BLOG - Monthly Archives: August 2019

Welsh Identity, Symbols and the National Eisteddfod

Story of Wales - Posted 02-08-2019

This post is a part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.

Dragons, harps, costumes and flowers: they all have something to tell us about the development of Welsh identity!

These symbols came to be essential ingredients when advertising anything ‘Welsh’, such as national events and traditional produce. Take, for example, Wales’s National Eisteddfod. Still held annually at the beginning of August, this festival; historically centered around literature, music, art and poetry, made a profound use of ‘Welsh’ symbols in its promotions.

Pageantry, symbolism and ceremony played an important role in a Welshman’s life during the 19th and 20th centuries. These customs fed into an effort to project Welsh identity, at a time when indigenous cultures were consciously displaying their distinctiveness.

In this blog, we will use the National Eisteddfod’s official programmes to show how meaningful symbols were used to project ‘Welshness’.

A brief history of the National Eisteddfod

  • The beginning: In 1176 Lord Rhys hosted the first known ‘eisteddfod’. He held two major competitions at Cardigan Castle; one in poetry, and the other in music.
  • A sudden decline: Similar tournaments were held in the 15th and 16th centuries. The phrase ‘eisteddfod’ was coined during this period. However, these gatherings declined during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • Revival: London based Welsh societies revived the eisteddfodic tradition at the end of the 18th century. Iolo Morganwg, inventor of the famous Gorsedd of the Bards ceremonies, played an important role in reviving the eisteddfod on a national scale by associating the Gorsedd with the institution.
  • Formalising the ‘National Eisteddfod’: At Denbigh in 1860 a Council and General Committee were elected to manage ‘Yr Eisteddfod’, a newborn national organization. The following year, at Aberdare, the first official ‘National Eisteddfod’ was held.

Popular symbols and their roots

  • The Red Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) is one of Wales’s most recognizable symbols. Believed to have been used by King Arthur and other Celtic leaders, it symbolizes Wales’s ancient roots and represents its formidable past warriors.
  • The Triple harp (Y Delyn Deires) is thought of as Wales’s national instrument. Used for centuries to accompany folk-singing, dancing and poetry recitations, the triple harp epitomizes Wales’s rich literary and musical heritage.
  • The Welsh Dress (Y Wisg Gymreig) was largely developed during the 19th century by a devoted cultural patron called Augusta Hall, or Lady Llanover. The most basic traditional Welsh costume consisted of a red woolen cloak and a tall black hat. Hall believed that such a custom would promote Welsh industries and identity.
  • The Mystic Mark (Y Nod Cyfrin), the symbol /|\ was devised by Iolo Morganwg. It represents the virtues Love, Justice and Truth. The symbol was widely used on Eisteddfod programmes and represented the Gorsedd’s presence at the event. The Gorsedd was once thought of as an ancient Druidic circle which glorified Wales’s rich bardic tradition.

Reviving Welsh Culture

The use of symbols on Eisteddfod programmes can be considered within a wider context of a general effort to revive Welsh culture. It is clear that such a movement looked to the past for inspiration and encouraged Welsh people to take pride in their heritage and history.

Elen Haf Jones, National Library of Wales

This blog post was created as part of the Europeana ‘Rise of Literacy’ project.

David Lloyd George and the National Eisteddfod of Wales

Collections / Discover Sound - Posted 01-08-2019

David Lloyd George was born in Manchester on the 17 January 1863 then raised in Wales, where he became one of the most famous radicals of the century. Between 1890 and 1945 he was elected Member of Parliament for Caernarfon.

Through the early years of the First World War, Lloyd George became Chancellor of the Exchequer under the leadership of Herbert Henry Asquith. In 1916 he became Secretary of State for War and later that year became the first Welsh speaking Prime Minister.

In 1916 The Times published a letter where the writer objected to the holding of the Eisteddfod during war time. In response to this article Lloyd George delivered a speech at the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod which started:

“Why should we not sing during the war? Why especially should we not sing at this stage of the war?”

He continues to criticise the letter pointing out that Britain is still alive, not down, shattered and broken so “why should her children not sing?”

Through-out his speech Lloyd George vigorously defends the holding of the Eisteddfod during the war:

“Hundreds of wars have swept over these hills, but the harp of Wales has never yet been silenced by one of them, and I should be proud if I contributed something to keep it in tune during this war, by the holding of this Eisteddfod today.”

According to the Abergavenny Chronicle Lloyd George said, “our soldiers sing the songs of Wales in the trenches, and they hold their little Eisteddfodau behind the trenches” where he continued to read a telegram sent from the front line:

“Greetings and best wishes for success to the Eisteddfod; from Welshmen in the Field. Next Eisteddfod we shall be with you.”

On the 22 of August 1916 the newspaper ‘Y Genedl’ reported that there were over 7,000 listening to Lloyd George defending the National Eisteddfod at Aberystwyth. Newspapers reported that he remained at the festival for some time after delivering his speech and then left the town amid scenes of tremendous enthusiasm.

On the 15 February 1934 Lloyd George then recorded part of his famous ‘Why should we not sing?’ speech at the BBC studios, ready to be broadcast on the radio, for the world to hear.

Listen to a clip from the ‘Why should we not sing?’ speech:

Copy of this address is kept at the National Library of Wales, and thanks to the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project has been digitised and safely stored at the British Library’s digital repository. You can listen to the recording at the Library’s Reading Room and it will soon be available online.

Alison Lloyd Smith,

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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