The Guernsey Eisteddfod

The word "Eisteddfod" - from the welsh word eistedd (to sit) and fod (to be) actually means 'session'. Started in 1176 in Wales, Lord Rhys held a grand gathering at his castle and invited artists from all over the country to perform. A chair at the Lord's table was awarded to the best poet and musician. By the 19th century the Eisteddfod had developed into a fully-fledged folk festival on a large scale with competitions in music, poetry, drama and the arts.

An inaugural meeting with regard to the formation of the Guernsey Eisteddfod was held on 29th November 1921, presided by the Bailiff, Sir Edward Ozanne, and the following extracts are taken from the Minutes of that meeting:

Reverend Frederick J Paine was asked to address the meeting.

He 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 they could not hope to reach such a high standard at first, they could make it their aim to overtake it, emulate it, and also foster friendly inter island rivalry which would raise the talents of the young people. He saw no limits to its ultimate success!

Reverend Paine thought that such and eisteddfod ”…might stem the mad rush for amusement which was characteristic of the present day and turn this energy into channels of greater usefulness and develop the latent faculties of the young people in the right way.”

The Bailiff thought that the name Eisteddfod, though so difficult to pronounce, would have to stand, as it expressed something which was understood the world over!

The proposition was carried with unanimous applause!

Sir Edward, in his closing remarks said he was warmed and cheered at all he had 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 1st November 1922 at the Little Theatre and with the exception of the years during World War II, it has taken place annually ever since.

Held in early Spring, many locals take this opportunity to show off their talents whether it be in the performing arts, the arts and craft section, or in many cases – both! In 2008 we received over 3,200 entries which, when taking into account the involvement of parents, relatives, teachers and supporters, we estimate over 15% of the population are actively involved in one way or another!

The flexibility of the organisation allows us to ‘move with the times’ and we are always open to ideas to include new disciplines into the Festival. Currently we have 15 sections which are as follows: Art and Craft (adult, and primary and secondary school age), English literature, shorthand and typing, floral displays, cookery, home made wines and beers, needlework, silk painting, photography, video, roller skating, French, Guernsey French, speech and drama and music.

Each section has it’s own syllabus and is supervised by an executive officer who in turn has a loyal band of volunteer helpers. We are always looking for more help during the actual festival. If you would like to become more involved, perhaps you could let us know by filling in the form on the 'Contact Us' page. 

We also gladly welcome new members and at present have a growing membership of over 600.  Please do not hesitate to contact Mr Paul Davis if you wish to join. Details of applying for membership can be found on the 'Membership' page. 

Our Festival is organised to give an opportunity to people who have an interest in the arts to receive constructive comments from professional adjudicators which will hopefully help them develop their respective talents!  We believe that being given the chance to view the arts and crafts and to listen to the performances will enable people, young and old, to appreciate the quite often hidden talents of many of our Islanders. We hope to encourage as many visitors as possible to our festival so that arts in Guernsey can be kept alive for future generations!

We are proud that the Guernsey Eisteddfod continues to evolve, ensuring that the ‘little ship’ launched in 1922 still has quite a few more miles to go!