Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Marking the day

At least it’s not raining on this extra Leap Day – at least not yet. Tomorrow is St David’s Day and, in memory, that was always a day of celebration when, at school, we girls all wore a daffodil pinned to our jackets and the boys wore leeks (which they’d diligently chew almost to nothing over the course of the day).

To celebrate St David’s Day every year in St David’s, an Eisteddfod is held in the City Hall. Eistedd in Welsh means sitting and fod (mutated here from bod) means being. So yesterday, two days in advance of the day itself, there we were, Paul and me, sitting in St David’s City Hall as two of the hall-full of people ready to participate in a whole day of competitions of many kinds, among them reciting and dancing and singing alone or in groups. Paul and I won a number of prizes – alas, no firsts – and so came home with a handful of little prize-bags made from the beautiful woollen cloth donated by Tregwynt Woollen Mill.

The tradition:

Evidently, the first known Eisteddfod took place in Cardigan in 1176 under the aegis of the Lord Rhys. It’s a tradition that has persisted all over Wales, though not necessarily on St David’s Day. For many, many youngsters it becomes the route to a future in musical performance or, since prose and poetry competitions are usually included – literary success. Bryn Terfel is just one of the many performers who rose to success in this way.

Yesterday:

What was hugely enjoyable for me yesterday was seeing so many people who were at school the same time as me. A good many of them are now lynch-pins in the organisation of this Eisteddfod. Altogether that must be a very big job – forming the organising committee, choosing the theme (this year it was Weather), sending out programmes, getting prize-bags made and certificates printed, inviting adjudicators, ensuring a team of people to prepare sandwich lunches and make tea and coffee, setting out the seats. It’s the usual paraphernalia of any big event. And it’s quite something to realise that around March 1st, little and big places all over Wales are attending the Eisteddfodau (plural of Eisteddfod) which result.

PS: On a personal family note, my father was much in my mind yesterday. As a former headmaster of St David’s Secondary School, he – David W.James, known as DW – would d have loved seeing so many old pupils engaged in the day’s  activities. I think he would also have remarked on how this annual event has obviously succeeded in attracting a good number of the incomers that have increased the population of St David’s over recent years. He himself loved telling people about the city, its history and traditions. He did this in writing, publishing two books on the subject, St David’s and Dewisland and Twice to St David’s. He also did it through lectures and ordinary chat. One of the places he loved to talk about was the spectacular spot on the cliffs where St Non, renowned as the mother of St David, reputedly lived and died. Special things about the place that you can see today include St Non’s well, its waters renowned for the healing of eyes, and the ruins of the ancient church of St Non. Speaking about the place with the smile of one who treasured the inter-leavings of history and myth, my father loved to remark, ‘Yes, this was one of the places where St David was born.’

PSS: Once on a walk to St Non’s, I was concerned to see that one of St Non’s hands on her statue was broken. It so happened that the caretaker of the grounds was nearby. We talked, I expressed my concern. He said, oh yes, he was going to have to get a new statue. He’d be consulting the catalogue as soon as possible and putting in an order. Was I surprised? To mind came an image of a warehouse with shelves lined with statues. Male, female, white, grey? Somehow I’d been thinking of that statue of St Non on the cliff as itself being something ancient.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Marking the day”

  1. Hilary Minns Says:

    Dear Mary,
    I was amused and intrigued by your story of the statue in the catalogue. It reminded me of a scene in a Hilary Mantel novel called Fludd (1989) where the bishop orders Father Angwin to get rid of the plaster saints in his church. The Father does this with a heavy heart, but rather than throw them out, he buries them with due reverence, helped by the gravedigger and some strong young men in the parish. Fludd is a very short novel – and is incredibly funny. So thank you Mary for reminding me to read it again!

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