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‘Eisteddfod chair’ comes home to Cardigan Castle

Nine foot sculpture takes its place at Cardigan Castle, site of the first Eisteddfod in 1176.

After more than a year in the making, a nine foot sculpture and re-imagining of Wales’ original Eisteddfod chair has taken its place at its new permanent home, Cardigan Castle, site of the first Eisteddfod in 1176.

Central to the ‘Chairing of the Bard’ tradition, which to this day remains a feature of the modern Eisteddfod, the chair will be carefully manoeuvred by a team of labourers into position atop the East Tower, where it will provide visitors with a unique picture opportunity.

The hand-carved structure – made from local oak, slate and bronze – was sculpted by Cardigan-based woodcarving artist Paul Clarke and marks one of the final pieces of the £12m Cardigan Castle restoration project.

It includes a number of interpretive details, from a carved lion’s head based on the Dinefwr coat of arms, to two bronze horses, which are representative of Lord Rhys’ own interest in equestrianism; he is believed to have once given King Henry II a number of horses from his own prized collection as a peace offering.

Visitors will be able to see the chair for the first time when the Castle opens its doors to the public on April 15, following an extensive restoration project.

It will become the flagship artefact of the world’s first and only exhibition on the story of the Eisteddfod, which will reveal the history of the iconic cultural festival and its relationship to Cardigan through words, visual displays, poetry and music.

Other artefacts set to feature in the exhibition include the 1967 National Eisteddfod crown, which was presented to that year’s crowned Bard, Eluned Phillips, the only woman to have won two crowns at the National Eisteddfod, as well as tickets, programmes and posters from Eisteddfods dating back to the 19th century.

Historian Glen Johnson, who has spent 30 years studying the site’s unique heritage, welcomed the return of this Eisteddfod Chair to the festival’s birthplace.

He said: “The chair is the ultimate symbol of Wales’ beloved Eisteddfod tradition, and I can think of no better place for this sculpture to reside than at Cardigan Castle.

“It was here that the original Eisteddfod was held in 1176, when poets and musicians from across the country gathered to compete for a place on the original seat, which was stationed at Lord Rhys’ table.

“A huge amount of work and expert craftsmanship went into the finished piece, and it shows. The historical details, from the Dinefwr lion to the Medieval court dog that rests beneath it, are magnificent. Lord Rhys would be proud!”

The arrival of the chair represents a significant milestone for the local area, which has waited centuries to be able to fully celebrate its role in shaping Welsh culture.

Cris Tomos, Castle Director, said: “We’re elated to welcome the chair home to Cardigan Castle, where it can be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

“The impending opening marks the first time the site’s fascinating past will be accessible to the public, and the chair’s arrival means we’re one step closer to being able to show the world the part Cardigan and its 900-year old castle played in the dawn of Welsh culture.”

The once-dilapidated historic site came into public ownership 12 years ago, following a decade of lobbying and fundraising led by the Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust (CBPT) and its volunteers.

Since then, the Grade I listed building has undergone a huge redevelopment project to rescue it from the brink of ruin.

It is hoped that the Castle will become one of west Wales’ top tourist destinations when it opens this spring, attracting at least 33,000 visitors in the first year and bringing significant economic benefit to Cardigan and the wider area.