cynghanedd, to explain the difficult things, and to confirm what is correct in the art of poetry in the Welsh language.": 12
The 1701 eisteddfod was followed, according to Edwards, by a series of Eisteddfodau'r Almaciau, so called because they were widely advertised in the cheap almanacs that were widely available. The englynion and cywyddau composed for these events "owe more to the beery atmosphere at which they were composed than to genuine inspiration and craft.": 12
In 1734, Siôn Rhydderch organized an eisteddfod adjudicated by a panel of 12 judges at Dolgellau, but upon his arrival there was greeted by only six poets, "and all the signs of apathy and dejection.": 13
Comparing this disappointing response what he saw as the glory of the Elizabethan-era eisteddfodau at Caerwys, Rhydderch vowed that he would have no role in further efforts to revive the tradition, "unless some others may feel like restarting and setting up the thing. And if it will be like that, if I am alive and well, I shall not be hindered from coming to that.": 13
Late 18th-century Revival
In 1788, Thomas Jones and Jonathan Hughes asked the London-based Gwyneddigion Society to donate, "some small present out of goodwill to those who are trying to crawl after their mother tongue.": 13
Although the Gwyneddigion Society agreed, they laid down certain conditions to their support that permanently altered the future course of the eisteddfod and its traditions. The Gwyneddigion claimed for themselves the right to proclaim both the eisteddfod and the theme of the main competition which they alone would set, one year in advance. The poems were to be submitted under pseudonyms and would be adjudicated solely upon their literary merits. The poems and the adjudicator's comments would then be forwarded to the eisteddfod in a sealed package. The adjudicators were to be able men for the job and were to choose the winning entry based upon "purity of language and regular composition of the poems to be among their chief merits.": 13–14
The adjudicators were to meet together and give an impartial decision and, in the event of any disagreement, the Gwyneddigion would endeavor to resolve the dispute. The name of the winning poet would be announced upon the first day of the eisteddfod and, owing to the dignity of his status as Pencerdd, the winner was not to compete alongside the other poets in the composition of impromptu verse.: 14
In so doing, the Gwyneddigion laid down the framework for the modern National Eisteddfod of Wales. According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "there was to be notice given a year in advance of one organized, annual eisteddfod answerable to a central, controlling authority which would require competitors to submit their compositions pseudonymously to a panel of competent adjudicators.": 14
Although the Gwyneddigion did not succeed in their ambition of transforming the eisteddfod "into an Academy that would act as a forcing house for Welsh culture", they have wielded considerable influence over continued requirement for long poems as eisteddfod submissions.: 14 Furthermore, in reaction to the incomprehensibility of Welsh poetry composed in strict meter, the Gwyneddigion held up the recent poetry of Reverend Goronwy Owen as a better model.: 14–15
Long before his death on his tobacco and cotton plantation near Lawrenceville, Virginia in 1769, Owen had often expressed the desire to compose an epic work of Christian poetry which would be the equal of John Milton's Paradise Lost. Owen felt, however, that the rules of Welsh poetry in strict meter prevented him from doing so.: 14–15 Therefore, by holding Owen up as an model, the Gwyneddigion ensured that his literary legacy is that, as late as 1930, both the adjudicators and the poets composing submissions to the National Eisteddfod of Wales were aspiring to produce the Welsh national epic that Owen had longed to write in vain.: 29–31
The first eisteddfod of the revival, for which "Thomas Jones simply used" the name of the Gwyneddigion "for promotional purposes", was held at Corwen in May 1789. Gwallter Mechain was judged the winner, having illegally been informed in advance by Thomas Jones of the subjects for the impromptu poetry contests. Despite outraged complaints by Gwallter Mechain's competitors, the Gwyneddigion upheld the judges' decision.: 15–16
The first eisteddfod held in full accordance with the Gwyneddigion Society's new rules was held at Bala in September 1789. The awdlau that were submitted for the bardic chair were on the theme Istyriaethar Oes Dyn ('A Consideration of Man's Life') and, according to Edwards, "heralded the appearance of the new awdl.": 15
According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, while the awarding of a chair is a very old tradition, the now-familiar ceremony of the chairing of the bard who has composed the best awdl dates from the eisteddfod revival of the early 1790s.: 15
During the 1790 eisteddfod held at St. Asaph, Gwyneddigion Society member Edward Williams, whose bardic name was Iolo Morganwg, became convinced that he and his fellow Welsh poets were the descendants of the Druids and that the eisteddfod was a survival of Druidic ritual. In response, Iolo Morganwg, according to Marcus Tanner, "reintroduced what he considered the ritual of an ancient Bardic congress to a series of rather ordinary literary proceedings conducted chiefly in hotels.": 192
To accomplish this end, in 1792 Iolo Morganwg founded a secret society of Welsh poets, which he dubbed Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain. Morganwg also invented its structure and rituals, for which he drew upon on a mixture of Freemasonry, Welsh mythology, modern Druidry, and some Christian elements. Morganwg alleged, however, that the Gorsedd was a survival from pre-Christian Wales. The fictitious origin of Morganwg's claims and of the Gorsedd's ceremonies were firmly established only in the 20th century by Professor G.J. Williams.
In October 1792, The Gentleman's Magazine reported, "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... A circle of stones formed, in the middle of which was the Maan Gorsedd, or altar, on which a naked sword being placed, all the Bards assisted to sheathe it. This ceremony was attended with a proclamation, the substance of which was that the Bards of the Isles of Britain (for such is their ancient name) were the heralds and ministers of peace.": 190-191
In 1814, an observer caught sight of Iolo Morganwg walking behind a banner at Pontypridd, "at the head of a procession... over the great bridge and then over to the Rocking Stone on the common above. Ancient ceremonies were performed on the great stone by Iolo in the role of Y Gwyddon, or Odin, the Archdruid, not the least being the sheathing the State Sword of Wales to convey the valuable lesson, as in Gethsemane, that there is more credit in sheathing the sabre than in drawing it forth among the sons of men.": 191
The earliest known surviving bardic chair made specifically for an eisteddfod was constructed in 1819. Iolo Morganwg and the Gorsedd made their first appearance at the same eisteddfod, which was held at the Ivy Bush Inn at Carmarthen in 1819, and its close association with the festival has continued since then.
Also at the 1819 Carmarthen eisteddfod, Iolo Morganwg presented a freer code of meters, which, while still defending the superiority of Cynghanedd, Morganwg said had also been use in Gwent and Glamorgan for centuries prior to Dafydd ab Edmwnd's 15th century reforms. This led, after considerable debate between traditionalists and innovators, to the adoption of the eisteddfod contest for best pryddest and the ceremony of the crowning of the bard.: 18
Meanwhile, Archdeacon Thomas Beynon, the president of the Carmarthen Cymreigyddion Society and staunch patron of the provincial eisteddfodau, was persistently urging for the adoption of blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter, as another alternative to Welsh poetry in strict meter.: 19
Meanwhile, all poems submitted to eisteddfodau began being published in 1822, which allowed for the first time for the Welsh people to read the poems and to decide for themselves about their merits and flaws.: 18
According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "Ten 'Provincial Eisteddfodau' were held between 1819–34, eisteddfodau on a scale never witnessed before. They were patronized by Anglicized gentry and graced by royalty when George IV's brother, the Duke of Sussex, appeared at Denbigh in 1828 to be followed at Beaumaris in 1832 by the young Princess Victoria and her mother.": 17
Following the 1847 attack by the Blue Books against the moral character of the Welsh people, Welsh poetry composed for the eisteddfodau "found itself trapped within the part allotted the Welsh language in the counterattack against the Blue Books." For this reason, much of the poetry written sought to promote an image of the Welsh people as "God-fearing, Queen-loving", and, "Empire-supporting.": 27
At the 1850 Rhuddlan Royal Eisteddfod, £25 and a Chair Medallion were offered for the best Pryddestawd on the theme Yr Adgyfodiad ('the Resurrection'). The poets were allowed to choose the meter, excluding blank verse, that best suited them. Caledfryn submitted an awdl, while Eben Fardd and Evan Evans (Ieuan Glan Geirionydd) submitted Alexandrine Pryddestau. The unheard-of happened; Ieuan Glan Gerionydd's Pryddest was judged superior and was awarded the £25 and Chair Medallion over Caledfryn's Awdl.: 19
Upon the publication of all the Eisteddfod's submissions, however, Eben Fardd's attempt at an epic work of Christian poetry was, "hailed by the literati as a work of distinction far surpassing the pallid, common-sense poem written by Ieuan Glan Gerionydd".: 20 As Eben Fardd's Pryddest had been relegated to third place by the judges, it was widely felt that something was seriously wrong with adjudication standards and "talk of eisteddfod reform was in the air.": 20
In 1858 John Williams, whose bardic name was Ab Ithel held a "national" eisteddfod with the Gorsedd Cymru in Llangollen. "The great Llangollen Eisteddfod of 1858" proved highly significant for several reasons. For example, John Williams (the event's organiser), offered £20 and a Silver Star for the best essay on the theme, The Discovery of America in the 12th-century by Prince Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd. This was, according to Hywel Teifi Edwards, a subject inspired by Iolo Morganwg.: 20-21
Instead, Welsh historian Thomas Stephens submitted an essay that, in what Edwards has described, as a "scholarly tour de force, demolished the cherished myth". In response, Ab Ithel decreed, "that the essay broke with the spirit of the competition", and would not be awarded the prize. In response, a scandalized crowd followed Stephens into the Cambrian Tent, where he read his essay aloud before them despite Ab Ithel's efforts to drown him out with a convenient brass band. Despite having been denied the prize, Stephens succeeded at persuading his audience that Prince Madoc did not in fact discover the New World.: 21
The Llangollen eisteddfod also saw the first public appearance of John Ceiriog Hughes, who won a prize for the love poem, Myfanwy Fychan of Dinas Brân, which contradicts the Blue Books by describing a virtuous Welsh woman. As may be expected, the song became an instant hit.: 32-33
The 1858 Llangollen eisteddfod outraged the English-language press. The Daily Telegraph called the eisteddfod "a national debauch of sentimentality." A writer for The Times went even farther, calling the eisteddfod "simply foolish interference with the natural progress of civilization and prosperity – it is a monstrous folly to encourage the Welsh in a loving fondness for their old language.": 155
Before the 1858 Llangollen eisteddfod was over, however, a meeting of Welsh literati had taken place and decided that an annual national eisteddfod, conducted with due regard for standards, was long overdue. Yr Eisteddfod, a national body guided by an elected council, was formed and the Gorsedd subsequently merged with it. The Gorsedd holds the right of proclamation and of governance while the council organizes the event. The first true National Eisteddfod organized by the council was held in Aberdare in 1861 on a pattern that continues to the present day.: 21
According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "The 1860s found the eisteddfod poet beset with doubt, as the words of Eben Fardd and Talhaiarn (John Jones 1810–69), two of the foremost poets of the time, prove. Both accepted the subservience of their mother tongue and the diminished role of the poet in the steam age. If poetry per se was of questionable value, how much more so Welsh poetry, and strict meter poetry at that? What could be less marketable in an age that marketed English was with progress than Welsh poetry? It was galling when Fleet Street taunted Wales with its want of a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Wordsworth or a Tennyson. It was shattering when Matthew Arnold, scourge of philistinism and hawker of Celtic magic, insisted that any Welsh poet with anything worth saying should say it in English. Edward Dafydd, in 1655, expressed the sense of desolation he felt as he pondered the passing of the old order and the coming of a bleak age: Nid yw'r bid hwn gyda'r beirdd ('This world is not for poets.') He could well have been speaking for the poets of the 1860s.": 25–26
Also during the Victorian era, the poets who won the chair or the crown at the National Eisteddfod were praised to a degree that subsequent literary critics and historians have found not only excessive, but "ludicrous". According to Edwards, however, "It is easy to laugh at the besotted rhetoric of the period, but let us remember how starved of respect Welsh literature was for most of the time and how marginal was the role allotted to most writers. The Eisteddfod, with its huge audience, offered both glory and economic reward. It is perfectly natural, given the circumstances, that the accolade 'National Winner' should be surrounded with so much hype and sought after so frantically.": 73
Perhaps for these reasons, during the late 19th century, according to Edwards, "Wales still pursued 'the one poem' that alone, the Renaissance had taught, justified a literature's claim to greatness.": 30
The Welsh poet Lewis William Lewis (1831–1901), whose bardic name was Llew Llwyfo, repeatedly attempted in his eisteddfod submissions to, "achieve the national epic that would merit translation into the major literatures". He chose subjects such as Caractacus, the Arthurian legend, Llewellyn the Last, and even the Old Testament King David. Although Edwards is very critical of Llew Llwyfo and accuses him of following the then common practice of imitating Victorian-era English poetry,: 30-31 Lewis' poetry repeatedly won first prize at multiple eisteddfodau held both in Wales and within Welsh-American immigrant communities.
Tragically, however, "a Welsh epic refused to materialize. A succession of aspirants rifled the works of authorities from Homer to Bulwer-Lytton in the hope of hitting upon a formula that would take.": 30
According to Jan Morris, "By the end of the century, Herbert Herkomer, one of the most fashionable painters of his day, had created for [the Gorsedd]'s functionaries gloriously neo-Druidical robes and insignia of gold, velvet, and ermine (the Archdruid's breastplate was designed to choke him, Herkomer said, if he gave a false judgement).": 155
Even though the title had been previously chosen by the eisteddfod judges, almost certainly in the hope of inspiring a Welsh equivalent to Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Thomas Gwynn Jones' hugely influential awdl, Ymadawiad Arthur ("The Passing of Arthur") won its author the bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod in 1902.
The poem, according to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "brought back some of the mythopoeic grandeur which John Morris-Jones yearned for. More than that, he made of Bedwyr, the knight charged by Arthur to throw the great sword Excalibur into the lake, a prototype of the twentieth-century Welshman who, from generation to generation, armed only with a vision of his culture's worth, fights for its survival against an all-devouring materialism. Bedwyr, agonizing over the catastrophe which he feared would befall his defenseless country should he obey Arthur's command, is one of the most deeply moving figures in Welsh literature. Denied the security of a matchless weapon, the last tangible proof of Arthur's supernatural strength, he must fight on with only his faith in Arthur's promised return from Afalon to sustain him.": 50-51
Unlike the many works of English, French, and German poetry inspired by the Arthurian legend, Ymadawiad Arthur makes frequent references to Welsh literature and the Welsh mythology of the Mabinogion, and is believed to derive its narrative flow from Jones's careful study of that same source. William Beynon Davies further considers Ymadawiad Arthur a work of subtly Christian poetry based on its many Biblical parallels, as King Arthur resembles in some ways the Messiah and in others the Suffering Servant.
Thomas Gwynn Jones has been called the greatest master of Welsh poetry in strict meter since the 15th century and, in Ymadawiad Arthur, according to one critic, the cynghanedd "is so smooth and natural that often we deem it accidental". It is well- documented, however, that T. Gwynn Jones carefully studied Medieval cywyddau, and the verse technique of Ymadawiad Arthur benefited substantially from this fact. The poem is also notable for Jones' revival of many words from Medieval Welsh, Jones being an influential exponent of what he called Rhin yr Heniaith ('The Virtue of the Old Language').
During the 1912 National Eisteddfod at Wrexham, T.H. Parry-Williams achieved for the first time the almost unheard of feat of winning both the chair and crown. Parry-Williams later recalled returning home to Rhyd-ddu, where had been working as a hired hand on the farm of a relative. Upon telling his employer of his double-victory, Parry-Williams was advised to, "seek grace." When Parry-Williams then informed his employer that both victories had gained him £40, the relative shouted in angry disbelief, "Ac mi gwnest nhw i gyd ar dy din!!!" ('And you earned them all sitting on your arse!!!'): 76-77
One of the most dramatic events in the 900-year history of the eisteddfod took place on 6 September 1917, during World War I. It was the award of the bardic chair during the second day of the 1917 National Eisteddfod of Wales at Birkenhead Park in the English city of the same name.
The three adjudicators in the chair competition agreed unanimously that the best awdl by far on the set theme Yr Arwr ('The Hero') had been submitted under the pseudonym Fleur-de-lis. The bard was then summoned three times by the Archdruid Dyfed to stand up, in vain. The Archdruid then announced that poet who submitted the winning awdl had died during the short time between mailing his submission and the actual date of the eisteddfod. His name was Private Ellis Humphrey Evans, whose bardic name was Hedd Wyn ('Blessed Peace'), of the 15th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, and he had fallen during the trench warfare, "Somewhere in France." The bardic chair was covered with a black sheet and, according to newspaper reports, "there wasn't a dry eye in the pavilion." Ever since, the 1917 National Eisteddfod of Wales has been referred to as "Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu" ('The Eisteddfod of the Black Chair').
According to Jan Morris, "Hedd Wyn became a legend, a symbol, and an inspiration to other poets. 'The Black Chair of Birkenhead' was taken sadly home to Gwynedd, to be placed with the other trophies of Hedd Wyn's short life in the family farm above the Bala road, and there we may visit it still. It has never been forgotten. A constant stream of visitors, patriots, poets, groups of schoolchildren, winds its way up the long farm drive, in the lee of the hills, to the old house among its clumped trees. It stands there all alone looking out magnificently over bare hills to the ramparts of Eryri in the distance – the very epitome of a Welsh view, all grandeur tinged with melancholy. The Black Chair is kept in a sort of shrine-room, dim-lit and cluttered. Around it three or four other eisteddfod chairs stand in attendance, like sacred stools in an Ashanti temple...": 161
Pfc. Ellis H. Evans lies buried at Artillery Wood Cemetery, near Boezinge, Belgium. After the Armistice, a petition was submitted to the Imperial War Graves Commission and his headstone was given the additional words Y Prifardd Hedd Wyn ('The Chief Bard, Hedd Wyn').
In the 1921 National Eisteddfod at Caernarfon, Reverend Albert Evans-Jones (Cynan) won the bardic crown for his pryddest, Mab y Bwthyn ("the Cottage Lad"). Cynan was a native of Pwllheli and had served in the RAMC during World War I. Cynan drew for his winning pryddest upon both the poetry of John Masefield and upon his own experiences in the Macedonian Front and in the trenches of France. Mab y Bwthyn "tells, in a gushingly romantic, lyrical style how a young gwerinwr, scarred by the horrors of war, turns from the fetid city to seek spiritual renewal in the natural beauty of his home and the love of a pure country girl." Cynan's poem has been called the best-loved pryddest ever composed during the 20th century and many Welsh people, according to Hywel Teifi Edwards, are still able to recite long passages of it from memory.: 59-60 Alan Llwyd, who has translated part of Mab y Bwthyn into English for the 2008 book Out of the Fire of Hell: Welsh Experience of the Great War 1914–1918 in Prose and Verse, has argued that Cynan, rather than the far more famous Hedd Wyn, is the greatest Welsh war poet.
Plaid Cymru, a Welsh nationalist and social democratic political party, was founded during the 1925 National Eisteddfod at Pwllheli, Gwynedd. Inspired by the recent Irish War of Independence, Saunders Lewis, Huw Robert Jones, Lewis Valentine, Moses Griffith, Fred Jones and D. Edmund Williams met in a café called Maes Gwyn with the aim of establishing a "Welsh party". During the meeting, they founded Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru ("National Party of Wales"), on 5 August 1925. The principal aim of the party would be to foster a Welsh-speaking Wales. To this end it was agreed that party business be conducted in Welsh, and that members must sever all links with other British political parties. Saunders Lewis insisted upon these principles before he would agree to the Pwllheli conference.
At the 1936 National Eisteddfod held at Fishguard (Welsh: Abergwaun), the set title for the Bardic Crown was Yr Anialwch ('The Wasteland'), which was almost certainly inspired by T.S. Eliot's famous Modernist poem of the same name. Instead of copying Eliot, however, Welsh poet David Jones (of the bardic name, Dwst y Garreg, transl. 'the desert', or lit., 'stone dust') of Cilfynydd won the Crown with a pryddest about black lung disease and the damage it was wreaking upon the coal-mining communities in the South Wales valleys.: 60
Reverend Albert Evans-Jones (Cynan) served a term as the Recorder of the Gorsedd Cymru in 1935, and another as joint-secretary of the National Eisteddfod Council in 1937.
According to Hywel Teifi Edwards, "The Second World War, which plumbed new depths of bestiality culminating in the atomic bomb, put the fear of national extinction in a world-wide context. The Welsh, fighting a long battle for cultural survival, found themselves subsumed, as it were, in a universal army. The cry that went up after Nagasaki and Hiroshima, We are all survivors now!, was easily understood by Welsh writers. At that point, the age-old fight to perpetuate a culture steeped in the Christian tradition was more clearly discerned as the crazy militarism of the superpowers moved the world ever nearer to the abyss. The loss of Welshness now, far from being a sign of progress, would merely conduce to the spread of the uniformity of mind so beloved of totalitarians everywhere. Such a conviction has served to intensify the fight for the language, for to lose would be to ease the path of those forces that threaten the whole of mankind.": 62
In response to the 1961 census, which showed a radical decrease in the percentage of Welsh speakers, Saunders Lewis gave the famous 1962 radio address Tynged yr iaith ('The Fate of the Language') in which he predicted the imminent extinction of the Welsh language unless immediate action was taken. Lewis hoped to motivate Plaid Cymru into directly fighting for the language. Instead, his address led to the 1962 foundation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) at a Plaid Cymru summer school held in Pontardawe in Glamorgan.
It has been said that, "of all the memorable phrases coined in the twentieth century none has greater resonance for the Welsh speaker than Tynged yr Iaith . . . which still haunts or inspires champions of the native tongue on the cusp of the new millennium".
In 1985, the long-term effects of Saunders Lewis' Tynged yr Iaith were listed by Gwyn Williams, the formation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg in 1962, direct action against English-language offices, roadsigns, and TV masts, sit-ins and demonstrations, Welsh-language schools, the 1973 adoption of adult education in the Welsh language based upon the Ulpan system created in the State of Israel for teaching the Hebrew language and Israeli culture to adult immigrants, the 1964 creation of the office of Secretary of State for Wales, the 1967 passing of the Welsh Language Act, the creation of S4C, and the mushrooming of Welsh-language publishing, film production, pop and rock, as well as youth and urban music.
Reverend Albert Evans-Jones (Cynan) served as Archdruid twice and is the only person ever to have been elected to that position for a second term. His two terms were from 1950 to 1954 and from 1963 to 1966. He was also the first Archdruid to accept that the Gorsedd is an 18th-century invention by Iolo Morganwg and that it has no links to Welsh mythology or to the ancient Druids, thus healing rifts between the academic and ecclesiastical establishments and the eisteddfod movement.
Cynan is also responsible for designing the modern ceremonies of the crowning and chairing of the bard in the eisteddfod as they are now performed, by creating ceremonies which, he thought, better reflected the Christian beliefs of the Welsh people.
In 1969, Reverend Evans-Jones (Cynan) was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II as part of the honours at the Investiture of the Prince of Wales for Cynan's services to both Welsh culture and literature. He remains the only Archdruid ever to have been so honoured.
Although it has been held since 1929, the most notable event in the history of the Welsh youth festival known as the Urdd National Eisteddfod took place at Aberystwyth, also in 1969. Charles, Prince of Wales was invited, so giving him a public platform from which to address the crowd. It was the same year as his investiture as Prince of Wales, which had outraged many Welsh nationalists. For this reason, as the Prince arrived onstage, more than one hundred people stood up and walked out in protest. The fallout afterwards was heated and an editorial in the Welsh-language newspaper Y Cymro severely angered the director of the Urdd National Eisteddfod.
In a parallel with the simultaneous literary movement known as New Formalism in American poetry, the late the 20th century witnessed a renaissance in Welsh poetry composed in strict meter, especially Englynion and Cywyddau. This renaissance is largely inspired by the poetry of Alan Llwyd. Llwyd, a native of Dolgellau, Gwynedd, first came to prominence with the almost unheard of feat of winning both the chair and the crown at the 1973 National Eisteddfod and then repeating the same feat in 1976.
The 1982 bardic chair was awarded to Gerallt Lloyd Owen for the awdl Cilmeri, which Hywel Teifi Edwards has called the only 20th-century awdl, that matches T. Gwynn Jones' 1902 masterpiece Umadawiad Arthur ('The Passing of Arthur'). Owen's Cilmeri reimagines the death of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of the House of Gwynedd in battle near the village of that name in 1282, while leading a doomed uprising against the occupation of Wales by King Edward I of England. Owen's poem depicts the Prince as a tragic hero and invests his fall with an anguish unmatched since Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch wrote his famous lament for the Prince immediately following his death. Owen also, according to Edwards, encapsulates in the Prince's death the Welsh people's continuing "battle for national survival.": 51-53
In a ceremony held entirely in the Welsh language during the 2002 National Eisteddfod at St. David's, Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, was sworn into the Gorsedd as a "White Druid" under the bardic name "Ap Aneurin".
According to Marcus Tanner, "The hour-long ritual, which took place at dawn inside a circle of improvised standing stones, seemed culled from the pages of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, not least because the more intrusive signs of modern technology, such as loudspeakers, had been concealed beneath wreaths of foliage. After a fanfare of trumpets and the playing of a harp, the Archbishop, dressed in white, laid his hands on a huge sword before being escorted into the heart of the stone circle to meet the horn of plenty. For all its appeal to antiquity, the rite that the company followed was one Iolo Morganwg would have recognized, since he invented it.": 189
In response to sharp criticisms of Archbishop Williams by the English-language media and other Christian clergy, "for having taken part in a Pagan ritual", the Archdruid Robyn Lewis said, "Iolo did create his Gorsedd while fantasizing about Pre-Christian times, but as it developed it rapidly became a mainstream Christian organization.": 189-190
During the 2018 National Eisteddfod at Cardiff, the bardic crown was awarded for the first time to a woman, Gwaelod y Garth-born poet and Welsh nationalist Catrin Dafydd, for her collection Olion ('Traces'). Her poems explored Welsh identity in the multiracial and multiethnic Grangetown district of Cardiff.
During the ceremony, however, the Archdruid, Geraint Llifon, caused considerable outrage among feminists when he alleged that Catrin Dafydd could not have won the Crown without the help of men. After this caused him to be accused of sexism, Archdruid Llifon apologized.
Eisteddfodau in Wales
The most important 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 in varying locations that usually alternate between north and south Wales. Competitors typically number 6,000 or more; overall attendances generally exceed 150,000 visitors.
Urdd National Eisteddfod
Another important eisteddfod in the calendar is Eisteddfod Yr Urdd or the Youth Eisteddfod. Organised by Urdd Gobaith Cymru, it involves Welsh children from nursery age to 25 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. 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
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 in Wales
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 outside Wales
Welsh emigration, particularly during the heyday of the British Empire and British industrial revolution, led to the creation of a global Welsh diaspora. Among the elements from Welsh culture that travelled with these émigrés was the eisteddfod, which – in a variety of forms and languages – continues to exist worldwide.
According to Marcus Tanner, the massive 19th-century Welsh immigration to Y Wladfa ("the Colony"), in the Chubut Province of Argentine Patagonia began out of the desire of minister and Welsh nationalist Michael D. Jones for "a Little Wales beyond Wales". As both cultural assimilation and language loss were already taking hold among the Welsh diaspora throughout the United States and even more so in Canada and other parts of the British Empire, Patagonia was chosen as an alternative.
While visiting Puerto Madryn, the main arrival point for immigrants, during the mid-1970s, Bruce Chatwin wrote, "A hundred and fifty-three Welsh colonists landed here off the brig Mimosa in 1865. They were poor people in search of a New Wales, refugees from cramped coal-mining valleys, from a failed independence movement, and from Parliament's ban on Welsh in schools. Their leaders had combed the earth for a stretch of open country uncontaminated by Englishmen. They chose Patagonia for its absolute remoteness and foul climate; they did not want to get rich. The Argentine Government gave them land along the Chubut River. From Madryn it was a stretch of forty miles over the thorn desert. And when they did reach the valley, they had the impression that God, not the Government, had given them the land."
Although eisteddfodau have been held in Argentina ever since the first Welsh immigrants arrived aboard the Mimosa in 1865, assimilation and the loss of contact with the homeland caused both the distinctive Patagonian dialect of the Welsh language and the eisteddfod tradition to be seriously endangered.
In 1965, Welsh people again began to visit the region to celebrate the colony's centenary. The visit acted as a major impetus to the increasingly assimilated local Welsh Argentine community and since then the number of Welsh visitors and learners of the language has increased.: 340-341
Bruce Chatwin visited Gaiman in 1976, which he called "the centre of Welsh Patagonia today". While at Ty-Ysaf, the homestead of the Davies family, he was told how the family's son, Euan Davies, had sung at the local eisteddfod while accompanied by Anselmo, a local aspiring concert pianist of mixed German and Italian parentage. Davies' tenor voice and Anselmo's piano playing reportedly reduced the audience at the eisteddfod to tears and "carried off the prize."
Marcus Tanner has written since of Chatwin's travel memoir In Patagonia, "After several decades during which the Welsh colony in Argentina had been virtually forgotten, his book did much to remind the world of it's existence." According to Eluned Gonzalez, however, a local Welsh Argentine who remembers the real Chatwin and his visit, "We are all very surprised by the book... so superior. Looking down on us... a very English way of looking at things."
During the British government's repatriation of the 11,313 Argentine POWs taken during the 1982 Falklands War, Welsh-speaking British merchant seamen and British soldiers from the Welsh Guards were shocked to find themselves addressed in Patagonian Welsh by an Argentine POW who was on the way home to Puerto Madryn. Over the years since, close ties between Wales and Y Wladfa have been reestablished.
One of the greatest Welsh literary figures to come out of Y Wladfa was Richard Bryn Williams, whose bardic name was Bryn. Williams was born at Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd in 1902. When he was seven years old, Williams' family migrated to Trelew, as part of the last great wave of Welsh immigration to Y Wladfa prior to the First World War. Williams returned to Wales in 1923 and studied at the University College of North Wales. He became an expert on Patagonian history and was a major contributor to the Colony's Welsh literature. Williams won the Bardic Chair at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in both 1964 and 1968, and from 1975 to 1978 he served as Archdruid of the Gorsedd Cymru.
A 2001 BBC article described in detail the recent visit to Chubut Province by Archdruid Meirion Evans and 30 members of the Gorsedd Cymru to revive the Gorsedd yr Wladfa in a ceremony held in a specially constructed stone circle near Gaiman.
BBC reporters also attended the 2001 Eisteddfod del Chubut at Trelew and watched as the bardic chair was awarded for the first time in Y Wladfa to a female poet: Gaiman hotel owner Monica Jones de Jones, for an awdl on the subject of rhyddid ('freedom'). The article's author continued, "the Patagonia Eisteddfod itself, while sharing those elements common to eisteddfodau in Wales itself, nonetheless is, in other respects, quite a different affair. As well as haunting Welsh folk tunes, and recitations in the unique Spanish-accented Welsh of the Patagonians, there are also rousing displays of Argentinian folk dancing which owe everything to the culture of the gauchos and nothing to the somewhat tamer dance routines of the Welsh homeland."
While visiting Patagonia to research his 2004 book The Last of the Celts, Marcus Tanner visited the Trelew home of local Welsh-language poet Geraint Edmunds. Edmunds was, according to Tanner, "a Welsh Patagonian of the old type, as fluent in Welsh as Spanish". During Tanner's visit, he noticed that "a beautifully made Bardic Chair", which Geraint Edmunds' poetry had won was on reverent display in the front room. To Tanner's disappointment, however, the bard's son, Eduardo Edmunds, would speak only Spanish and replied when asked about his ancestral language, "I think I'd rather learn English – more useful.": 341
Current eisteddfod competitions are bilingual, in both Patagonian Welsh and Argentine Spanish, and include poetry, prose, literary translations (Welsh, Spanish, English, Italian, and French), musical performances, arts, folk dances, photography, and filmmaking, among others. The Eisteddfod del Juventud is held every September at Gaiman. The main Eisteddfod del Chubut is held every October at Trelew. Other annual eisteddfodau are held at Trevelin, in the Andes and at Puerto Madryn along the South Atlantic coast.
Eisteddfods (Australian English: plural) in the traditional Welsh sense have also been adopted into Australian culture. However, the term is more commonly used to describe ballet and music competitions.
For those eisteddfods most like the Welsh original, they involve testing individuals in singing, dancing, acting and musicianship.
After emigrating to Australia from Tregaron, Ceredigion, at the tail end of the Victorian gold rush, Welsh poet and diarist Joseph Jenkins, whose bardic name was Amnon II, arrived at Melbourne in 1869. The following month, as described in his posthumously published memoir The Diary of a Welsh Swagman, Jenkins was living in the gold rush boomtown of Castlemaine where he found many fellow Welsh Australians. He rarely left this vicinity except to attend the annual St David's Day eisteddfod at Ballarat where, on thirteen consecutive occasions, he was awarded first prize for the best englyn.
Modern eisteddfods 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. The Western Australia Performing Arts Eisteddfod began in 1958 as the Bunbury Music Festival. The Gold Coast Eisteddfod in Queensland began in 1982 and is held annually in August and September. The 2018 eisteddfod attracted over 60,000 competitors. Many other communities also host eisteddfods, including Alice Springs, Darwin, Brisbane, Hobart and Melbourne.
The Guernsey Eisteddfod was founded in 1922 and includes events in the Guernésiais language; the Jersey Eisteddfod was founded in 1908 and includes events in Jèrriais dialect of Norman French.
Eisteddfodau are held across the UK, although in most cases any explicit link to Welsh culture has been lost beyond the use of the name for an arts festival or competition.
In the Methodist Church and other non-conformist denominations in England, youth cultural festivals are sometimes called eisteddfod. The Kettering and District Eisteddfod, for example, was founded in the early 1900s in the Northamptonshire town by members of the Sunday School Union and still runs every March.
In South African English, a number of international performing arts competitions in are called eisteddfods, such as the Tygerberg International Eisteddfod and the Pretoria Eisteddfod (first held in 1923). The word eisteddfod is sometimes also used for ordinary cultural festivals, even if only one school's students participate.
In August 1953, the poet Ingrid Jonker, who would go on to become an anti-apartheid political dissident and a hugely influential figure in Afrikaans literature, recited her poems at the Cape Eisteddfod in Cape Town and received there a Diploma for Achievement in Afrikaans.
Moving first as religious refugees and then as farmers and industrial workers, many thousands of Welsh people emigrated to America from the 17th century.
In 1757, Reverend Goronwy Owen, an Anglican vicar born at Y Dafarn Goch, in the parish of Llanfair Mathafarn Eithaf in Anglesey and the poet most responsible for the subsequent Welsh eighteenth-century renaissance, emigrated to Williamsburg, in the Colony of Virginia. Until his death on his cotton and tobacco plantation near Lawrenceville, Virginia in 1769, Owen was mostly noted as an émigré bard, writing with hiraeth ('longing') for his native Anglesey. During the subsequent revival of the eisteddfod, the Gwyneddigion Society held up the poetry of Owen as an example for bards at future eisteddfodau to emulate.
During the eisteddfod revival of the 1790s, Gwyneddigion Society member William Jones, who had enthusiastically supported the American Revolution and who was arguing for the creation of a National Eisteddfod of Wales, had come to believe that the completely Anglicized Welsh nobility, through rackrenting and their employment of unscrupulous land agents, had forfeited all right to the obedience and respect of their tenants. At the Llanrwst eisteddfod in June 1791, Jones distributed copies of an address, entitled To all Indigenous Cambro-Britons, in which he urged Welsh tenant farmers and craftsmen to pack their bags, emigrate from Wales, and sail for what he called the "Promised Land" in the United States of America.
By 1851, Y Drych ('The Mirror'), published from the Welsh-speaking settlement in Utica, New York: 325 was just the latest of a number of Welsh-language newspapers, and in 1872 Hanes Cymry America ('A history of the Welsh in America') by R.D. Thomas attempted to catalogue all of the Welsh communities of the United States. Eisteddfodau in North America are thought to have started in the 1830s, though the earliest documented examples date from the 1850s.
According to Marcus Tanner, large-scale Welsh immigration to America began in the 1790s, when 50 immigrants left the village of Llanbrynmair for a tract of Pennsylvania land purchased by Baptist minister Morgan John Rhys. The result was the Welsh-American farming settlement of Cambria, Pennsylvania.: 325
The Edwardsville Cynonfardd Eisteddfod at the Dr. Edwards Memorial Church in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania has taken place annually since 1889 and is the longest continuously running eisteddfod outside of Wales. The 130th anniversary of the event was celebrated in April 2019.
According to Marcus Tanner, "In Ohio State, Jackson and Gallia counties in particular became a 'Little Wales', where Welsh settlers were sufficiently thick on the ground by the 1830s to justify the establishment of Calvinistic Methodist synods.": 325
As late as 1900, Ohio still had 150 Welsh-speaking church congregations.: 326 The Welsh language was commonly spoken there for generations until the 1950s when its use began to subside. As of 2010, more than 126,000 Ohioans are of Welsh descent and about 135 speak the language, with significant concentrations still found in many communities of Ohio such as Oak Hill (13.6%), Madison (12.7%), Franklin (10.5%), Jackson (10.0%), Radnor (9.8%), and Jefferson (9.7%).
The Jackson School Eisteddfod in Jackson, Ohio, is the result of an historically strong Welsh-American business community, who funded the Southern Ohio Eisteddfod Association and a 4,000-seat auditorium that was the only dedicated eisteddfod venue in the United States. In 1930, the hall hosted the Grand National Eisteddfod. While the Great Depression halted the adult events, a youth eisteddfod, founded in 1924, still runs today, with support from the Madog Center for Welsh Studies at University of Rio Grande.
After the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed by the Dakota people in 1851, Welsh-speaking pioneers from Wisconsin, Upstate New York, and Ohio settled much of what is now Le Sueur and Blue Earth counties in Minnesota. By 1857, the number of Welsh-speakers was so numerous that the Minnesota State Constitution had to be translated into the Welsh language.: 325 With such a large number of settlers, it should come as no surprise that eisteddfodau soon followed.
Local Welsh-language poet James Price, whose bardic name was Ap Dewi ('Son of David'), was born at Newark, Ohio to parents from Llanon, Ceredigion.: 254 After migrating to the Minnesota frontier, Ap Dewi served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher at the Horeb Calvinistic Methodist Church in Cambria Township, Blue Earth County: 64 and was so dominant at local eisteddfodau that he was considered the "prifardd of Minnesota.": 138
The first Welsh literary society in Minnesota was founded, according to Ap Dewi, at a meeting held in South Bend Township, also in Blue Earth County in the fall of 1855.: 129 Also according to Ap Dewi, "The first eisteddfod in the state of Minnesota was held in Judson in the house of Wm. C. Williams in 1864. The second eisteddfod was held in Judson in the log chapel in 1866 with the Rev. John Roberts as chairman. Ellis E. Ellis, Robert E. Hughes, H.H. Hughes, Rev. J. Jenkins, and William R. Jones took part in this eisteddfod. The third eisteddfod was held in Judson in the new chapel (Jerusalem) on January 2, 1871. The famous Llew Llwyfo (bardic name) was chairman and a splendid time was had.": 131
According to David M. Jones, a Calvinistic Methodist minister born at Ty Rhedyn, near Marian-glas, Anglesey and Welsh-language writer whose literary talents drew comparisons with Washington Irving,: 215-216 the first eisteddfod held in Cambria Township took place on the Fourth of July, 1871. A "low-lying site behind the house of John Shields" was chosen for the Maes and, as Jones later recalled, "We cut tiers of seats into a natural bank of land and covered the seats with hay. These were the first seats with cushions we had ever seen in Minnesota, and everyone praised them. We built a platform in front of the seats. There was a clear stream running between the platform and the seats. All of us felt that our fine preparations would ensure the success of the program. On the morning of the Fourth, everyone was ready long before the Minnesota sun appeared. In a little while, there were clouds of dust being stirred up by large wagons coming from every direction. The immense prairie was dotted with wagons drawn by horses, mules, and horned oxen. Long before the time, the seats were full.": 139-140
Ellis Ellis, a Mankato joiner from Aberdyfi, Merionethshire and whose bardic name was Glan Dyfi (after the village of the same name),: 184-185 was, according to Reverend Jones, "the adjudicator for the poetry, and it is more than likely that Ap Dewi won the prize. What the subject was, we do not recall, though it is likely that there was a subject. Not often did a Bard compose without a subject. Evan Evans, Daniel Jones, and W.P. Jones must have competed in the essay competition, adjudicated by the cultured David S. Davies. In the humorous address competition, Evan Evans and Henry Hughes were both winners. There were various recitations by Owen Morris and Thomas Hughes, who were masterly as usual, among others. John S. Davies and his group sang several pieces, and the singers of Bethel also took part. Owen Richards and his brother, Tomy Richards, took part in the first eisteddfod. Johnnie Jones from the same district turned out to be skillful at recitation. Before the end of the last meeting one of the Minnesota storms came on, and the audience scattered in a moment.": 141
During the same era, a group of Welsh-language poets used to meet regularly under the leadership of Ellis Ellis (Glan Dyfi) at the Cheshire and Jones Shop in Mankato, where the packing paper in the shop was often used to write down englynion in Welsh.: 142-143
Reverend David Jones later expressed a belief that the englynion composed at the Cheshire and Jones Shop were superior to those of far more famous Welsh poets such as Dewi Wyn, Dewi Havhesp, and Dyfed.: 142 Jones further recalled, "Glan Dyfi never had any more enjoyment than when tinkering with the elements of englynion, tossing off so many englynion while taking no notice of the rules of Dafydd ab Edmwnd or any other Dafydd. O! To have those old times back again.": 143
Beginning in 1874, eisteddfodau were held annually at the Union Hall in Mankato until 1876, when the custom fell into abeyance until 1890. The 1890 eisteddfod was held on 5 February at the Mankato Opera House, under the leadership of Thomas Hughes and continued there.: 131-136
By the 1880s between 2,500 and 3,000 people of Welsh background in Minnesota were contributing to the life of some 17 churches and 22 chapels.
The first eisteddfod held in the Twin Cities took place, "on a fairly large scale", and sponsored by the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, on 17 January 1885.: 210-211
A third Minneapolis eisteddfod was held, under the patronage of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel and Y Wyddorfa, the Welsh literary society of Minneapolis, on St. David's Day, 1894. Adjudicated contests were held for essays, recitations, poetry, literary translations, and performances.: 211-213
According to a 2006 article in the Mankato Free Press the custom of local eisteddfodau went into abeyance during the 1950s. An effort was made, however, during the early 21st century, to revive the tradition by the Blue Earth County Historical Society and the Mankato Chapter of the League of Minnesota Poets. During the 2006 Cambria eisteddfod at the Morgan Creek Vineyards in New Ulm, Brainerd poet Doris Stengel was awarded the bardic chair by adjudicator John Calvin Rezmerski.
But, following Rezmerski's death in 2016, the custom of local eisteddfodau again fell into abeyance.
American Civil War
Also during the American Civil War, Edward Thomas, a Welsh-language poet born in Centerville, Ohio to parents from Llanidloes and whose bardic name was Awenydd, was living and working as a schoolmaster at the Welsh-American farming settlement at South Bend Township, in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. In 1862, he enlisted in Company E of the 2nd Minnesota Cavalry Regiment. During his service in that regiment, Thomas wrote many Welsh-language poems, including Pryddest ar Wir Fawredd, which later won the bardic crown at an eisteddfod held in Minersville, Pennsylvania. Following the end of the war, Thomas became a Calvinistic Methodist minister.: 273
Mrs. Jennie A. Ingalls, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H.O. Roberts of Minneapolis, won a prize for best recitation at an 1890 eisteddfod held in Chicago, Illinois.: 213
The largest U.S. eisteddfod was held in 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, featuring visiting Welsh choirs invited by the Chicago chapter of the Cymmrodorion Society. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which then included a large number of Welsh immigrants, made its first appearance outside of Utah at the same event. At the same eisteddfod, Reverend Evan Reese, a Calvinistic Methodist minister from Puncheston, Pembrokeshire, and Welsh poet whose bardic name was Dyfed, won the bardic chair and the $500 prize money offered for a 2,000 line awdl on the set subject Iesu o Nazareth ('Jesus of Nazareth').: 31 Reese went on to become the Archdruid of the Gorsedd Cymru and to announce the posthumous victory of Hedd Wyn at the infamous 1917 Eisteddfod of the Black Chair.
The eisteddfod idea has been retained by some subsequent world's fairs, and has helped to link the Welsh eisteddfod community to its Welsh-American offshoot.
On 28 July 1915, the International Eisteddfod held in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition drew competing choirs from around the nation, including one mixed group composed of the German members of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus from New York City The tightly-rehearsed, all-male Orpheus Club of Los Angeles were judged the winner and were awarded $3,000.
The 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod event was co-curated by Lorin Morgan-Richards and held at the Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles, the site of Welsh-American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, near Griffith Park, founded by Welsh-American philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith.
From 1925 to 2016, the Los Angeles St. David's Day Festival was the largest Welsh-American cultural event in the United States. It included an eisteddfod, a Celtic marketplace, classes, and a concert. Celebrities of Welsh heritage Henry Thomas, Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Sheen, along with Richard Burton's and Frank Lloyd Wright's families have all publicly supported the festival.
The West Coast Eisteddfod (originally the Left Coast Eisteddfod) was founded by Welsh-American social network AmeriCymru and the non-profit Portland, Oregon, Meriwether Lewis Memorial Eisteddfod Foundation in 2009.
Welsh Heritage Week
Welsh Heritage Week and Cwrs Cymraeg, two ambulatory Welsh language and culture courses held annually, usually in the United States, also each feature a mini-eisteddfod. The North American Festival of Wales held by the Welsh North American Association also includes an eisteddfod.
In the 21st century the internet and social media helped new eisteddfodau to spring up. For example, AmeriCymru hosts an annual online eisteddfod.
Similar events in other Celtic cultures
Various festivals in other Celtic cultures have similarities to eisteddfodau.
Since 1923, the Festival de Cornouaille (Breton: Cornouaille Kemper) has taken place annually in Quimper, located in the south-west of Brittany. It began as a beauty contest, but has switched since 1948 to being a musical and cultural festival.
A similar tradition has been created among descendants of the Cornish diaspora in Australia. "Australia's Little Cornwall" is the district of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia known as the Copper Triangle, which includes the former mining towns of Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo. In Moonta today, the Kernewek Lowender (Cornish for 'Cornish Happiness'), which includes an eisteddfod-like gathering of bards, is the largest Cornish festival in the world and attracts more than 40,000 visitors each event.
During the days of Gaelic Ireland and of the Irish clans, there was a tradition similar to the first eisteddfodau. Irish clan chiefs would host feasts for their clansmen, servants, and warriors which centered around a contest between Irish-language bards, whose poetry was performed by professional singers accompanied by a harp. As in 12th-century Wales, the clan chief always chose the winner with the approval of those assembled. This tradition, which arose during the 14th century, was termed a Gairm Sgoile (Early Modern Irish: 'summoning', or 'gathering', 'of the [Bardic] school').
The most famous of these gatherings took place on Christmas Day, 1351. William Ua Cellaig, Chief of the Name and King of Uí Maine in Connaught, held, like Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd, a great competition and feast for the bards of Ireland. An entire temporary village was erected with separate streets for musicians, seanchaithe, poets, and jugglers.
After the dispossession, emigration, and outlawry of the clan chiefs and the loss of their patronage, the teachers and former students of the bardic schools adapted, according to Daniel Corkery, by becoming teachers at the hedge schools in Irish villages.: 68-94 Meanwhile, in 18th-century Munster, the custom arose, in what was both mimicry and satire of the ceremonial of the English-dominated legal and court system, of the local chief-bard presiding over sessions of a cúirt, or poetic court. A cúirt would begin with "bailiffs" delivering often humorously worded "warrants" which summoned local Irish-language poets to a bardic competition presided over by the chief-bard as "judge". In many cases, two poets at the cúirt would engage in flyting, or trading insults in verse improvised on the spot. According to Corkery, much of the serious, improvised, and comic poetry in the Irish language composed for sessions of the Munster poetic courts was written down by the court "recorders" and still survives.: 95-125
Also according to Corkery, the patronage of Bardic and musical contests also continued among the very few remaining families from the Gaelic nobility of Ireland; like the O'Connell family of Derrynane House in County Kerry and the MacDermot Princes of Coolavin in County Sligo, who continued to hold at least a part of their ancestral lands, while ruling over their tenants and servants as the Chief of the Name.: 42-67
At least for a time, some Anglo-Irish landlords hosted similar contests. During the 18th century, Irish-language poet, composer, and itinerant harpist Turlough O'Carolan is said to have improvised Carolan's Concerto inside the house of the Anglo-Irish Power family, during such a contest against the Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani. According to other versions of the story, the contest that resulted in the impromptu composition of Carolan's Concerto took place at the home of Church of Ireland clergyman, poet, and satirist Jonathan Swift.
Since it was founded as part of the Gaelic revival by Conradh na Gaeilge in 1902, Seachtain na Gaeilge (English: Irish Language Week), which is similar to the eisteddfod, has celebrated Irish traditional music, Gaelic games, Irish culture, and the Irish language.
The festival begins each year on St David's Day and ends on St Patrick's Day, with community-organised events celebrated all over Ireland and the world, such as céilís, concerts, quizzes, competitions and parades. Like the first documented 12th-century eisteddfod, the 14th-century Gairm Sgoile and the 18th-century Munster Cúirt, Seachtain na Gaeilge includes a contest between Irish poets in the Irish language.
The Fleadh Cheoil is an annual festival for Irish traditional music that takes place in the same town for a few years in a row, then moving on to another area of Ireland in an effort to include all localities in the celebration.
There is also the event known as Imram, which was founded in 2004 by Liam Carson, who had noticed that there was no literary festival dedicated to Irish literature in the Irish language. In response, Carson received funding from Poetry Ireland, Dublin City Council, and Foras na Gaeilge. According to Carson, "The festival name means ‘a voyage of discovery’ and what we’re asking people to do is come with us and discover the Irish language."
The Scottish Gaelic mòd, a festival of Scottish Gaelic song, literature, arts and culture, is modeled upon the Welsh eisteddfod. The mòd, however, is different in that it lacks the 12th-century roots or the fictitious rituals introduced by Iolo Morganwg.
Like the Welsh word eisteddfod, the Gaelic word mòd, which derives from the Old Norse word mót, refers to a gathering or any kind of assembly. In the Scottish Highlands and Islands, however, the term originally referred to a parliament or congress in common use during the reign of Somerled and his successors among the Chiefs of Clan Donald as Lords of the Isles. Finlaggan on Islay was the usual setting for such parliaments.
In 1891, An Comunn Gàidhealach was founded in Oban to help preserve the Scottish Gaelic language and its literature and to establish the Royal National Mòd (Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail), as a festival of Gaelic music, literature, arts, and culture deliberately modelled upon the National Eisteddfod of Wales.
A mòd largely takes the form of formal competitions. Choral events in Gaelic (both solo and by choirs), and Scottish traditional music including fiddling, bagpipe and folk groups dominate. Spoken word events include children and adult's poetry reading, storytelling and Bible reading, and categories such as ancient folk tale or humorous monologue. Children can also present an original drama, and there are competitions in written literature.
Unlike the national mòd, local mòds usually only last a day or two. They attract a much smaller crowd and the only notable social event is the winners' ceilidh. As there are fewer competitions than in the national mòd, this ceilidh is often more like a traditional ceilidh with dancing and guest singers between the winners' performances.
First held at Alexandria, Virginia in 1988, the U.S. National Mòd is now held annually as part of the Highland games at Ligonier, Pennsylvania and sponsored by An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach ('The American Scottish Gaelic Society').
The 2011 Royal National Mòd, held at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, crowned Lewis MacKinnon (Lodaidh MacFhionghain), a poet in the Canadian Gaelic spoken in Nova Scotia, as the winning bard. It was the first time in the 120-year history of the mòd that a writer of Gaelic poetry from the Scottish diaspora had won the Bardic Crown.
In popular culture
- The 1992 Welsh-language biographical film Hedd Wyn focuses on war poet Ellis Humphrey Evans' (Huw Garmon) pursuit of his lifelong dream of winning the bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod of Wales and on his three-year-long battle against overwhelming pressure to enlist in the British Army during World War I. The bard is depicted as a tragic hero, with a visible disgust for the jingoism, ultranationalism, and Germanophobia that surrounds him. The film's emotional impact is increased when the real Hedd Wyn's love poetry and war poetry are read in voiceover at key moments of the film. The film was directed by Paul Turner and based on a screenplay by chaired and crowned bard Alan Llwyd. It also starred television actor Huw Garmon, who learned the dialect of Welsh spoken in Trawsfynydd during World War I by listening to the oral history tapes at St Fagans National History Museum, in the title role. The film was shot on location in Gwynedd and on a reconstruction of the battlefield at Passchendaele, but also on a shoestring budget of £400,000. However, Hedd Wyn went on to win the Royal Television Society's Television Award for Best Single Drama. It was also the first British motion picture to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. In 1994, at the newly inaugurated BAFTA Cymru Awards, it won in six categories: Best Director (Paul Turner), Best Design (by Jane Roberts and Martin Morley), Best Drama – Welsh (Shan Davies and Paul Turner), Best Editor (Chris Lawrence), Best Original Music (John E.R. Hardy) and Best Screenwriter – Welsh (Alan Llwyd).
- An early flashback during the 1996 biographical film Shine shows Australian concert pianist David Helfgott (played by Alex Rafalowicz) as a child competing in an eisteddfod held in Adelaide, South Australia during the 1950s.
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Despite these shortcomings, the Mod retains a flagship status and is recognized throughout Scotland as a manifestation of Gaelic culture.
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