Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Living Tradition

by Lily Dewaruile

Good morning or as we say in Wales, bore da. My pen name is Lily Dewaruile and for the past few years, I have been writing Welsh Medieval Romances based on three decades of living in this beautiful, vibrant country. When I first moved to Wales (Cymru as I will from now on refer to it), very few of my friends and family knew where it was. “That’s in England, isn’t it?” was the consistent response. I am neither historian nor scholar – I am passionate about Cymru, its language, culture and history.
A Living Tradition

As this is my first opportunity to tell you a bit about my second country, I will start with something old and new. As beirdd appear in my two completed novels, Pendyffryn: Invasion and Traitor’s Daughter, and this is the season for bardic traditions to burgeon in Cymru, let me tell you about the Eisteddfod (roughly translated to mean “sitting together”).

From the earliest weeks of spring (gwanwyn) to the end of summer (haf), schools, colleges, community groups and people working in the Arts are focused on three events: Eisteddfod yr Urdd, ttp://www.urdd.org/en/eisteddfod/archive Eisteddfod Genedlaethol and Llangollen International Eisteddfod http://www.international-eisteddfod.co.uk/en/home.

An eisteddfod provides an opportunity for poets, painters, dancers, novelists, photographers, playwrights, film-makers, composers, instrumentalists, singers, choirs – any and all of the creative arts (including fashion design and architecture) to compete for titles and prizes in their art form. The first woman ever to win the Cadair in the 140 year history of the revived Eisteddfod Genedlaethol is Mererid Hopwood, a fellow resident (and friend) of Caerfyrddin. This link is to a BBC Radio 4 interview with her just days after her historic achievement. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/13_08_01/friday/17_08_01info.shtml). You will be reading more about her and her work in my next month’s contribution.
These days, there are eisteddfodau in town halls and village church vestries from Ynys Môn to Caerdydd, primary school cafeterias to university lecture halls. Many of these are in preparation for the three national eisteddfodau I mentioned above. The passion of the Cymry for these competitions dates back to the beirdd
of the early middle ages. The Bardic tradition is strong in all of the Celtic countries but the eisteddfod Cymreig is unique, in my experience.

History of the Eisteddfod

The VIPs of all ancient and modern civilizations have their scribes to record their mighty deeds, family history, ancestors and descendents. The Celts were no exception. The tradition was oral until the 6th century when the Godoðin was written. This epic poem records the defeat of one tribe by another, listing names and feats of the heroes. From the Godoðin we know facts about the early Celtic tribes in mainland Briton, some of which I have written about in my own blog: Welsh Medieval Romance.

The eisteddfod tradition originated in these ancient times, largely for the same reasons they exist today and for the same reasons that talent shows and writing competitions of all makes and sizes exist: to promote the creative work of the participant and to find a patron (earn a living). The by-product of the eisteddfod is entertainment as a public spectacle. http://www.eisteddfod.org.uk/english/content.php


Hundreds of thousands of paying customers attend to watch modern day beirdd (bards) compete for the cadair, the goron, the riban, the tlws. The first recorded eisteddfod was held at Aberteifi in 1176 at the court of Rhys ap Gruffudd (Lord Rhys). The largest was held in 1451, in my town, Caerfyrddin. Many of you will have heard of the Llangollen International Eisteddfod held each summer – a huge music festival. The West Coast Eisteddfod will be held in Los Angeles this year. If you’d like to see photos of the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, go to this website: http://www.lluniaullwyfan.com/ for some stunning images of the cadeirio (chairing the bardd).

The eisteddfod declined in the 16th and 17th centuries and its revival is credited to Iolo Morgannwg in the late 18th C along with other Celtic traditions such as Druidism. These romanticized recreations of the past sprang from the imaginations of poets and artists – in much the same spirit as members of Hearts Through History RWA recreate a romantic history of our chosen era.

A Treat for You

In honor of the eisteddfod season, here is a recipe for Taffi Aberteifi:

12 oz of granulated sugar, 1 oz ground almonds, ½ oz butter, 6 tablespoons of milk.
Grease a small (6”x4”x1” deep) tin. Melt the butter in a thick saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar, almonds and milk, stir well. Boil gently for 7 minutes, stirring continuously. Scrape any solid bits formed on the side back into the mixture. Remove from heat and keep stirring until the toffee thickens. Pour into the tin and leave in a cool place until set. Break into pieces.

Photos: Mererid Hopwood, 2001, First Woman to win the Cadair (Bard's Chair); Christopher Painter, 2005, Winner of Tlws y Cerddor (Musician's Medal)

Thank you for stopping by today. As soon as this is posted, I will be on my way to Ireland by ferry. Once I find a friendly cyber café, I’ll answer any questions.


Lily Dewaruile said...

29 April 2011: A fine sunny day in Loch Garman. This medieval town in south east Ireland was, in 1798, was the site of one of the first rebellions against foreign occupation. The Bull Ring now has commemorative trees (Trees of Liberty).

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you, Lily! Fascinating info, and your links help.

It's great to hear that despite today's fashion-driven, fad-ridden pop culture, in one corner of the world a tradition from way back lives on. And it does so because the people want it, not because some corporate sponsor can make money off of it.

Good luck!

Lily Dewaruile said...

Thank you, Mary Ann. These festivals of art, literature and music are a part of the strength of the Welsh culture. Small but significant.

Ceri Shaw said...

For further information on the West Coast Eisteddfod please take a look at the links at the top of this page:- AmeriCymru

Diolch :)

Lily Dewaruile said...

Hello, Ceri.
Thank you for that link. I've done a bit of research on the Welsh in America and was once a member of the Welsh American Society of Northern California. You are all doing wonderful work to keep the hwyl going strong.