An eisteddfod (Welsh ə(i)ˈstɛðvɔd; plural eisteddfodau [-stɛðˈvɔdaɨ] or eisteddfods) is a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance. The tradition of such a meeting of Welsh artists dates back to at least the 12th century, when a festival of poetry and music was held by Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth at his court in Cardigan in 1176 but, with the decline of the bardic tradition, it fell into abeyance. The present-day format owes much to an eighteenth-century revival arising out of a number of informal eisteddfodau. The word eisteddfod is derived from the Welsh word eistedd, meaning "sit".
The first eisteddfod was that held by Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd
in Cardigan Castle
in 1176, at which prizes of chairs were awarded to the winners. The next recorded large-scale eisteddfod was held in Caerwys
in 1568. The prizes awarded were a miniature silver chair to the successful poet, a little silver crwth
to the winning fiddler, a silver tongue to the best singer, and a tiny silver harp to the best harpist. Originally, the contests were limited to professional Welsh bards who were paid by the nobility. To ensure the highest standard possible, Elizabeth I of England
commanded that the bards be examined and licensed. As interest in the Welsh arts declined, the standard of the main eisteddfod deteriorated as well and they became more informal. In 1789, Thomas Jones organised an eisteddfod in Corwen
where for the first time the public were admitted. The success of this event led to a revival of interest in Welsh literature and music.
(bardic name of Edward Williams
) founded "Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain" (Gorsedd
of the Bards of the Isle of Britain) in 1792 to restore and replace the ancient eisteddfod. The first eisteddfod of the revival was held in Primrose Hill
"The Gentleman's Magazine" of October, 1792 reported on the revival of the eisteddfod tradition.
The Blue Books' notorious attack on the character of the Welsh as a nation in 1846 led to public anger and the belief that it was important for the Welsh to create a new national image. By the 1850s people began to talk of a national eisteddfod to showcase Wales's culture. In 1858 John Williams ab Ithel held a "National" Eisteddfod complete with Gorsedd in Llangollen. "The great Llangollen Eisteddfod of 1858" was a significant event. Thomas Stephens won a prize with an essay demolishing the claim of John Williams (the events organiser) that Madoc discovered America. As Williams had expected Stephens's essay to reinforce the myth, he was not willing to award the prize to Stephens and, it is recorded, "matters became turbulent". This eisteddfod also saw the first public appearance of John Ceiriog Hughes who won a prize for a love poem, Myfanwy Fychan of Dinas Brân, which became an instant hit. There is speculation that this was a result of its depiction of a "deserving, beautiful, moral, well-mannered Welshwoman", in stark contrast to The Blue Books' depiction of Welsh women as having questionable morals.
The National Eisteddfod Council was created after Llangollen and the Gorsedd consequently merged with it. The Gorsedd holds the right of proclamation and of governance while the Council organises the event. The first true National Eisteddfod organised by the Council was held in Denbigh in 1860 on a pattern that continues to the present day.
The National Eisteddfod
The most important eisteddfod is the National Eisteddfod of Wales, the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe. Its eight days of competitions and performances, entirely in the Welsh language, are staged annually in the first week of August usually alternating between North and South Wales (see the main National Eisteddfod of Wales article for a full list of past and future venues). Over 6000 people competed at the 2006 National Eisteddfod with 150,000 visitors attending.
Recent Eisteddfodau have been held at:
Future National Eisteddfodau are scheduled to be held at:
- Bala, Gwynedd
- Blaenau Gwent
Another important eisteddfod in the calendar is 'Eisteddfod Yr Urdd', or the Youth Eisteddfod. Organised by Urdd Gobaith Cymru
, it involves Welsh youth aged 7 to 24 in a week of competition in singing
during the summer half-term school holiday. The event is claimed to be Europe's premier youth arts festival. Regional heats are held in advance and, as with the National Eisteddfod, the Urdd Eisteddfod is held in a different location each year. With the establishment of the Urdd headquarters in the Wales Millennium Centre
, the eisteddfod will return to Cardiff
every four years.
Recent Urdd Eisteddfodau have been held at:
Future eisteddfodau are scheduled to be held at:
The International Eisteddfod
The International Eisteddfod is held annually in Llangollen, Denbighshire each year in July. Choirs, singing groups, folk dancers and other groups attend from all over the world, sharing their national folk traditions in one of the world's great festivals of the arts. It was set up in 1947 and begins with a message of peace. In 2004, it was (unsuccessfully) nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Terry Waite, who has been actively involved with the eisteddfod.
Smaller-scale local eisteddfodau are held throughout Wales. One of the best known is the Abergavenny Eisteddfod (Welsh
: Eisteddfod Y Fenni
). Schools hold eisteddfodau as competitions within the school: a popular time for this is on Saint David's Day
Eisteddfods (Australian plural) have also been adopted into Australian
culture. Much like the Welsh original, eisteddfods are competitions that involve testing individuals for singing, dancing, acting and musicianship. One has been run by the Royal South Street Society in Ballarat since 1891
At least 20 years earlier, as described in the diaries of Joseph Jenkins
, Ballarat's Welsh community was conducting an annual eisteddfod each St David's Day (1 March
). Modern equivalents in Australia are competitions reserved for schoolchildren, though many have open sections where anyone (including professionals) may participate and compete. Typically, a prize may be a scholarship to pursue a further career. Many young Australian actors and dancers participate regularly in the various competitions scheduled throughout the year. The most popular is the Rock Eisteddfod
, which involves 40,000 students from 400 schools in a yearly competition. Many other communities host smaller eisteddfods, including Alice Springs
Eisteddfodau have been held since the initial Welsh settlement in Argentina
in the late nineteenth century. Competitions nowadays are bilingual, in Welsh and Spanish, and include poetry and prose, translations (Welsh, Spanish, English, Italian, and French), musical performances, arts, folk dances, photography and video among others. There is an annual youth eisteddfod held in Gaiman
in September, and the main Chubut Eisteddfod is held in Trelew
in October. An annual eisteddfod is also held in Trevelín
, in the Andes.
, the local version is known as "Esethvos Kernow" (Cornish
for "Eisteddfod of Cornwall") and is connected with Gorseth Kernow
The eisteddfod idea has been taken up by non-Welsh speakers in the Channel Islands, particularly for the preservation of Jèrriais and Guernesais, and is called such. See Jersey Eisteddfod.
The Scottish Gaelic Mod and the Breton Kan ar Bobl both have similarities to an eisteddfod.