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The National Eisteddfod of Wales

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The National Eisteddfod of Wales

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The National Eisteddfod of Wales (Welsh: Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru ) is the most important of several eisteddfodau that are held annually, mostly in Wales.

The National Eisteddfod is traditionally held in the first week of August and is conducted entirely in the Welsh language. The Eisteddfod Act of 1959 allowed local authorities to give financial support to the event.

Hundreds of tents, pavilions and little stands are erected in an open space to create the maes (field). The space required for this means that it is rare for the eisteddfod to be in a city or town itself but instead somewhere with more space. The car parking for day visitors alone requires several large fields and many people camp there for the whole week. The festival has a heavy druidic flavour, with the crowning and chairing ceremonies for the victorious poets being attended by bards in flowing white costumes, dancing maidens, trumpet fanfares and a symbolic horn of plenty. However, the heritage of this ceremony is of dubious provenance and owes its existence within the Eisteddfod structure to Iolo Morganwg, whose Gorsedd ceremonies were adopted by the Eisteddfod from 1819. Nevertheless, it is taken very seriously, and an award of a crown or a chair for poetry is a great honour. The Chairing and Crowning ceremonies are the highlight of the week, and are presided over by the Archdruid. Other important awards include the Prose Medal (first introduced in 1966).

If no stone circle is there already, one is created out of Gorsedd stones, usually taken from the local area. Such stone circles are icons all across Wales and signify the Eisteddfod having visited a community. As a cost-saving measure, the 2005 Eisteddfod was the first to replace the creation of a permanent stone circle with a temporary "plastic stone" circle for the druidic ceremonies. This also has the benefit of bringing the Gorsedd ceremonies on to the maes, as they were often held many miles away, unbeknownst to much of the public. The ceremonies may still happen elsewhere if the weather on the maes is not suitable.

One of the most dramatic events in Eisteddfod history was the award of the 1917 chair to the poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, bardic name Hedd Wyn, for the poem Yr Arwr (The Hero). The winner was announced, and the crowd waited for the winner to stand up to accept the traditional congratulations before the chairing ceremony, but no winner appeared. It was then announced that Hedd Wyn had been killed the previous month on the battlefield in Belgium. These events were portrayed in the Academy Award nominated film Hedd Wyn.

As well as the main pavilion with the main stage, other fixtures of the Eisteddfod maes are the Pabell Lên (literature pavilion), the Neuadd Ddawns (dance hall), the Pabell Wyddoniaeth a Thechnoleg (science and technology pavilion), the Pabell y Dysgwyr (learners' pavilion), at least one theatre, and hundreds of stondinau (stands and booths), where groups, societies, councils, charities and shops exhibit and sell. Some eisteddfod-goers never go near the main pavilion, spending their time wandering the maes and meeting friends. Since 2004, alcohol has been sold on the maes: prior to this, a no-alcohol policy was in operation. In addition to the main field, there are other venues through the week. Some are fixtures every year, hosting gigs (Maes B), plays and shows (Maes C). Others are more ephemeral or unofficial. Local theatres are likely to time Welsh-language productions for around the time of the eisteddfod, hoping to benefit from the influx of visitors.

The location alternates between north and south Wales. The venue for each national eisteddfod is officially proclaimed a year in advance, at which time the themes and texts for the competitions are published. The actual organisation for the location will have begun a year or more before the official proclamation, and locations are generally known two or three years ahead.

In recent years efforts have been made to try to attract more non-Welsh speakers to the event. This has helped increase takings, and the 2006 Eisteddfod reported a profit of over £100,000, despite costing £2.8m to stage. The Eisteddfod attracts some 150,000 people annually. The number of visitors over the last three years totalled 147,785 (in 2004), 157,820 (in 2005), and 155,437 (in 2006).

National Eisteddfod venues

Welsh Folk Dancing at The National Eisteddfod, Swansea 2006


 

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