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The Eisteddfod is the premier cultural event of Wales and the Welsh. The modern Eisteddfod has its roots in the Victorian era but the poetic and bardic tradition is centuries old, harking back to the days when poets competed for their place at the courts of Welsh princes.  Often, the victor was rewarded with a chair - a tradition that remains to the present day.  It is said that the first Eisteddfod was held in 1176 by Lord Rhys at Cardigan.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the Eisteddfod is the ceremonial nature of the 'Gorsedd' of Bards.  A society of poets, authors, musicians, artists and others who have made a contribution to Welsh life, it was invented in the 18th century by Edward Williams, better known as ‘Iolo Morganwg’.  The first ceremony of Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain was held on Primrose Hill in London in 1792.  Morganwg believed that the Welsh should emphasize the Celtic elements of their culture and traditions and sought to do this through his Gorsedd.  This can be seen as an example of conscious effort by some individuals to ‘invent’ a Welsh tradition.  Lady Llanover’s Welsh costumes can be viewed in the same way.

It was in 1819 at Carmarthen that the first formal connection was established between the Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd and the close association between them has been a feature of the National Eisteddfod since its inception in 1860/6.  At the Eisteddfod, the Gorsedd conducts ceremonies to honour the literary achievements of Welsh poets and prose writers and to award a chair, a crown and a literature medal to the victors.

In 1880, the National Eisteddfod association was formed and was given responsibility for staging an annual festival to be held in North and South Wales alternately.  Only in 1914 and 1940 has this not been achieved.


The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales (Cardiff, 2008)

National Eisteddfod Official Website

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