Considered the largest music and poetry festival in Europe, the origins of this week-long “traveling” festival date back to 1176 when Lord Rhys ap Gruffyd (Prince of Wales before the Normans took over) first held competitions in music and poetry in Cardigan. “Eisteddfod” comes from the Welsh word “eistedd” which means to sit, as the winner of the Eisteddfod sits in the “Bard’s Chair.”
The largest music and poetry competition in Europe
Today, the annual Eisteddfod (pronounced ‘eye-steth-vod’ ) still centers on competitions in poetry, prose, music, and arts with over 6,000 competitors in 1,000 events and over 8 days in August. Each year it is held in a different location, alternating between North and South Wales.
The 2017 Eisteddfod was held Aug. 4-12 on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales. The Maes (festival location) is the centerpiece of the festival.
A bittersweet war story forever associated with the Eisteddfod
The 2017 Eisteddfod commemorated World War I by starting with an opening concert called A Oes Heddwch?, which tells the story of the winner of the top prize in 1917 – what is now called “the Black Chair” – as it’s inspiration.
A century ago, Ellis Humphrey Owen, who took the Welsh name Hedd Wyn, was a young WW I soldier-poet killed in action weeks before the Bard’s Chair ceremony, which he won. After his name was announced, and no one came forward, the Bard’s Chair was shrouded in black in his honor. His winning poem titled Hero, was the subject of this year’s Chair competition in tribute.
If you’re interested in learning more about this heartbreaking story, check out the 1992 Academy Award-nominated film, Hedd Wyn.
Druids, stone circles, and flower dances – pure Wales!
The main literary prizes for poetry and prose are awarded in colorful and theatrical ceremonies by the Gorsedd (official community) of Bards of the Island of Britain, complete with presenters dressed in flowing druidic costumes, flower dances, trumpet fanfares and a symbolic Horn of Plenty. Definitely, something to see!
And of course, the Welsh language is front and center at the festival. All activities are in Welsh – but with translations provided! There are multiple opportunities to learn the language whether you are just curious or trying to hone your skills. Certificates are awarded for proficiency. Skim through this year’s Festival Guide to pick up a few tips!
Many shops set up pabell (tents) on the Maes to sell all things Welsh, from books, magazines, slate items, and foodstuffs (Halen Mon sea salt, anyone?). We here at Dragon in Your Pocket sussed out several choice items to bring back with us to the US!
You’ll find UK media BBC, BBC Radio, S4C and Radio Cymru there to cover the events. Many pop and traditional musicians come to the Eisteddfod as well.
And, if this isn’t enough to get you interested, there are smaller festivals within the Eisteddfod – this year a Myths & Legends Festival and a Comedy Festival ran concurrently with the regular line-up of music, poetry, and dance performances throughout the Maes.
The 2018 Eisteddfod will be held in Cardiff
If you missed this year’s festival, the 2018 Eisteddfod will be held in Cardiff and plans are well underway. The competitions will remain the centerpiece but look for a new experience with an “urban” Maes and all that Cardiff has to offer.
We can help you plan a trip to Wales to experience this ultimate celebration of all things Welsh! Tickets go on sale April 1, 2018 for next year’s Eisteddfod. Contact Dragon in Your Pocket today!
Be amdano fo? (How about it?)