An Eisteddfod is a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance and the first eisteddfod can be traced back to 1176, under the auspices of Lord Rhys, at his castle in Cardigan, Wales. There he held a gathering to which poets and musicians were invited from all over the country. A chair at the Lord Rhys’ table was awarded to the best poet and musician – a tradition that prevails in the modern day National Eisteddfod.
Plans for the introduction of a Guernsey Eisteddfod were started at a meeting on 29 November 1921 presided over by the then Bailiff, Sir Edward Ozanne.
The following are extracts taken from the Minutes of that meeting and detail the raison d’etre of establishing Guernsey’s own Eisteddfod as spoken by Reverend Frederick J Paine who was asked to address the meeting. Reverend Paine was a Methodist Minister and his last position was at St Sampson's Methodist Church. His wife - Helen (née Stranger) - donated the Helen Stranger cup for the Soprano Solo.
Rev Paine said that he envisaged an organisation to include all arts and crafts called an ‘Eisteddfod’ (although he was open to other suggestions) but it must be an effective title; one to conjure with, as ‘Eisteddfod’ was. He also commented that he was aware that Jersey already had such a festival which was a highly developed organisation and although Guernsey could not hope to reach such a high standard at first, it could make it their aim to overtake it and also foster friendly inter-island rivalry which would raise the talents of the young people. He saw no ultimate limits to the new event’s success.
Sir Edward, in his closing remarks said he was warmed and cheered at all he heard at the meeting and … “there was no doubt in his mind that the little ship just launched would have a long and prosperous voyage.”
The first Guernsey Eisteddfod Festival was held on 1 November 1922 at the Little Theatre and with the exception of the years 1940-1945, it has taken place annually ever since.
The Guernsey Eisteddfod is held in early Spring each year and it enables everyone, young and old, who has an interest in the arts show off their talents across a diverse range of classes – or sessions as they are known. Every entrant will receive constructive comments and feedback from professional adjudicators that will help them develop their talents further.
2020 will be the Guernsey Eisteddfod's 90th year and there are plenty of celebrations already in hand for the centenary in 2030!