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Having a Wales of a time

welsh flagOxford University’s Welsh Society, the Dafydd ap Gwilym Society, is to hold its first Welsh cultural festival in decades, following news of a declining number of Welsh students at the University.

The Eisteddfod festival aims to promote Welsh culture and encourage Welsh students to attend Oxford. Secondary school pupils across Wales have competed in poetry, prose, and essay writing competitions. with the winners invited to Oxford for the Eisteddfod.

Cai Wilshaw, a Welsh first year at St Anne’s commented: “At a time when the British government is cutting education, arts and culture, I think it’s important that Oxford recognises that our shared heritage is important.

“The Eisteddfod is a shining example of how old customs are still relevant to our generation[…]inciting young people to get interested and involved with Welsh traditions.”

He added: “Not only is this an important development in the Welsh community’s mark on the Oxford social scene, but it is also a way for us to increase our exposure to Oxford students.”

The President of the “Dafydd” Carwyn Graves is also pleased at the possibility of the festival encouraging Welsh applicants to the University. He said: “Oxford has been falling off Welsh radar screens recently; hopefully holding an Eisteddfod here, such an iconic Welsh tradition, will remind pupils in Wales who may be put off by Oxford’s stuffy image that there are strong historic links between Oxford (‘Rhydychen’ in Welsh) and Wales, and go some way to increasing Oxford’s profile in Wales – and therefore also applications by Welsh pupils to the University.”

The highlight of the festival will be a “chairing ceremony”, during which the Society’s 130-year-old ceremonial sword will be brandished and then sheaved by Graves.

Graves expressed his delight at the reinstatement of the old tradition after so many years, saying: “The winners will receive a bardic chair and have the opportunity to spend a night in Jesus College.”

Recent statistics revealed that Welsh applicants to Oxbridge are declining, with 36 applicants from the City of London per Welsh application.

Paul Murphy, the Welsh Government ‘Oxbridge Ambassador’, said: “Generally speaking, Wales is sending far fewer people to Oxbridge than they did in the past 30 to 40 years.”

The Eisteddfod itself will be fully bilingual, and will take place on 3rd May at Jesus College.  The College was established in the 16th century with the aim of accommodatingWelsh scholars. The “Dafydd” was founded in 1886, making it one of Oxford University’s oldest societies. Former members include the former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan.