Remembering Welsh poet Hedd Wyn

Tuesday 31 July 2012, 16:50

Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain

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Ninety-five years ago, on 31 July 1917, Welsh poet Hedd Wyn died in action in World War One at the battle of Passchendaele.

The poet's poignant story is well known in Welsh culture. Hedd Wyn was the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans, a shepherd and gifted poet from Trawsfynydd.

Hedd Wyn statue in Trawsfynydd. Photo © Alan Fryer and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

Hedd Wyn statue in Trawsfynydd. Photo © Alan Fryer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Having already achieved a second place position in the Chair competition at the 1916 Eisteddfod in Aberystwyth, Evans was determined to win the prestigious competition at the 1917 Eisteddfod, which was held in Birkenhead.

Having enlisted in the war, Evans finished and submitted his composition from the front. He died in the first day of action in the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. Six weeks later on 6 September his name was called as the posthumous winner of the bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod.

As history blogger Phil Carradice has written:

His death in battle shocked not just those present at the Eisteddfod but the whole of Wales.

A stunned silence fell over the Eisteddfod field as the news finally began to sink in. The Archdruid summed up the feelings of the gathering when he said, simply "Yr wyl yn ei dagrau a'r Bardd yn ei fedd - the festival in tears and the poet in his grave."

There could be no question of any form of investiture and amidst a funereal silence the Bardic Chair, the Chair that now belonged to the dead poet, was solemnly draped in black cloth.

The Black Chair, as it became known, still resides in Hedd Wyn's family home, Yr Ysgwrn. Earlier this year it was announced that the Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) had secured the property for the nation.

At the time of the announcement in March the SNPA were carrying out much needed repairs to the roof of Yr Ysgwrn.

I've recently been in touch with the National Park to see how the work is getting on, and to see if any other improvements at the site.

A spokesperson told me, "The work on the roof has now been completed along with some plastering work inside the house itself.

"Work has also been done to re-build a wall around the rhubarb garden in preparation for the Wildlife Gardening project, where local schoolchildren will get involved.

"Other maintenance work has been done around the site to tidy up the area; this is generally an ongoing process."

Yr Ysgwrn, now complete with new roof. Photo courtesy of Snowdonia National Park Authority

Yr Ysgwrn, now complete with new roof. Photo courtesy of Snowdonia National Park Authority

"An application to the Heritage Lottery Fund is expected to be made in August for the development work for the site including interpretive work," the spokesperson added. "This is ahead of the main application to the HLF which will be made by 2014.

"The process to find a tenant to manage the land and outbuildings has also started. The SNPA have appointed a local company to oversee the tenancy application process which is expected to begin in August. The tenant will be responsible for looking after the land and livestock."

For further information on Yr Ysgwrn visit the SNPA authority's website, eryri-npa.gov.uk.

Read Phil Carradice's blog post on Hedd Wynn and the Black Chair on the BBC Wales History website.

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