Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

The Experiences of a Chaired and Crowned Bard

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Mererid Hopwood was the first woman ever to win the Chair at the National Eisteddfod. Listen to her describe the experience.

Dr Mererid Hopwood was the first woman ever to win the Chair at the National Eisteddfod - in Denbighshire and its environs, 2001. Then, she went on to win the Crown in Montgomery and the Borders, 2003. Here she describes the experience to Catrin Stevens:

I felt very nervous. It was very dark, as the pavilion is, just before the pseudonym, or the nom de plume, of the winning poet is announced and through that darkness comes the name, in my case 'Llygad y Dydd' which is 'Daisy' (or the day's eye as we still call it in Welsh) and then the trumpet heralds the notes that are the cue for the poet to stand. And at that particular moment I can be quite sure that there was no-one throughout Wales who felt quite as afraid as I did.

Catrin: And then you were taken up on the stage. How did you react to the whole ceremony and all the ritual involved there?

Mererid: It was quite a curious sensation because I've watched the ceremony for years, as we all have in Wales, and feel that you know exactly what comes next, but when it's your turn I can assure you that, in my case, at least my mind went completely blank ... The Archdruid at the time was Meirion, Archdruid Meirion, Meirion Evans. It was his last year as Archdruid I think and I must say, he had such a nice manner and made the ceremony such a comfortable affair and managed to put me at ease, at least.

Catrin: And what about the Sword of Peace then - that part of the ceremony?

Mererid: Yes, that is an interesting part of the ceremony when Ray o'r Mynydd, who is at the moment in charge of the Sword of Peace, raises the sword above the poet's head, and then the Archdruid asks the audience if they are happy with the decision. But what he actually says is 'Is there Peace?' and I think that's a really beautiful phrase and a lovely aspect of the ceremony when the whole of the audience then just chants back the word, 'Heddwch' - 'Peace'.

My poor son, who was only five years old at the time, wasn't very happy to be in the pavilion at all. It was nice day and he wanted to be playing football. But he came reluctantly, dozed through most of the adjudication, woke up to see his mother being taken away by men in white frocks and then, of course, seeing this great rugby player raise this enormous sword above his mother's head. And at that point he turned to my husband, Martin and whispered, 'What's that man doing with that sword?' and Martin, for some incredible reason told him, 'Unless you shout 'Heddwch' (Peace) they're likely to chop her head off!'.

Catrin: Following the 2001 victory in winning the Chair you were accepted into the Gorsedd. What was your bardic name and what did that mean to you?

Mererid: Yes, it's more or less an automatic thing, you're invited to join the Gorsedd when you win one of the major prizes, and you're invited to wear the white regalia, the white robes. And as winner of the literary prizes you also have laurel leaves, sort of, a little, I'm not quite sure what you would call it, not exactly, but a crown across the top of the headgear that you have to wear. It's all very curious, it must be said! And my name in Gorsedd is simply Mererid, I think y Prifardd Mererid. ... Since then I've been invited to look after the Celtic brothers and sisters who come each year to the Eisteddfod and that means that I've become, well, I think an Officer is the right word, and as such you wear a cream outfit - but still with the leaves on my head.

(Copyright: Museum of Welsh Life)

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