A beginner’s guide to the National Eisteddfod

One of the most famous, and undoubtedly the pinnacle of Welsh culture is the National Eisteddfod, an annual celebration of all things Welsh. Although predominantly held through the medium of Welsh, the festival is accessible to all, whether you can say the odd phrase, want to dabble or just want to soak up the atmosphere.

This year’s Eisteddfod Genedlaethol will be held in Llanrwst, North Wales, from the 3rd to the 10th August.

Origins of the Eisteddfod

The Eisteddfod is an annual celebration of Welsh culture, elements of which can be traced back to the reign of Rhys ap Gruffydd, Prince of Deheubarth, over 850 years ago. It was at Cardigan Castle, during the Christmas of 1176, that an event was held that would underline Rhys’ position as the most cultured and important chieftain in the Wales. Like all Medieval Welsh princes, Rhys ap Gruffydd patronised bards who, in return, wrote epic poems extolling his virtues and prowess as prince.

The modern day Eisteddfod displays many aspects of those held in Medieval Wales. The celebration was announced a year in advance, and minstrels and bards from all corners of the land were invited to compete. As in the modern day festival, a bardic chair was awarded for the best poet.

During the modern day festivities, it’s easy to conjure visions of the frivolity that undoubtedly took place in 1176: the singing and dancing, the feasting and flirting, the fun and the laughter. All of which will be found in Llanrwst this summer!

Today’s Eisteddfod

Nevertheless, elements of the modern Eisteddfod undoubtedly did not take place in 1176. Much of what you’ll see in this years’ festival were born from the vivid imagination of Iolo Morganwg during a cultural ceremony held at Primrose Hill, London in 1797.

In particular was the creation of the Gorsedd of the Bards, which he envisaged would be the guardian of the language and culture of Wales. Druids dressed in blue, green and white robes were purely an invention of Iolo’s, yet they have become one of the most recognisable features of the modern day Eisteddfod.

What to expect?

So, what is there to do on the Maes? The Maes (Welsh for field) is where you can find the main attractions and the plethora of tents and stalls which house the annual competitions and other points of interest.

People from all over Wales and further afield compete in many categories to win prestigious awards. From listening/watching the main singing, dancing and reciting competitions in the main Pafiliwn (the centrepiece of Maes yr Eisteddfod, the Eisteddfod Field), to experiencing the other acting, musical and poetic performances on the smaller stages, there are many performances to choose from.

The world famous Welsh choirs tend to attract the most visitors so it’s important to note that pre-booking tickets for the pavilion maybe required.

For kids and grown ups

Many visitors to the Maes prefer to soak up the free entertainment outside of the main Pafiliwn. Live bands play on the smaller stages dotted around the Maes (and on Maes B) as well as various stalls selling a variety of Welsh produce. The produce sold varies from homemade souvenirs to household brands. Once you’ve browsed the stalls, tasting the delightful local food and drink should be high on your agenda – all Welsh sourced and of the highest quality!

There’s plenty of entertainment for the little ones too, with regular shows by the cast of S4C’s Clwb Cyw, guest appearances of popular characters such as Sali Mali, Dona Direidi, and Ben Dant to name but a few. The Maes B is a popular spot for older teenagers and young adults to soak up live music and have a good time.

Other points of interest are the numerous stalls offering a variety of experiences, ranging from Welsh arts and crafts, clothing, jewellery etc. There are also stalls for those interested in Science and Technology, national and local History, sport, politics, education, agriculture – the list goes on.

Getting there

Whether you’re planning to visit for the day, or for the whole week, directions to the Maes are always well-signposted, and access is easy. Llanrwst is a pleasant forty minute drive from our hotel, taking in the dramatic Snowdonia scenery along the way as well as the pretty town of Betws-y-Coed. We recommend you leave the car at Betws and jump on the Conwy Valley Railway to Llanrwst – a great way to avoid traffic congestion that will put you right in the heart of the action as soon as you alight!

All in all, the Eisteddfod has something to offer everyone. Why not give it a try?​

Images courtesy: © Crown copyright (2013) Visit Wales, all rights reserved