In the ancient Celtic world a Bard was the keeper of the songs, stories, poems and histories of the tribe or clan. The Bards, along with the Druids (the priesthood) and Ovates (the healers), kept social cohesion in the Celtic world.
The Bardic Chair is an honour or position that originally comes from Celtic tradition and is part of the Welsh Eisteddfod festivals and Cornish Gorsedh ceremonies. As such, it is a position that entrants compete for, hoping to become the Bard of a specific geographical area.
In certain areas of the country, a community had what was known as a Speaker’s Mound, a small hump or hillock where common folk could have their say. It was here a would be Bard could declare their intention to become the community’s spokesperson and, if unchallenged, would receive that honour for a year and a day – but, if challenged, would have to compete in a competition to claim their place as bard.
In the last few years, a growing resurgence of interest in poetry, spoken word and the Bardic tradition has given rise to spoken word events and over fourteen Bardic Chairs have been established in this country.
The Bardic Chair Northampton was set up in 2007. Its intention was to tap into and revitalise the ancient Celtic Bardic oral tradition. Specifically, to declare and hold Northampton’s first Bardic Chair Contest.
The following year, a small outdoor event was held with a competition, but no official winner. In 2009, with funding from Northampton’s Community Foundation and a proper committee, the first official Bardic Picnic festival was held on the south lawn of the historic Delapré Abbey. The title of Bard was fiercely contested by a collection of local singer/songwriters, storytellers and poets and the festival was well attended.
The crowds not only enjoyed the contest, but also the eclectic mix of live music, performance poetry, storytelling and song; as well as good food and drink, a children’s area, workshops and stalls. Donna Scott won the competition and became Northampton’s first official bard, exclaiming, “I’ve got a cloak!”
The day was a great success and much fun was had by all.