History of the Welsh Eisteddfodau

Silver gorget awarded at the Corwen eisteddfod, 1789

Although the history of the Eisteddfod may traced back to a bardic competition held by the Lord Rhys in Cardigan Castle in 1176, the roots of the modern National Eisteddfod as we know it today lie in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In 1789 - the year of the French Revolution - the Gwyneddigion Society of London decided to support and organise the various small eisteddfodau being held in taverns throughout north Wales at the time.

During the same period, Iolo Morgannwg's fertile imagination became the impetus for establishing a society of poets and musicians called Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain (The Gorsedd of the Bards of the Island of Britain). However, it was not until a notable gathering at the Ivy Bush inn at Carmarthen in 1819 that the Gorsedd became formally associated with the Eisteddfod.

Unlike present-day prizes of chairs and crowns, the winners of these eisteddfodau were awarded medals, and gold and silver miniatures. This exhibition aims to show a wider audience some of the eisteddfod medals now in the collections at St Fagans. Each has its story, told in the words of Professor Hywel Teifi Edwards, an authority on the history of the Eisteddfod during this period.

We come to know not only the characters associated with the Gwyneddigion eisteddfodau, but also the chequered history of the Provincial Eisteddfodau of the beginning of the 19th century, of Lady Llanover and the eisteddfodau arranged by Cymreigyddion y Fenni, and the first official National Eisteddfod, held at Aberdare in 1861.