“Croeso a Urdd Eisteddfod!” are the words that greeted me when I walked onto the site at Llancaiach Fawr last Saturday with my godparents and their youngest son. We were taking a trip to the Urdd Eisteddfod (Urdd is pronounced roughly like ‘irth’ and Eisteddfod ‘i-steth-vod’, for any non-Welsh speakers like myself).
An Eisteddfod is a Welsh language celebration of the culture of Wales- all totally in Welsh, of course- and Urdd means ‘youth’ so it was a celebration of youth culture in Wales, with competitions in poetry recitals, singing, music and art. There was also a huge fair-type thing on the Maes (‘mice’, meaning field), which is where my godparents and I were heading. My godfather Steve was playing with his band ‘Wonderbrass’ on the Maes, so we were there to support him (and I was having a revision break, but we’re not mentioning exams etc any more, not now I’ve finished!).
Of course, as a non-Welsh speaker who has grown up in England and has only been around Welsh for 2 years, I understood nothing. None of the signs, none of the things anyone was saying around me, and even the music I was listening to was incomprehensible in-so-far as words went. It was amazing.
The first thing we did was listen to The Gentle Good, a Welsh musician who combines traditional Welsh folk songs with techniques and music from other traditional backgrounds. I’m pretty sure he went to China at some point and learnt how to play zithers etc, but you can see his (thankfully English) website here. It’s surprisingly relaxing to work along to something that you don’t understand (so you can’t sing along) and he has a lovely voice. I also enjoy folk music a lot, which is probably why I liked it.
Wondering around the Maes was fascinating. An assault of Welsh from every direction- it was almost embarrassing to have to admit my complete incomprehension and ask for everything to be explained in English.
We eventually wondered into the Science tent (I’m afraid I can’t remember the Welsh for it, sorry..) and I spent a few minutes bouncing on the balls of my feet humming ‘Physics’ to myself when I saw the exciting things they had on offer (and I’m not afraid to admit it! Physics is amazing)- the thunder simulation, the Swansea Physics department and their 3D PRINTER which they were PRINTING WITH (!!) and the hugely exciting (but not Physics) sea creatures tank.
I also had a nice conversation with the man on the Swansea Physics stall- turns out he had been an undergrad at Cardiff and knew my tutor. Small world!
The other thing I noticed- which shouldn’t have surprised me, but did- was that everything was in Welsh. When I say everything, I mean everything. The food kiosk labels, the food labels, the ice cream van… All in Welsh. I didn’t know there was a demand for Welsh language food kiosks, but it makes sense. The Eisteddfod is a celebration of all things Welsh, and it wouldn’t do to have an English ice cream van if you ask for the ice cream in Welsh!
We did eventually get to see my godfather play in Wonderbrass, right at the end of the day.
It was a great ending to what had been a truly eye-opening day out. I would highly recommend it to anyone, even if you speak no Welsh.
If you would like to listen to Wonderbrass, please have a look here! I’m biased, but they’re great.
I actually then went for dinner at my godparents house, and we watched some of the competitions on the Welsh tv channel ‘S4C’. We put captions on. Congratulations to the winners of the choir categories that we saw, and to the brave person who was live translating the Welsh channel into English for people like me. I appreciated it!