The Eisteddfod: welcome to the land of bards and poets!

The Eisteddfod is a literature, music and theatre festival which takes place every year in Wales. It is entirely held in Welsh and promotes the Welsh language and culture. The word “eisteddfod” means “to be in sitting” (“eistedd”, to sit and “bod”, to be).

There are three categories of Eisteddfodau in Wales: the National Eisteddfod of Wales, the Urdd National Eisteddfod, which is a youth festival and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. In addition to that, there are Eisteddfodau outside Wales in other parts of the world like in Jersey, in Australia and in Argentina where Welsh communities immigrated in the XIXth century.

The National Eisteddfod of Wales is the major one. It is the most important festival in Europe as far as musical and poetry competitions are concerned. It is held every year during the first week of August. The festival changes places every year from north Wales to south Wales.

A little bit of History

A bardic competition considered as the first Eisteddfod was organised by Lord Rhys in 1176 in Cardigan (south west Wales). Bards, poets and musicians from all the country attended the festival. A wooden carved chair was offered to the best poet and musician during the celebrations. This tradition is still carried on today at the modern Eisteddfod. The creation of the National Eisteddfod as we know it today dates back to the end of the XVIIIth century. The first edition was in Aberdare in 1861. Except for the years 1914 and 1940, it has taken place every year since then.

The festival nowadays

The festival site is called “Y Maes” (The Field). The pavilion, the scenes and the festival’s infrastructures are located there. There is plenty to do on the Maes. There is a theatre, a cinema, a food village, a science and technology village, an area called Y Maes B where people gather to see Welsh rock bands in concert.
Events of the Eisteddfod are broadcasted on different media like newspapers, Welsh television (S4C, BBC Cymru) and radio (BBC Radio Cymru).

Each year, the festival welcomes the Gorsedd of the Bards, which is a community of modern-day bards. The Gorsedd ceremonies take place in the Pavilion. Poetry prizes are awarded to the best poets of the year. There are three Gorsedd ceremonies : the chairing of the bard in which a wooden carved chair is awarded to the winner of the best long poem, the crowning of the bard awarded for free verse competition and the prose medal awarded for prose competition.

Eisteddfod 1991 Prifardd Robin Owain, Welsh poet
Eisteddfod 1991 Prifardd Robin Owain, Welsh poet

If you would like to know more about the Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd ceremonies, I invite you to watch an interview of Aneirin Karadog, chaired bard at the National Eisteddfod in 2016:

Many thanks to Aneirin Karadog for the interview and to the camerawoman, Louise Michel

Published 2 April 2019
  • by Agathe Le Failler est étudiante en deuxième année de master Langues et Cultures Celtiques en Contact parcours mondes celtiques modernes à (…)
(Edited 21 February 2022)

Bibliography

The Eisteddfod, EDWARDS Hywel Teifi, Writers of Wales, University of Wales Press, 1990
L’Eisteddfod, un autre pays de Galles ?, CASTAY Marie-Thérèse,
Pays de Galles : quelle(s) image(s) ? = What visibility for Wales?, Actes du colloque de Brest, 25-26 janvier 2007. Brest : Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique, Université de Bretagne Occidentale, 2009. p. 267-271, Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique, Université de Bretagne Occidentale, 2009
Reference Wales, MAY John, University of Wales Press, 1994

National Eisteddfod of Wales, https://eisteddfod.wales/
A brief history of the Eisteddfod, http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/eisteddfod2008/sites/guide/history/pages/history_eisteddfod.shtml

The National Eisteddfod of Wales, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/The-National-Eisteddfod-of-Wales/

History of the Welsh Eisteddfodau, https://museum.wales/collections/online/?field0=with_images&value0=1&field1=database&value1=mwl&field2=string&value2=eisteddfod
Scrolls, swords and mystic marks, https://museum.wales/articles/1136/Scrolls-swords-and-mystic-marks/