A few weeks ago I went on a very exciting bookish adventure in London. This weekend, we stayed a little closer to home and visited Yr Ysgwrn, in North Wales, the home of Welsh, national Eisteddfod winning poet, Hedd Wyn, who was killed during the First World War.
So first, a quick Welsh lesson! In Wales we have lots of Eisteddfod’s which are basically folk festivals where people can enter loads of different competitions like singing, dancing, art and poetry. There are lots of different Eisteddfod’s ranging from youth Eisteddfod’s (I spent my childhood taking part in these), local Eisteddfod’s and the National Eisteddfod. When you win the main poetry competition at these Eisteddfod’s you get awarded an ornately carved wooden chair (it might sound weird but it is a long tradition and a massive honour here in Wales!).
Hedd Wyn competed and won a lot of local Eisteddfod’s (apparently he started competing because his Dad competed and Hedd Wyn wanted to beat him!) but his ambition was always to win the National Eisteddfod. One year he managed second, before he finally won in 1917. Sadly, Hedd Wyn had been killed a few weeks earlier, fighting in the First World War.
There is normally a ceremony where the winner of the chair is announced and celebrated. In 1917 though, it was announced that the winner, Hedd Wyn, had been killed and was buried under foreign soil. The empty chair was draped in a black veil.
Despite growing up hearing the story of Hedd Wyn , this weekend was the first time I have visited his home (does anyone else always seem to visit places farther away before venturing more close to home?) and seen the black chair. It was amazing experience because Hedd Wyn’s nephew was at the house and explained the significance of all the beautiful carvings on the chair to us. No one was allowed to sit on the chair, though, because traditionally only the winning poet is allowed to sit on it so out of respect to Hedd Wyn, the chair stays empty.
Apart from seeing the black chair, we heard about life for Hedd Wyn and his family at the time, how they lived and how the war affected our little corner of the world in North Wales. It was an interesting and humbling experience and I would recommend it to anyone if you ever venture here.
I loved learning more about one of our important literary figures in Wales and I hoped I managed to share just a small piece of that with you.