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Religion and culture: The Gymanfa Ganu and the Eisteddfod

The Welsh took many important traditions with them across the Atlantic to America, one of these being the Gymanfa Ganu or singing festival. The annual Gymanfa was an important event in the calendar of the Welsh in America and it drew people together to worship, socialise and celebrate their Welsh heritage.

Ohio's first Gymanfa Ganu was held in Cincinnati in 1833 and with the arrival of more immigrants the tradition became more and more popular. A Gymanfa would usually take place over a period of two days but some lasted even longer than that In 1842, for example, the Gymanfa that was held in Granville and Newark went on for 12 days. At the turn of the twentieth century dozens of annual Cymanfaoedd Canu were being held throughout the state but by then less Welsh was being heard and before long they began to sing translations of the hymns, although some congregations continued the tradition of singing an occasional hymn in Welsh.

Another tradition held by the Welsh in Ohio was the Eisteddfod, which is a festival of song and literary competition. The large collection of Eisteddfod programmes in The Welsh-American Heritage Museum in Oak Hill shows us how popular the festival was and how eager the settlers were to celebrate Welsh culture in another country. It is believed that the first Eisteddfod in Ohio was held in Youngstown in 1860 and within ten years there was an Eisteddfod in Jackson, Oak Hill and Gomer. The Eisteddfod soon became an important part of the social and cultural life of the Welsh in Ohio and they began to hold large and small Eisteddfodau across the state in Lima, Delphos, Van Wert, Warren, Cincinnati and Cleveland for example. People would come together from every part of the state For example, they say that the Eisteddfod held in Gomer in 1895 attracted an audience of 3,000 people!

The Welsh usually came together to compete at Christmas time or on New Year's Day, but of course they would have been rehearsing long before that. In the early years the main competitions were essay writing and poetry in Welsh but later the music competitions became more and more popular. The Southern Ohio Eisteddfod Association held its Eisteddfod in Jackson so it became known as the Jackson Eisteddfod. It was extremely popular and because so many people used to attend the event they had to erect a special building in the town to hold the Eisteddfod. Competitors came for afar to the new building to sing and perform and that practice continued until the last Eisteddfod was held there in 1940.

Although the popularity of the Eisteddfod had diminished by the middle of the twentieth century, one tradition still continues in the southeast. The Jackson City school Eisteddfod - which was established in 1924 - is still held and it is the only Eisteddfod of its kind in America today.

Religion and culture: The Gymanfa Ganu and the Eisteddfod - Digital story | Exercise 1 | Exercise 2





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