A look back at the Eisteddfod

Eisteddfod

The long drive north gave me plenty of time to reflect on an unforgettable week at the Cardiff Eisteddfod. With my work done, it was time to take stock and make sense of the memories, still resonating around my tired brain. By the time I reached the gate that leads to home, they were in two distinct collections; one labelled personal, the other professional.

I shared with other compatriots heading home on the A470 last night a sense of contentment at having treated ourselves to a huge warm helping of Welshness:  a pride which strengthens with every conversation with an old friend, with every rendering of the anthem, with every amplified phrase of cerdd dant emanating from the pavilion stage and with a thousand overheard conversations, voicing the rich diversity of our mother tongue.  

Funky Robes

Two uniquely Eisteddfodic scenes endure as cameos which still bring a smile: a group of young people towered over by their harps, waiting incongruously on the edge of a busy roundabout; and a clog-shod girl in traditional costume, filling Bute Street with the sound of her frenetic rhythmic dancing, outside the ‘prelims’ venue, watched over critically by her coach.

But there was something else at this year’s Eisteddfod.  In an age when nations are turning their backs on each other and undoing long-standing mutually-beneficial alliances, this most cosmopolitan of Eisteddfodau reminded us how enriching it can be when cultures mix.  It was heartening to not only to hear so much Welsh in the city but also so much English and other languages on the Maes.  And then there was the reassuring mingling of ethnic cultures; the Muslim group putting down their prayer mats and going through their devotions on the Maes, the three black girls I overheard speaking Welsh together, and the frequent presence of Cardiff Asian women in colourful saris – something which led the film star Rhys Ifans, with tongue firmly in cheek, to comment how funky the bardic robes are getting this year. 

Bold and thought-provoking

But I also come home with a store of memories of the National Trust’s bold and thought-provoking ‘Shed Talks’ programme.  Under the pink neon light shining out the word Ymddiried (trust), we gave a platform to a succession of speakers that our audiences were probably not expecting.  These included Welsh-language campaigners (one of whom had once been imprisoned), politically-inspired artists and musicians, and critics of the Trust.  Eclectic these talks may have seemed, covering topics as diverse as the protection of Welsh place-names, Surfers Against Sewage, the Rebecca Riots and other acts of protest, what was remarkable was how relevant and interconnected they all became.   One distinct thread was that the Trust’s properties often hold a wealth of distinctly Welsh folk history that sits at variance (and sometimes hidden behind) the usual expression of imperial wealth and power.  

I’ll briefly single out two talks, for different reasons.

The first was Andrew Green’s dig at the Trust for being, in his opinion, an Anglo-centric organisation in Wales.  The benefits that the Trust in Wales gains from being part of a larger international charity – covered in my blog – I feel effectively counter his plea for an independent Welsh National Trust.  And yet, some of his points sit troublingly un-resolved:  the lack of at least one Welsh chapel in its portfolio of properties open to the public; the fact that Tŷ Mawr, Wybrnant is the only place preserved as the home of a distinctly Welsh national figure; the paucity of properties that reflect the profoundly industrial character of so many Welsh communities. I know that the Trust is only too aware of these deficiencies, so let’s take Andrew’s well-aimed arguments as a spur.

Then there was the talk not given. Thanks to Tour-de-France-winner Geraint Thomas’ triumphant arrival at the Senedd, our shed was swamped by many thousands of well-wishers at the very moment that one of our talks was scheduled to start.  The New Zealand anthropologist, Dr Bryonne Goodwin-Hawkins had prepared a talk on how the English ideal of the rural romantic idyll continues to shape our countryside with urban ideas of political struggle, something that undoubtedly motived the Trust’s founders to a very large degree.  But with the Band Press Llareggub thumping and blasting its way through Rhedeg i Baris and the Cardiff-boy-made-good about to take the stage, we had to break the news to Bryonne that there was a time and a place for such a fascinating talk, and this was most definitely not it.

So, there we have it.  Fifteen influential talks, five musical and poetic performances and countless productive conversations: we can all be proud of what was achieved at Cardiff.

Tonight, I will look back on my week in Cardiff with much hiraeth, and then raise a glass to Llanrwst 2019.