20 Days Remaining

Monday 7th
posted by Morning Star in Features

by Meic Birtwhistle

IN advance of the National Eisteddfod your committed “Eisteddfodwr/wraig” (Eisteddfod attendee) will pore over their “rhaglen” (programme) in a bid to ascertain which are the ceremonies/events/competitions/concerts etc they don’t want to miss.

This they will do with the aid of the essential map which will pinpoint the location of the various tents/ stalls/competitions on the “maes” (field).

In addition, as the Eisteddfod is a peripatetic event — alternating between north and south Wales — your festival-goer will have worked out sights and experiences in the locale which they will have to visit.

Ynys Mon (Anglesey) is the site for this year’s “National” and so the windmills, bays, lighthouses, burial chambers and beaches of the isle are a particular appeal.

Though a cultural event, the Eisteddfod and the Welsh culture it represents is set amid the political landscape of Wales — past and present.

This year the programme tells me that there will be political and historical debate aplenty. Despite its attractions, beneath the surface Ynys Mon is an island suffering from economic blight.

There are seriously deprived communities to be found here in the county cheek by jowl with pockets of considerable wealth — deprived estates as well as millionaires’ homes.

Mon is currently represented in Westminster by the Labour MP Albert Owen and in the “Senedd/ Cynulliad” (Parliament/Assembly) in Cardiff as a constituency member by Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth AM.

These are the two parties with mass Welsh language memberships and claiming some allegiance to socialism, while also the ones that are most fervently in dispute for the Welsh language vote.

Both parties and their supporters will be evident on the field pushing their own analysis of Wales’s past, present and future. This year they are the only political parties with stands.

Labour’s Welsh society, Cymdeithas Cledwyn, named after its local hero — the late Cledwyn Hughes MP — will be commemorating and celebrating its recently deceased former Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan, who so fervently preached the doctrine of “clear red water” between Cardiff Bay and Westminster governments, with particular reference to the Labour Party itself.

In turn, Plaid in its Eisteddfod events will be keen to publicly back the new Corbynist direction of the UK Labour Party while heaping scorn on the Welsh Labour Party led by Carwyn Jones.

The recent upturn in Labour fortunes has definitely sharpened the antagonism between the two parties somewhat.

Language policy has recently been widely debated nationally as the Labour-led Welsh government has adopted the optimistic goal of seeking to acheive the controversial figure of a million Welsh speakers.

This is in turn linked to a plan to widely expand Welsh-medium education in the country.

It is also felt by many that a recent rise in xenophobia in Britain as a whole has included a backlash against Wales and the Welsh, which must be vigorously challenged.

Current affairs will impose themselves of course throughout the week, for an Eisteddfod would not be complete without demonstrations or urgent meetings on local, national and international issues.

This year the hotly debated local development plans for Mon and Gwynedd will be high on the agenda — with proponents pushing the need for large-scale house-building for the area while its opponents will counter with claims that these are speculative ventures for the profit motive, threatening the Welsh language and offering little in terms of affordable/social housing.

These proposals have now been backed by the two local councils and feelings run high as to the advisability of the adoption of such controversial proposals.

The pressure group Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) will demonstrate on this and other linguistic matters, including calling for a boycott of the television licence fee in order to force the devolution of broadcasting from the austerity-driven Westminster government to the Welsh Assembly instead.

During the week CND traditionally commemorates here the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki — no doubt drawing attention this year to the current worrying sabrerattling on the Korean peninsula.

Trade unions from numerous stalls will rail against the impact of cuts on public services and make contact with their members.

Of course there will be a colourful and rich display of begowned druids beside symbolic stone circles, harpists, clog dancers, a Cymanfa Ganu (hymn-singing festival), coroni (crowning) and cadeirio (chairing) of bards.

But all these will be set within the cut and thrust of the doings of a small but highly politicised culture. And as no longer a dry event, people will debate long and hard over their pints — on and off the field — the merit and significance of the latest drama or the winning “englyn” or “awdl” in poetic competitions.

All this in turn will be against the backdrop of the National Eisteddfod held a century ago at Birkenhead in the midst of the Great War.

There the winning poetry entry for Y Gadair was announced to be that of competitor “Hedd Wyn” … but when the trumpets sounded and the cry went up no poet stood to claim the prize — for the winning entrant Pte Ellis Humphrey Evans had died some weeks before at the beginning of the bloody Passchendaele offensive.

An unwilling conscript who had taken the place of a younger brother, the shepherd composer of verse was influenced by the radical Shelley in his writings and was arguably touched by socialism in his thinking.

Acts of remembrance for the Great War are once again battlefields here in Wales as differing analyses of those bloody events are played out here as elsewhere over what will be a four-year period of reflection.

This year’s cadair (chair) has been offered to the winning entry for an awdl — verses in a very strict metre on the arwr/arwres (hero/heroine) — the same topic as that for which Hedd Wyn competed 100 years ago.

His legacy, whether as hero or victim, will once more be debated on the Eisteddfod field.

Culture in Wales, now as then, is a hotly disputed item with many factions seeking to claim it as their own.