Sunday, August 12, 2007

Heddwch, Eisteddwch

I have been involved with the Welsh National Eisteddfod since the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969. "Eisteddfod yr Arwisgiad" if I remember correctly.

The Prince had been invested in Caernarfon Castle and had discovered his "Welshness" for the occasion. He had undergone a Welsh cultural immersion course, prepared and serviced by the best in the Principality, which culminated in his making a speech in Welsh at the Investiture. Despite this promising start precious few words of Welsh have passed his lips since. Of 20 other speeches in Wales, only one has been fully in Welsh. The rest were in English, although of these 9 have a Welsh formulaic opening/closing.

Meanwhile, in 1969, the Free Wales Army were blowing things up, claiming a direct line of violent lineage from Saunders Lewis's example of the firing of Yr Ysgol Fomio in 1936.

The Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg) were painting out monolingual road signs, chaining themselves to TV masts, and, to all intents and purposes, "refusing to recognise the court" which was attempting to conduct its business in the Welsh heartland through the medium of English.

What is the Eisteddfod?
But back to the 1969 Eisteddfod. It was like an amalgam of the Oireachtas, a Fleadh Ceoil and the Spring Show all rolled into one. And all through the medium of Welsh. The buzz was enormous and the lines of the conflicts emerging within Wales were all reflected there: traditional welsh nationalists versus community/political activists; native welsh versus holiday-home tourists; linguistic purists versus a looser learner-embracing culture. Palpable excitement.

The Eisteddfod is a fantastic festival. It is a concentrated outpouring of Welshness over one week in August. It is the pinnacle of a vast range of cultural activity which goes on throughout the preceding year. You can get a flavour in my report of the Denbigh 2001 Eisteddfod on my site. This also references a number of partial updates to 2005.

Welsh Labour Party Funks it
It is ironic that the Welsh Labour Party decided not to have a stand at this years Eisteddfod. It was they who were first onto the field, and this long before political parties were allowed. Labour was then in Government and the Welsh Office (ie the then "local" branch of the UK administration) had an official stand on the field entitled "Llafur yng Nghymru". This was subtly translated in small print as "Manpower in Wales" but it was well understood by all to be the Labour Party in Wales.

Eisteddfod Website
The Eisteddfod itself has a website, which, despite a makeover this year, is still a bit chaotic and lacking in structure. While the webcams are very welcome - they allow those who can't quite make it there to see the show - the text-based aspects of the site seem to have deteriorated, and you have to go chasing BBC or Google news to see what is going on during the week. Attendance has been falling over the last few years and there is a strong case to be made for the festival making much greater use of technology to further the cause. The aim of the festival is to support Welsh culture and language and both physical attendance and virtual attendance on the web can contribute here.

Dillwyn's death
Dillwyn Miles has had a long and productive association with the Eisteddfod. He was for many years the Herald Bard, in a costume of his own design, and he has written what is effectively the public history of the Gorsedd of Bards (in English) and a series of personal reminiscences (in Welsh). He died this year, aged 91, just before Eisteddfod week.

Still only one female chair
The highlight of the 2001 Eisteddfod was the winning of the chair by Mererid Hopwood, the first woman ever to do so. Well, six years later she retains this distinction.

There are three competitions, the winners of which qualify to be candidates for Archdruid. These are the Chair and Crown, both for poetry, and the Prose Medal. The Crown has been won in the past by women, but only rarely, and this year's Prose Medal winner was a woman. But the number of women in the candidate pool is still very small and the prospect of a female Archdruid in the near future looks slim.

New Archdruid
A new Archdruid starts a three year term next year and has already been chosen. He is Dic Jones (Dic Yr Hendre) who won the chair as far back as 1966.

He also won the chair in 1976 but was disqualified over a technical conflict of interest. As a member of one of the local Eisteddfod committees, Dic did not qualify to enter the competition, but, as entries are adjudicated under pen names, this was not picked up until the last minute. The ensuing panic was a wonder to behold. But it all got sorted out in the end. Nevertheless Dic was held in bad odour for some time afterwards.

It is good to see him making Archdruid at this stage.

The three principal literary competition results this year were as follows.

The Chair was won by T James Jones, who had won the Crown in 1986 and 1988. His brother Aled Gwyn won the Crown in 1995, while his other brother John Gwilym Jones won the chair in 1981.

His nephew Tudur Dylan Jones won the Crown this year, having won the Chair on two previous occasions. Clearly a unique family in the history of the Eisteddfod.

The Prose Medal was won by Mary Annes Payne who will now enter the pool of candidates for Archdruid.

None of this should give the impression that prizes are awarded lightly. One of the things that has impressed me about the Eisteddfod is that standards are maintained and where entries are not up to scratch no prize is awarded. Crowns and Chairs have been withheld over the years, much to the disappointment of attendees, not to mention the competitors. This year the Gold Medal for craftwork was withheld.

Further Links
Further Welsh material on my site.

The Dublin Welsh Male Voice Choir (PDF 450KB) which I joined in 1970.

Welsh typo to lift up your heart. Enjoy.

1 comment:

Póló said...

Interesting postscript.

I was checking out the North Wales Police website and came across this on the Chief Constable's blog.