When was the first Eisteddfod held in Wales?

Part of Wales’ heritage is the occasion of The National Eisteddfod. Different cultures come together to celbrate and compete against eachother in song, dance and writing. Eisteddfod means a sitting (eistedd means to sit), this could be in connection to the hand-carved chair which is traditionally awarded to the best poet of that year’s ceremony and is known as ‘The Crowning of the Bard’.

The first National Eisteddfod of Wales dates back to 1176. Lord Rhys invited poets and musicians to gether at Cardigan castle from all over Wales to this grand event. A chair at the Lord’s table was awarded to the best poet and musician.

Following on from that first eisteddfod in 1176, they continue to be held once a year throughout varying places in Wales. Although it did decline in popularity around the 18th century, it was again revived in the early 19th century. In 1880 the National Eisteddfod Association was formed and apart from 1914 and 1940 (due to WWi and WWII) the Eisteddfod has been held every year.

In 1819 at the Ivy Bush in Carmathen, the Gorsedd of Bards (Gorsedd y Beirdd) made its first appearance. This prize is awarded to the best poet, writer, musician, artist or individual who has made a significant and distinguished contribution to Welsh language, literature, or culture.

The members association are known as Druids, and the colour of their costumes – white, blue or green are indicative of their various ranks within this group.

The head of the Gorsedd of Bards is the Archdruid who is responsible for conducting the Gorsedd ceremonies during Eisteddfod week.

There are three Gorsedd ceremonies held during Eisteddfod week, and they are as follows:

– the Crowning (Coroni) of the Bard (awarded to the poet judged best in the competitions)
– the Awarding of the Prose Medal (for the winner of the Prose competitions) and
the Chairing (Cadeirio) of the Bard (for the best long poem)

The Archdruid and members of the Gorsedd of Bards gather on stage in their ceremonial robes and the Archdruid reveals the identity of the winning poet.

The ‘Corn Gwlad’ (a trumpet) calls the people together and the Gorsedd Prayer is chanted. The Archdruid withdraws a sword from its sheath three times. In Welsh the Archdruit cries ‘Is there peace?’, to which the assembly reply ‘Peace’.

After this the Horn of Plenty is presented to the Archdruid by a young local married woman, she will encourage him him to drink the ‘wine of welcome’.

A young girl offers him a basket of ‘flowers from the land and soil of Wales’ and then a floral dance is performed. This is based on a pattern of flower gathering from the fields. The Gorsedd ceremonies are totally unique to Wales and the National Eisteddfod.

As well as the traditional ceremonies there are also competitions and stalls within Maes yr Eisteddfod (the Eisteddfod Field). There is also varying society tents, like a literature tent and a live music tent – but only songs in Welsh can be performed. There is also a learners tent for teachers and students of the Welsh language.

There is a special Eisteddfod held twice a year in the Chubut province of Patagonia, South America, in the towns of Gaiman and Trelew.

Due to the historic Welsh population in Patagonia, Eisteddfod’s are held their twice a year. These started in the 1880’s and include competitions in music, poetry and recitation in Welsh, Spanish and English. The winner of the best poem in Spanish receives a silver crown. The ceremony to honour the best poet in Welsh, the Bard, involves a religious ceremony asking for peace and health and involves the Chairing of the Bard in an ornate carved wooden chair. The main Eisteddfod at Trelew is a very big gathering with visitors from all over the world.