Druids, drama and longswords: the secrets of the Welsh National Eisteddfod
Arts and Lit Editor Gwenllian Page-Gibby provides an insight into one of Wales’ most important Arts festivals.
When we talk of druidic ceremonies, Bards and stone circles, you wouldn’t be remiss in imagining scenes from fantasy books and games. This traditional Welsh celebration is, however, very much alive beyond the realm of fiction and an important week in the calendar for any Welshie worth their salt.
The Welsh National Eisteddfod is an annual celebration of Art, Poetry, Music, recitation and writing conducted through the medium of Welsh. This festival is famed for providing a hub of support and like-minded individuals keen to promote Welsh-grown talent. With competitors ranging from Primary school children to pensioners, it is a wonderful way of gathering to celebrate Welsh culture. With the 2022 eisteddfod having recently finished, let’s look into the intricacies of this Welsh Arts festival.
The first Eisteddfod was in 1176 at the behest of Lord Rhys, youngest son of Princess Gwenllian. He invited poets and musicians from across the land and would present a chair to two winning poets; a tradition maintained today. The winning bard must, however, write using the Welsh styling of ‘Cynghanedd’. Cynghanedd is an art similar to a complex and interwoven alliterative style, relying on intonation and beats within the line. The other winning poet in the free verse category, another main ceremony of the festival, then wins the crown. Main ceremonial awards are also given to winners of the drama writing competition, novel writing and music medal. This talented bunch is then inducted into the ‘Gorsedd of the Bards’, led by the current Archdruid: Myrddin ap Dafydd. The ceremonial longsword is drawn as the Archdruid begins the recitations and congratulations. While somewhat bizarre to the outsider, this ritual is what brings the festival together. A magnificent sight to be beheld!
This talented bunch is then inducted into the ‘Gorsedd of the Bards’, led by the current Archdruid: Myrddin ap Dafydd. The ceremonial longsword is drawn as the Archdruid begins the recitations and congratulations
The Eisteddfod of 2022 in Tregaron (Mid Wales) saw many talented writers and dramatists pass through its midst, but the musicians are not to be forgotten! With an array of prizes offered to singers and musicians, it is a stage that has launched the careers of world-famous baritone Bryn Terfel or, more importantly, Wynne Evans the iconic face (and moustache) of go-compare, to name but a few.
But it’s not only the stage that draws crowds of over 150,000 people. Visitors will be attracted by stalls, folk music, an array of stages providing entertainment and indeed the art exhibit. With stalls from hundreds of independent businesses, it provides a much-needed boost to the arts industry, not to mention a multitude of treats for every foodie around. The Eisteddfod is also a political landscape. It provides representation from all the major parties of Wales, including Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives and YesCymru (the Welsh independence movement). This is yet another example of how art, music and recitation are often intertwined with more important and powerful messages.
The National Eisteddfod, while an archaic and traditional festival, is also working to become a more inclusive environment. The gorsedd are ensuring that there is always a spotlight for performers and artists from minority backgrounds. An incredibly popular stall this year was the Cardiff LGBTQ+ Bookshop and Café ‘Paned o Ge’. This stall provides a safe and non-alcoholic space for members of the LGBTQ+ community to meet, talk and be unapologetically themselves. There were also far more BAME acts given a space to perform on the folk stage and the ‘Maes B’. The Maes B is the Welsh medium young people’s pop and rock festival within the event. This presents how the festival is moving in the right direction. Despite maintaining our history, outdated prejudices have no place in modern Wales.
This conveys how the festival is moving in the right direction. Despite maintaining our history, outdated prejudices have no place in modern Wales.
Televised English language coverage of the festival is available on the red button service of S4C or be sure to catch the highlights on BBC Four. So immerse yourself in the 2022 Eisteddfod – you may even find yourself drawn to the Eisteddfod pavilion in 2023!