|Painting by J Davies, Penycae|
The word Eisteddfod literally means 'eistedd' (to sit), and 'fod' (to be), so its historic meaning is The Sitting. I believe that this refers to the early days when 'judges' sat in a circle with the performers in the middle. The National Eisteddfod is the home of literature, music, dance, recitation, theatre, visual arts, science and technology, and all types of culture in Wales. Its purpose is to encourage the preservation of Welsh music and literature, and only those who sing or write in Welsh may enter the competitions.
The modern National Eisteddfod is very much from the 19th Century, and I have a theory as to what was one of the driving forces for change. The Government (in London) commissioned a report which had the title, "Reports of the Commissioners of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales", which was published in 1847. The commissioners visited every part of Wales in 1846 gathering evidence and statistics. One of the problems, though, was that none of them spoke Welsh, and teachers and children did not speak English. The commissioners relied on information from witnesses, many of which were Anglican clergymen, at a time when Wales was a stronghold of Nonconformism. The report was not complimentary, and was not helped by a conclusion which said that " the Welsh were ignorant, lazy and immoral, and that among the causes of this were the use of the Welsh language and nonconformity".
|The Blue Books|
The general public felt that the report was an attack on the character of the Welsh as a nation, and the belief grew that it was important for the Welsh to create a new national image. In the 1850's people were talking of a national eisteddfod to showcase Wales' culture. One was held in Llangollen in 1858, and only three years later, in 1861 the modern, annual National Eisteddfod of Wales was born. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of that date, and this years Eisteddfod is being held in Wrexham, just 5 miles away from my village, my home.
|Wrexham Eisteddfod Proclamation Ceremony, 3rd July 2010|
At the heart of every National Eisteddfod are the Bards and the Gorsedd. Bards go back hundreds of years, and in their simplest form are poets and musicians, many of whom were professional, in that they were employed in the service of some Lord. The Gorsedd is a community or coming together of modern-day Bards. They hold the right of proclamation and of governance, while the Eisteddfod Council organises the event.
|Ranks of the Welsh Gorsedd|
There are three ranks of membership in the Welsh Gorsedd.
- Ovates - who wear green robes
- Bards - who wear blue robes
- Druids - who wear white robes
|The Bard's Chair|
There are three Gorsedd ceremonies at every Eisteddfod, which happen at the end of the three main competitions.
- The Crowning of the Bard - awarded to the poet judged best in the competition in free meter
- The Awarding of the Prose Medal - for the winner of the prose competition
- The Chairing of the Bard - for the best long poem
I was attending Rhos Secondary School at the time, and somehow we entered a group in the Choral Speaking competition, and I was a member. Choral Speaking, for those unfamiliar with it, is projecting your voice and speaking in chorus. Imagine the finest choir. Take away the music and the singing, and just speak the words. I have always loved this form of art, and when done at best, it is powerful, evocative, intense and very moving. I have looked up some choral speaking on the Internet, but to be honest they were mostly rubbish, and I refuse to give a link in case you become tainted. I have no idea how we did in the competition, but as I had by then begun to love public speaking, I'm sure that performing on stage in front of thousands was a magical experience.
Not much about me or my village I know, but there is a link, and I hope that having a brief look at the magic of the National Eisteddfod is of some interest. This year in the Eisteddfod in Wrexham, there will be stiff competition for the three main prizes. The entries received are;
- For the Crown = 35
- For the Chair = 13
- For the Prose Medal = 11