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The National Eisteddfod of Wales 2018

30 July 2018 | Charlie Powell

The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru (National Eisteddfod of Wales) is an annual eight-day arts festival with historic roots tracing back to the twelfth century. Considered the largest music and poetry festival in Europe, it regularly hosts over 6,000 competitors and sees upwards of 150,000 visitors. Returning to the capital for the first time in a decade, this year’s festival, from the 3 to the 11 of August, is set to be a fantastic spectacle for all involved.

What is an Eisteddfod?
Roughly translating to “a sitting” or “being seated,” the name of the Eisteddfod links back to the culture of bardic performance in medieval Wales, when the status of bards and the rules of the poetry they produced were fixed by firm traditions. Welsh lords could host gatherings of artists and bards, and the name Eisteddfod derives from these ancient assemblies. After the English occupation of Wales, the order which upheld these traditions was lost forever, but the creation of poetry and music in the Welsh language never ceased. Centuries later, the National Eisteddfod as we know it today was conceived by a stonemason, antiquarian, and forger by the name of Iolo Morganwg. What he set out at the end of the 18th century was combination of the living tradition of Welsh poetry, genuine history, and pseudo-pagan bardic ritual, designed to rekindle the bardic spirit and protect Welsh language, art, and culture. By the mid-19th century, it had become one of the most important cultural events in the United Kingdom, and has only grown since.

Image Credit: Keith Morris

Today, the national Eisteddfod welcomes a truly international audience to its host location, which alternates between North and South Wales, every year. The core of the festival are the famous poetry competitions. However, there are also many competitions for choirs, brass bands, solo performers, dance, and theatre, which will occupy the stages and halls of Cardiff bay.

What is there to do at this year’s Eisteddfod?
Essential viewing are the Gorsedd of the Bards (an association of poets, writers, musicians and artists that have made a distinctive contribution the the Welsh nature and its culture) ceremonies, as they are the ritualistic centre of the festival. Ceremonies will be held on Monday morning and afternoon, Wednesday afternoon, and Friday morning and afternoon. The first of these, on Monday morning, is one of two ceremonies where new members, nominated and selected for artistic merit or contributions to their community, are welcomed and honoured into the Gorsedd. Monday afternoon’s ceremony is one of the best spectacles the Eisteddfod has to offer: the Crowning ceremony. Led by the Archdruid, replete with the appropriate robes, the membership of the Gorsedd sat behind, a horn of plenty, and a flower dance, this ceremony honours one of Wales’ leading poets. The identity of the winner is a secret until they stand from among the audience, and ascend to the stage to be welcomed. The final ceremony is the “chairing ceremony,” honouring the winner of the Eisteddfod chair, and is usually packed out with crowds eager to find out who has won the coveted prize.

Image Credit: Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru via Facebook

Despite appearances, this event does not feel like people merely dressing up in costume. The ritual ceremonies of the Eisteddfod are the culmination of serious talent competitions, and the extent to which poetry and music are genuinely important across Wales is clearly felt in the prestige attached to these prizes. It is an amazing opportunity to experience a national cultural tradition that is widespread and thriving in a time when such things are generally held to be on the wane.

Be sure to check out the competitions held at the Eisteddfod. From school choirs to adult brass bands, hundreds of groups from across the country attend the festival every year in order to represent their towns and districts in cultural contest. If you are looking for something you won’t find outside Wales, try and make it to one of the Cerdd-dant competitions, in which singers improvise over a given melody, usually provided by a harp.

Image Credit: Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru via Facebook

There are hundreds concerts and events, and while many of them are freely accessible in the Cardiff bay area, some require pre-booking or payment on the door. Book tickets here.

“The first link between the Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd was at the Carmarthenshire Eisteddfod in 1819, when Iolo Morganwg held a ceremony in the gardens of the Ivy Bush Hotel. He scattered a cluster of pebbles in a circle, and the Gorsedd ceremony was held within this circle.” - National Eisteddfod Website

But I don’t speak Welsh!
This is absolutely not an obstacle to enjoying every aspect of the festival. Though the competitions in poetry and music require all the text to be in Welsh, not all of the performers are Welsh speakers, and certainly not all of the audience are! In some of the main ceremonies, audio-loops with headphones are available to provide English translation, and attendees can expect clear bilingual signage in every part of the Eisteddfod. That said, this festival for many is the beating heart of Welsh language and culture, and provides visitors with a brilliant opportunity to experience some of the most beautiful poetry in the UK in its original language. There is a dedicated part of the festival, Shw’mae Caerdydd, for introducing people to Welsh and providing information about the language. This year, it will be located in the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, near the center of the festival.

Image Credit: Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru via Facebook

Where can I stay?
A campsite is being set up near the bay, with a shuttle bus service running regularly, but space will be limited - book soon if you intend to camp!
Hotels can be booked through the Visit Cardiff Website.
For more information, please visit the National Eisteddfod Website.

The National Eisteddfod of Wales will run from 3 – 11 August at Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, Wales, CF10.
 

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