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A Manx Connection to the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair

Posted on 08.11.2019

Manx National Heritage is delighted to have received the ribbon presented to Mona Douglas (Manx cultural activist, folklorist, poet, novelist and journalist) when she was inaugurated into the Gorsedd of British Bards at the 1917 National Eisteddfod.

Ribbon presented to Mona Douglas at the 1917 National Eisteddfod

Mona Douglas (1898-1987)

The item was one of Mona’s most prized possessions for the remainder of her life; the event was all the more poignant – and is still talked about today – because the chair awarded to the overall winner, a young Welsh soldier named Hedd Wyn, stood empty and draped in black following his death on the Western Front a few weeks earlier.

Hedd Wyn. Image source: BBC Wales

Hedd Wyn’s winning entry was a poem entitled Yr Arwr (The Hero). He submitted his entry by Royal Mail from the village of Fléchin in Northern France, around the end of June 1917. It was signed ‘Fleur-de-Lis’.

On 31 July 1917, Hedd Wyn (born Ellis Humphrey Evans) was fatally wounded at the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, during the advance of the 15th Service Battalion 1st London Welsh.

At the September 1917 National Eisteddfod, ‘Fleur-de-Lis’ was called out as the winner, but no one came forward. After calling his name three times, it was announced that Hedd Wyn had died just six weeks earlier in the trenches at Passchendaele. A black cloth was placed over the Bardic chair and it remained unclaimed for that year. From then on, the 1917 Eisteddfod was known as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair.

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