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Welsh National Eisteddfod
I had intended being at this year's Eisteddfod but, for a variety of reasons, this was not to be. However, I did read up on the event afterwards and have produced a mini-update below.
In contrast to the last two years the Eisteddfod seems to have broken even this year. This is a welcome development and seems to be due both to local fundraising targets being exceeded and a pick up in attendance following the fall off in the last two years. It was achieved in spite of a shortfall in business sponsorship.
As an aside, the Gorsedd stepped out in new gear this year. They finally got around £50,000 stg from the UK national lottery to replace aging robes.
All of the major poetry and prose prizes were awarded, confiriming the continuing high standard of the entries.
In poetry the crown went to Mererid Hopwood, who, two years previously in Denbigh, was the first woman to win the bardic chair, the most prestigious award in the festival. She was only the fourth woman to win the crown since the inception of that award. It was last won by a woman in 1991. The set topic was "roots" and Mererid's poem was on the theme that love gives a person both wings and roots. She could not explain why so few women are successful at the top level. "Perhaps its something to do with confidence, or time, but I would encourage every woman to make time and compete. There's nothing to stop them, really."
The chair was won by Twm Morys whose winning ode, called Drysau (Doors), was a fitting climax to an Eisteddfod where the main debating point has been the effect of house ownership on the future of the Welsh language. The poem urges people to take positive action to save Welsh as a living community language. Twm is the son of travel writer Jan Morris who, as James Morris, achieved one of the great journalistic scoops of the 20th Century by breaking the news 50 years ago that Everest had been conquered for the first time.
The prose medal was won by Cefin roberts with a novel entitled Brwydr y Bradwr, The Traitor's Battle, about a runt pig which is adopted by a girl.He was moved to write the novel by the deaths of two talented young students at Ysgol Glanaethwy. The school, which Cefin founded in 1990, is a fame school in Bangor for young actors and singers. Cefin has devoted much of his energy to tutoring youngsters and writing 400 scripts for S4C's youth soap opera Rownd a Rownd.
The prize for an unpublished novel went to former head teacher Elfyn Pritchard from Sarnau,near Bala for a story about the relationship between a man and two women. Mr Pritchard, 70, said the novel contained erotic and suggestive passages but no foul language. He also used text messages in the story. "Text messages are used to show that this is a story of the twenty-first century," he said. It was Mr Pritchard's second success at the National Eisteddfod having won the Prose Medal at the Denbigh Eisteddfod in 2001. He said the idea for Pan Ddaw'r Dydd (When the Day Comes) came as he attempted to write another novel without success.The main character, Eirwyn Walters, said Mr Pritchard, is a weak high school English master. Two women influence his life. "One is his own wife,Cissy,and the other is the woman he meets,Gwen Carter."The novel depicts his relationships with the two women who are completely different to each other and who react to Eirwyn's different needs,"he said.
The event which attracted most media attention seems to have been the comments by Dafydd Iwan, Plaid Cymru's vice president, regarding immigrants from England to Wales. The row started last week when Mr Iwan made his controversial remarks in a speech at the National Eisteddfod He said people were moving to Wales to 'avoid all the Pakistanis and all these Indians who have moved to English towns'. Dafydd later insisted he was not a racist: "We must be open about this. I refute any form of racism but we have got to accept people have a right to maintain their communities and live and work in them," he said. His comments were supported by Mike Parker, editor of the Rough Guide to Wales, who has criticised his fellow countrymen for using rural Wales as a place to 'get away from multi-cultural society'. Parker, who moved to Wales from Birmingham several years ago, was scathing about the numbers of people from Liverpool, Manchester, the Midlands and London who had moved into rural Wales. 'The common defining feature is that their principal reason for leaving the English cities was to get away from multi-cultural society, from black and Asian people in particular, and they see rural Wales, with its largely white population, as a safe haven,' he said. 'To some extent, rural Wales has become the British equivalent of the American mountains inhabited by a sprinkling of paranoid conspiracy theorists, gun-toting final solution crackpots and anti-government obsessives.'
Meanwhile Archdruid Robyn Lewis once again stressed the role of the Eisteddfod as the guardian and support of the Welsh language. In a series of interventions he
- rebutted a claim by Times columnist Simon Jenkins that "The Eisteddfod should admit Anglo-Welsh writing and song to its annals. Wales' most distinctive mark, its language, seems marooned in a theme park, denying access to three quarters of the people for whose culture it claims to speak. The Eisteddfod should draw them in, rather than treat the world as its enemy." The Archdruid reacted angrily "From his citadel of ignorance of Wales, he attacks the Welshness of our National Eisteddfod. The Eisteddfod dates from 1176, pre-dating the Magna Carta, the Order of the Garter,Chaucer and,arguably the English language itself. The Gorsedd is a colourful pageant,as ridiculous - or as sensible - as the Beefeaters in the Tower, or Queen Elizabeth playing soldiers at Horse Guards Parade on her birthday.
- defended his actions in criticising the war in Iraq from the Eisteddfod stage. The comments came during the annual Gorsedd call for peace "A Oes Heddwch?" (Is TherePeace?). Dr Lewis said: "In view of recent developments involving world warmongers,and the shedding of innocent blood, which has ensued as a result, our cry for peace today must be interpreted as a desire rather than a declaration of fact, and that was my clear message during Monday's chairing ceremony. Towards the end of last year when it was clear that war in Iraq was imminent, the Gorsedd of Bards unanimously protested against such action,"
- warned that the Assembly's "Iaith Pawb" (Everyone's Language) strategy risked becoming "Iaith Neb" (Nobody's Language), The Welsh language needs a new act of Parliament to safeguard its future. Dr Lewis argues that there is no provision in the Iaith Pawb strategy, launched earlier this year, to compel large corporations to use Welsh.'Big business, be it supermarkets or insurance companies, have the right to compel us to resort to English or to do without the goods and services which they offer.' A new Welsh language act, covering the private sector, has long been a campaign aim for protest groups such as Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg. The last language act, introduced in 1993, covers the public sector only and the National Assembly does not have the legislative powers to introduce a new act.
- supported the Assembly's Homebuy scheme, which gives grants to help Welsh speakers to stay in their local area, Dr Lewis said, 'It is clear that immense capital, and sharp teeth, are needed to counter the horrendous increase in house prices recently - and this includes prices in south-east England, which puts spare money into the pockets of people from that area, enabling them to grab properties which are much cheaper, in their terms, in Wales, but at prices which are far out of reach of the purses and aspirations of young couples in Wales.' Meanwhile on the maes, Cymuned leader Simon Brooks organised a protest against Housing Minister Edwina Hart's decision that no additional money would be available for the Homebuy Scheme.
The Archdruid also referred to plans by the St. David's Society of the State of Georgia in the USA to hold an internet Eisteddfod later this year. He defended their right to call it an eisteddfod but questioned whether the e-steddfod was in keeping with the true spirit of an eisteddfod, which was all about people with common artistic interests gathering to compete and enjoy each other's work and company. Ironically the e-steddfod will not be the first virtual eisteddfod. In 1940 the BBC hosted the National Eisteddfod on the radio because of government fears that Bridgend, the intended site, could be a target for German bombers.
The argument about whether the Eisteddfod should have a fixed site or continue to move around Wales carried on this year.An NOP poll commissioned by S4C prior to the Eisteddfod showed 83pc of respondents wanted the Eisteddfod to remain a nomadic festival,moving to a different area each year.
Liverpool has again made a play to host the National Eisteddfod. The city hoped that this could be done in 2008 to coincide with the European Capital of Culture event in that year. However the Eisteddfod is already commited to Cardiff in 2008 and,in any event,director Elfed Roberts,doubted there would be enough people in Liverpool who would be able to help organise the Eisteddfod.When there were many Welsh-speakers living in Liverpool in the 1940s and '50s perhaps it would have been possible, but not today' Mr Roberts also said the festival was financially supported by the National Assembly for Wales on the grounds that it gave an economic and cultural boost to each part of Wales it visited. Holding it outside Wales would therefore be questionable. Eisteddfod organisers would be happy, however, to discuss with Liverpool representatives the possibility of a project celebrating the major historical influence of Wales and Liverpool on each other, said Mr Roberts.
I was glad to see the Eisteddfod Press Officer, Dyfed Ifans, get some recognition through a nice mention in the Western Mail. He is obviously still the helpful, courtious and knowledgable person he was when I met him at the Denbigh Eisteddfod.
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Those pictures not my own are gratefully nicked from BBC who do a wonderful job of covering the festival.