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What the Eisteddfod and the Welsh language mean to me – For Alumni, By Alumni

14 March 2023

Dr Matt Jones (MA 2017) moved to Cardiff from Connecticut with a desire to immerse himself in Welsh culture and the Welsh language. During the 2018 National Eisteddfod held in Cardiff Bay, he was able to truly engage with this culture and see the language in full flow. In this article, using both English and Welsh, he speaks more about this and how he is looking forward to this year’s event.

If you’re heading to the 2023 National Eisteddfod, come and connect with your fellow alumni at the Cardiff University Alumni Reception on Thursday 10 August. If you’re interested in attending, or would like to volunteer as one of our event hosts, email for further details.

The thing is, I could completely understand the reservations my Welsh friends had surrounding the 2018 National Eisteddfod. The Cardiff Bay location meant that it would have an urban feel and be, for the most part, quite porous, and consequently open and free to the public. Of course, its being free wasn’t their concern. Rather, my Welsh friends, who had grown up with the National Eisteddfod being held in a more remote area that you would camp at, had apprehensions that a more porous urban setting was, to one degree or another, just incongruous next to what their Eisteddfodau had been.

At the time, it was not for me to weigh in one way or another on this. And even five years later, I don’t have a strong opinion.

What I can say is that for me, and for what my own conceptions of Wales and the Eisteddfod were in 2018, Cardiff Bay was a perfect setting, and the only location that could have served as a fulcrum that turned me from facing the past into the present.

I had moved from Connecticut to Cardiff in 2015 to enroll in Cardiff University’s MA in Welsh & Celtic Studies, with the express intention of learning how to read Welsh well enough to continue my doctoral studies on 19th-century Welsh and English literatures, upon completion of the MA. I arrived in Wales with a fairly-formidable knowledge of 18th- and 19th-century Wales, including of the Eisteddfod’s regeneration as part of a larger cultural revival. My goals were strictly academic: I wanted to be able to read the Welsh of Iolo Morganwg and Williams Pantycelyn (still very much a work in progress).

Yet, as I learned Welsh, I experienced something completely new and, thus, wholly unexpected. I had been monolingual until that point of my life. And for the first time in my life, I felt like I could connect with people of another culture on and in their terms, and in an intimate way.

And every step of the way this transformation was counterbalanced by what was perhaps the most garishly consistent phenomenon throughout my year of learning Welsh in Cardiff. This was the question of ‘why.’ This neutral yet incredulous ‘why’ came from non-Welsh friends who had come to Cardiff to study. And non-Welsh here means English friends, American friends, friends from all over. I never had an answer. If I went to France no one would ask me why I was learning French. I just didn’t understand. And certainly nothing I would say would be satisfactory.

This is what made the 2018 Cardiff National Eisteddfod special to me: it allowed the askers of ‘why’ to see an answer for themselves. Being in Cardiff Bay, they were confronted with the living language. It answered ‘why’ for them in ways that the Eisteddfod’s typical removed location wouldn’t have. Not least since they wouldn’t have seen it.

Er neis iawn oedd e i gwylio fy ffrindiau yn dod i gwerthferogi iaith a ddiwylliant Cymru yn well, wrth gwrs cafodd yr Eisteddfod effaith mwy arna fi na hynny yn bersonol. Swn i’n gweud y roedd yr Eisteddfod y gyfle cyntaf y gallwn yn rili mynygi fy hun yn Gymraeg, ac actiweli yn cael sgwrs gyda pobl eraill (rhywbeth mwy cymhleth na fy hoff lliw neu anifail, a falle lai na pethau gwleidyddol neu crefyddol).

Felly, tra roedd fy ffrindiau yn gallu gweld y Gymraeg yn byw am y tro cyntaf yn eu Caerdydd, ac eu Cymru (doedd dim rhaid iddo wedi bod y tro cyntaf, i bod yn glir), o’n i’n gallu defnyddio y Gymraeg am y tro cyntaf yn ‘fy’ Nghaerdydd, ‘fy’ Nghymru. Mwy na hwnna, gwelais y lleodd mwy cyfarwedd imi yn cael ei trawsnewid yn y dathliad mwya o’r flwyddyn. Beth arall allai rhywun sydd wedi symud i Gaerdydd er mwyn dysgu Cymraeg yn cofyn am?

Wrth gwrs, bydda i’n edrych ymlaen i gymryd bant i’m eisteddfod nesa, a falle’r un yr eleni ym Mhwllheli. Ond, o ran fy llinell amser yng Nghymru, fi’n ffili helpu ond teimlo fel daeth yr Eisteddfod Caerdydd yr amser perffaith, imi ac i fy ffrindiau sydd wastad yn cofyn ‘pam.’

Felly, beth yw’r Eisteddfod imi? Am rhywun sydd wedi cael ei croesawu i Gymru a’i iaith o tu mas, yn gwmws beth y ddylai. A bydda i’n diolchgar am byth am Gaerdydd yn bod fy brofiad eisteddfod cyntaf.

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