2016 Eisteddfod was 'one of the best in recent memory'

9 August 2016

Speaking as the Monmouthshire and District National Eisteddfod drew to a close, outgoing Eisteddfod President, Garry Nicholas, spoke of the success of this year’s festival held at Castle Meadows, Abergavenny.

He said, “Sometimes, everything comes together to create the perfect Eisteddfod.  There’s an enthusiasm nationally and locally, excellent competing and a fantastic atmosphere on the Maes and in the local town.  It happened this year in Monmouthshire. 

“2016 is an Eisteddfod which will be remembered for many years as a happy and friendly week; when the country came to an area of Wales which hadn’t hosted the festival for over a century and where the welcome was warm and generous.

“Our team of volunteers in the area wasn’t the largest we’ve ever had, but they took on the challenge with such enthusiasm and vitality, and every single one of them should be congratulated on their work.  Led by Frank Olding, they worked tirelessly and happily for almost two years, raising awareness and funds in an area of Wales not traditionally associated with the Eisteddfod and the Welsh language.  Working in partnership with the local authority, the Local Fund raised £300,000.  Their work paved the way for the success last week, and we thank them for everything. 

“Having a strong relationship with the local authority is vitally important when planning an event of this size, and Monmouthshire County Council were fantastic.  They understood what hosting the Eisteddfod could mean for the local area, and they grasped the concept and ran with it, working with us throughout the project.  The council were responsible for the shuttle bus service, and I’m sure everyone will agree that the system worked very well throughout the week.  We thank the council for their vision in inviting the Eisteddfod to Monmouthshire and hope to be back far sooner than we returned after our last visit!

“I’ve already said it was a happy Eisteddfod.  It was also an important Eisteddfod, the festival where we saw an important shift.  Many of our young poets and writers had been snapping at the heels of older and more experienced writers for a number of years.  They came of age in 2016, with most of the main prizes won by those aged under forty.  Guto Dafydd, Eurig Salisbury, Gareth Olubunmi Hughes, Aneirin Karadog and Hefin Robinson – who’d come second in the Drama Medal last year and third the previous year – all had their chance to sit in the Eisteddfod’s coveted Chair, with Aneirin, as the Chair’s winner, facing the logistical challenge of how to get an Eisteddfod Chair home to Pontyberem in a family car!

“While we celebrate the triumphs of our young writers, we have to mention Helena Jones, two weeks short of her 100th birthday, coming third in the Solo  Recitation competition for Welsh learners on the Pavilion stage – how better to celebrate that the Eisteddfod is truly a festival for all ages?!

“The main centre point for this year’s event was the new Pavilion.  The first year without the iconic Pink Pavilion which served us so well for ten years.  Would the new Pavilion be an improvement?  What would visitors think?  Would it be welcomed?  We knew we’d made the right decision within a few bars of the opening concert on Friday night.  By Tuesday night’s magical concert with Catrin Finch, its fate was sealed.  The new Pavilion was the best venue the Eisteddfod’s ever had. 

“And by Thursday night’s gig?  Everyone in the Pavilion was overwhelmed, with the hash tag #nosonorarioed (#bestnightever) all over Twitter, and those who weren’t at the gig were left in disbelief that they’d missed such an event – in the Pavilion and in Abergavenny.  This was one of the Eisteddfod’s ‘were you there?’ moments which will go down in the festival’s history for many years to come.

“I’ve seen many developments at the Eisteddfod during my three years as Eisteddfod President – many many more since I first got involved as a young competitor years ago.  No two Eisteddfodau are the same and this is the secret of its success – its ability to evolve and adapt.  This year’s festival was very different to the wide open Maes at Meifod last year, and the Anglesey Eisteddfod will be different again.  And in 2018, we have the fence free festival in Cardiff Bay, an Eisteddfod which will be totally different, an experimental week which will help to develop the project even further in the future.

“We’ve seen how important the Eisteddfod is to the people of Wales over the past few weeks.  There is a warm welcome for everyone at the Eisteddfod.  The number of translation headsets distributed to visitors who did not speak Welsh broke all previous records – 20% of the Pavilion’s audience were wearing translation headsets at some points during the week, making the festival, which has the core aim of promoting the Welsh language and Welsh culture, accessible to all, something which is vitally important to organisers and volunteers alike.

“As my period as President draws to a close, I’d like to thank everyone involved with the Eisteddfod, the small team of committed staff who work all hours to make the project and the festival a success; the volunteers, without whom none of this would be possible; the local community for embracing the festival and giving us such a warm welcome. 

“But my greatest thanks must go to our visitors, the 140,297 people who came through the festival gates last week, many of whom had never been to Monmouthshire before, but many will return having fallen in love with the area and the warm welcome for all.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for hosting and joining us at, what was, undoubtedly, one of the best Eisteddfodau in recent memory.”