Introducing the Eisteddfod

The Welsh National Eisteddfod is one of the Britain’s most important cultural festivals. The Eisteddfod is a celebration of the culture and language of Wales, one of the countries that forms a part of the UK. 

The Eisteddfod dates back to 1176. The modern festival has been held every year since 1861, with the exception of 1914, when the outbreak of the first world war forced the festival to be postponed for a year. This year’s festival starts today, and will continue until August 6th. 

The festival travels across the country and attracts around 150,000 visitors each year. It is made up of themed villages (for example, the Drama Village) and hundreds of stalls displaying all sorts of things - even electric cars!

A poetic tradition

The Eisteddfod’s traditions have made it world famous. The “Gorsedd of the Bards” is an organisation of those who contribute to Welsh culture, and hold spectacular ceremonies with hundreds of robed performers. The Gorsedd has congregated at the festival for nearly two hundred years, and has honoured people who have come to wales from all parts of the world.

Over 6,000 people take part in the Eisteddfod’s many competitions. The champion of the Eisteddfod at large is recognised in a ceremony called the Chairing of the Bard. The ceremony is nearly a millennium old. Competitors submit poetry under a pen name, and so nobody knows the true identity of the bard until they are asked to stand. They are then awarded the ‘bardic chair’, a artisanal chair crafted specifically for the ceremony.

One moment that stands out in the Eisteddfod’s history is when Ellis Henry Evans, writing under the name Hedd Wyn, was awarded the chair for his ode “Yr Arwr” (Welsh for “The Hero”) in 1917. After Ellis was called to the stage three times to no response, the arch druid (who chairs the ceremony) announced that he had been killed in the First World War six weeks earlier, before draping the chair in a black cloth.

What sort of things can you find there?

The festival’s organisers describe the Eisteddfod as the “natural showcase for music, dance, visual arts, literature, original performances and much more” and each year the Maes (the site of the Eisteddfod) hosts hundreds of events showcasing the arts and culture of Wales.

Every festival is very different: this year, attendees have been invited to submit ideas for an ‘overnight play’, where dramatists will write a performance based on suggestions over the course of an evening to be performed the following day.

There are many activities for those interested in Wales’ national heritage, and for those who wish to learn the Welsh language (Cymraeg). A myriad of science and technology sessions highlight inventions and developments from Welsh engineers and scientists. And there is a Literature Village with its own children’s literature festival. 

All this - alongside performances from Welsh pop and traditional musicians - is why the Eisteddfod is unforgettable for all those who attend.

Wales and the The Eisteddfod in the British Council library

International readers will have some difficulty making it down to Wales for the Eisteddfod, not least because it starts today. But don’t fret: we’ve got loads of books and resources in our library for those who want to know more about Wales’ rich cultural history.

Owen Jamie visits the International Eisteddfod as part of his Welsh Journeys. We have Susie Wild’s magnificent Rarebit in our library, which is a collection modern Welsh fiction. It features Indian author Susmita Bhattacharya and National Eisteddfod winner Siân Melangell Dafydd. And for more on the great nation itself, we have loads of books on Wales ranging from short introductions to closer examinations - so why not take a look?