Y Fenni, site of the National Eisteddfod, and Calgary, home to this year’s North American Festival of Wales are separated by seven time zones. They differ physically in many ways. However the bond of Welsh culture and heritage bound them to each other this summer. A number of us were fortunate enough to participate in and enjoy both of these flagships of Welsh cultural activities.
Nestled on the banks of the Usk river that flows through Abergavenny, the site was a sylvan setting for this year’s Eisteddfod. For the second year five of our North American Welsh organizations had banded together to give Wales a taste of Welsh North America. Ninnau, Great Plains Welsh Heritage Project, Canolfan Madog, Rio Grande University, National Welsh American Foundation and Welsh North American Association were each represented. We (David and Janet Allen; Philip and Meril Davies) arrived on Friday afternoon to set up the booth for Cymry Gogledd Amerig. To find our booth we looked for the iconic Pink Pavilion, which had been a landmark on the Maes for the past decade only to realize that it was no more. It had been replaced by an unremarkable box like Pavilion. Named “the Evolution”, it however brought far better interior facilities than its predecessor and by the end of the week was meeting with universal praise.
Bright and early on Saturday morning Berwyn Jones and Martha Davies arrived and it was all go for the next eight days. The booth was always well staffed as several of us from North America took turns manning the booth. Among us were Hefina Phillips, Hywel and Mari Davies, Jeanne Jones and Louis Jindra. Having Rebecca Roy, the Dafydd Morris award recipient at last year’s NAFOW in Columbus, with us was a particular pleasure as she prepared and competed to great acclaim in the mezzo soprano competition. She tells of her experiences elsewhere in this issue of Ninnau. Special also was the presence of several of our Welsh connections at the booth, Jenny Hubbard Young joining us for several days. Members of the Welsh board of the National Welsh American Foundation; Jonathan Morgan, Frances Jones Davies, Joanna Masters, Jon Roper, Bill Jones, Lynne Wilkins and Jenny Mathers joined us on successive days. This company alone made for a very enjoyable and productive time but of course we were there to welcome the myriad, estimated at 130,000, of visitors who came to the Eisteddfod during the week. We made sure that the booth was easily recognized by the display of large U.S and Cnadian flags. Visitors were mostly from Wales but a remarkable number turned out to be visiting from North America. Some of them had never heard of Ninnau so we quickly took down their particulars, gave them a free copy, and introduced them to the many Welsh organizations on this side of the pond.
The weather was the usual blend that Wales experiences; a wet day, a windy day and then a couple of beautiful days. Happily one of these coincided with one of our major highlights of the week. This was the induction of Martha Davies into the Gorsedd of the Bards. It was a beautiful warm Friday morning as a large crowd gathered around the Gorsedd circle on the Maes to watch the inductees approach in a procession from the Gorsedd Pavilion. With appropriate ceremony Martha, assuming the Bardic name of Martha Bethania, was accepted in to the Gorsedd by the Archdruid Geraint Lloyd Owen, known as Geraint Llifon. After the ceremony Martha was the center of attention as the only one of thirty one new members of the Gorsedd born and living outside of Wales. Her four years spent in Aberystwyth many years ago allowed her to learn the language and instill in her the passion for all things Welsh which she so richly shares with husband Berwyn.
Building bridges with Wales is one of the primary missions of the National Welsh American Foundation. A successful way of doing this has been the support of the winner at the National Eisteddfod of the Osborne Roberts Blue Riband for the best vocalist under the age of 25 to attend and perform at NAFOW the following year. It was therefore with anticipation and excitement that we went to the Pavilion on Thursday afternoon to listen to the four finalists. The winner was Steffan Lloyd Owen, a baritone from Pentre Berw on the Isle of Anglesey. We look forward to inviting him to perform at NAFOW in Rochester in 2017.
2014’s Osborne Roberts winner Robert Lewis was at the Eisteddfod with his parents, Ian and Ella and friend Charlotte, and visited us in the booth on a number of occasions. He met with Rebecca Roy on one of these visits and a sweet memory is of the two of them deep in conversation – another bridge built! In between his visits with us Robert competed for the Towyn Roberts Scholarship, a prestigious and much sought after award for vocalists embarking on their professional careers. Robert made it through the preliminaries for this competition and late on Wednesday night he competed in the final with several more seasoned individuals. But at the tender age of 20 he won – and immediately left for the long drive to Salsibury to perform in an opera the next day!
After a wonderful eight days catching up with old friends and making many new ones it was time to close shop and depart for our destinations far and wide – back to North America for many of us to prepare for NAFOW at Calgary. It was a highly successful week, full of culture and memories for the ages.
North America Wales Foundation
Protect, promote and enhance our history and culture in Wales and North America.