The biggest cultural event in Wales is coming to Monmouthshire in 2016. Carys Thomas and Kath Skellon report on what this will bring to the county.
THE National Eisteddfod is coming back to Monmouthshire after 103 years.
The festival, which celebrates Wales’ culture of poetry, music and dance, will be held at Castle Meadows in Abergavenny in 2016.
The festival attracts 160,000 visitors every year and was last held in Monmouthshire in 1913.
Organisers predict that Monmouthshire will take in £6million to £8million for the week-long festivities which begin on July 31 to August 6.
The county has a long association with the eisteddfod, with Lady Llanover having been a particularly significant figure in shaping the modern movement.
The first modern eisteddfod was held in Aberdare in 1861, and although the competitions, the format and the size have developed, the main aims of the Eisteddfod remain the same.
Gwent has produced two successful eisteddfodau in the last decade – in Newport in 2004 and the more-recent Blaenau Gwent Eisteddfod in 2010.
The festival at Blaenau Gwent attracted 154,000 visitors and generated £7.58million for the county during the week alone.
Monmouthshire council will have to provide £580,000 towards hosting the event, of which £300,000 will be raised by the community in the next two years.
The county will be split into 42 wards, which will each have a set financial target to raise. This amount will be dependent on the size and population of the areas.
Gwenllian Carr, head of communications at the National Eisteddfod, said: “We work closely with the community groups: each ward will set up a committee which will work together with us to put on different activities to raise money.
“In Wrexham, it brought the non Welsh speakers and the Welsh speakers together.
“The majority of counties reach their fundraising target, Denbighshire reached their total last year and this year’s host, Carmarthenshire, are on their way to reaching the target.”
She added: “Every Eisteddfod is different and presents its own challenges.
“Space is usually an issue, with the volume of cars and caravans that are brought into the area.”
“We are the catalyst to strengthen and promote Wales and the culture of Wales locally.
“Monmouthshire is a beautiful place which people will want to come back to after the festival.
“There is a big economic impact in the run-up to the festival as well as the week itself, which will benefit the whole county, especially the hospitality sector.”
Councillor Phil Hobson, cabinet member for community development at Monmouthshire County Council, said: “This is an opportunity not just for Abergavenny, it’s for Monmouthshire.
“I am keen to make sure that this is the finest eisteddfod there has ever been.
“It will be a lasting legacy for the town and the county, not only linguistically, culturally, but for the communities who will be heavily involved in the festival.”
The festival is a travelling event which is consecutively hosted by counties in North Wales and South Wales.
The county which hosts the event can choose the main aims of the festival on its area, whether it be promotion of the Welsh Language, tourism or young people.
Ms Carr, said: “Blaenau Gwent in 2010 was a very successful eisteddfod, they set up a Clwb Cymraeg and decided to really promote the Welsh language and to try to bring more people to live in the area.
“It is a very important part of our work, promoting the Welsh language: we set up drop-in sessions closer to the event for business owners and people in the community to learn Welsh phrases.
“It’s great to bring people together to have a taste of the language.”
Cllr Peter Fox, council leader, said: “I am so excited about the opportunity that is coming to Monmouthshire.
“The Welsh language in Monmouthshire has grown massively over the last year. There has been an increase in levels of Welsh medium education, the two schools are expanding.
“This is an opportunity to promote our language that we shouldn’t miss.
“The financial issues need to be considered, there is a real confidence that this will be cost-neutral for Monmouthshire.”
Huw Evans is a fluent Welsh speaker who will be involved in the community fundraising for the Monmouthshire eisteddfod.
Mr Evans, 72, of Llanellen, said: “It is the most important event in the calendar, it is superb that it’s coming to Monmouthshire.
“Lots of people I know around Abergavenny think it will be an outstanding event.
“Abergavenny has a good track record with different events.
“This area has a limited number of Welsh speakers, but it’s now on the up, which makes a change to the rest of Wales.
“When I first came to Abergavenny more than 40 years ago there wasn’t a single Welsh organisation, now there are 12 different societies, from the Llanover Society to Merched y Wawr.”
He added: “I was involved in the Abergavenny fundraising for the Blaenau Gwent Eisteddfod. I believe we raised about £10,000 through small events.
“The fundraising for Monmouthshire will be on a much larger scale, I’m sure we will have lots of volunteers and hope we can reach the target.”
Abergavenny traders have welcomed the decision to host the biggest annual Welsh cultural festival in the town.
Cllr Martin Hickman, the mayor of Abergavenny, said: “It will be marvellous for the restaurants and hostelries in the area and is a massive coup for Monmouthshire.
“It will also be a wonderful opportunity for local children to have an event like this on their doorstep and something they may never have seen before.”
Allan Shaw, who runs The Whistle Stop Café at Abergavenny Train Station, said it was fantastic news for Abergavenny and the surrounding area.
He said: “It will put Abergavenny well and truly on the map as a centre for tourism and this sort of event.”
“It will take a lot of planning, but we have proven that we can hold events with such high footfall and organise the logistics of it.”
“People will want accommodation and this will have a ripple effect on other parts of the county.”
Jenny Taylor-Jones, the owner of The Guest House bed and breakfast in Abergavenny, welcomed the proposal.
She said: “I think any festival in Abergavenny is successful.
“Being a Welsh festival, it is vitally important.
“We have the food festival– the Glastonbury of food festivals. This will be no different.”
Cllr Douglas Edwards, whose Grofield ward includes Castle Meadows, said: “It is a wonderful thing to have here and it is a big boost for the economy.
“For Monmouthshire, which is very much a tourist area, it is very desirable.
“I think that every county councillor should be thrilled with the idea. It is a really big project.”
He added: “This is very close to my heart, I am extremely excited that Monmouthshire now has the opportunity to have a National Eisteddfod.”
A big part of the impact of the event coming to the county will be setting up the eisteddfod choir. Choirs set up for many previous festivals are still going strong.
The Eisteddfod Choir will be made up of some 200 residents who will sing on the main stage with international soloists.
The Gorsedd y Beirdd (coming together of bards) is the most significant feature of the eisteddfod, made up of artist, poets, singers, authors and other who have contributed to the Welsh language they play a key role in ceremony.
The festivals’ most prestigious awards are the chair, which is awarded for the best poem written in strict metre and the crown for the best poem in free verse.
The chairing of the bard traditionally takes place on the Friday of the festival and each bardic chair is specially designed for that particular eisteddfod.
A public meeting will be held in the next few weeks for any volunteers wanting to get involved with the eisteddfod.
The proclamation festival will be held in June/July 2015.