Who was Dewi Emrys? That’s the question asked by the drama-documentary Dewi Emrys: Cythraul yr Awen, Sunday, 27 July on S4C. And on Tuesday, 29 July in a special edition of Pethe – Twm Morys a’r Cadeiriau Coll – Twm Morys will try to trace the whereabouts of the four missing Eisteddfod Chairs won by Dewi Emrys.
Dewi Emrys, (1881-1952), once described his own character as an ‘orchestra of complexity’, and in Dewi Emrys: Cythraul yr Awen we’ll see why Dewi’s life was so troubled. There will be contributions from people who knew Dewi and we’ll hear their impressions of the poet, who was born in New Quay in Ceredigion but who moved to Pembrokeshire when he was seven years old.
Many Welsh people have hailed the poet Dewi Emrys as a hero and he’s also seen as a romantic character. But in his time he was also seen as a controversial figure, and he argued with many people. Emyr Llew says, “He was his own enemy”.
But one person who probably knew him better than most was his daughter Dwynwen. Now living in south of England, she has changed her name to Nina Watkins. Nina says she found her upbringing tough. “It was quite a traumatic time for me, and there were many negative experiences,” says Nina.
This is the first time Nina has spoken publicly about her father and her memories go against the romantic myth surrounding Dewi.
Dewi Emrys had an eventful life; he spent part of his life as a minister, and some years as a beggar on the streets of London. He was also a womaniser. But according to Nina, “He wasn’t a very good father.”
Judith Humphreys enjoyed playing the part of Dilys Cadwaladr, Judith, who lives in Penygroes, Dyffryn Nantlle, says that Dilys’ life and personality was a complex one. Dilys says that she enjoyed learning about Dilys and Dewi’s relationship;
“It was a brilliant chance for me to learn a bit about the history of the period, and also about a great poet from that era. It was also great hearing a female perspective, and Dilys was an intelligent woman. It was also a privilege to portray a person who had so many aspects to her personality. She was a sensitive, sad and complex character.”
Dilys was a poet, and she was the first female to win a crown at the National Eisteddfod in Rhyl in 1953. However, she had a complex relationship with her Dewi too,
“They were very poor. Dewi was a fragile person, and she wanted to save him, and look after him, and help him with his fragility. She admired his ability, and his talent tremendously, says Dilys.”
Eluned Phillips also admired Dewi Emrys, according to Sharon Morgan, who plays Eluned in Dewi Emrys: Cythraul yr Awen.
“I think Eluned and Dewi were both similar characters, as a writer, and also two who hated narrowness of the Welsh establishment. I think she admire him greatly when she was young, and loved the rebel in him, and later in life I think their relationship was more of an equal nature. I don’t think it was a relationship of a sexual nature,” says Sharon.
Playing Eluned Phillips, who won the chair twice at the National Eisteddfod, in Bala 1967 and in Llangefni in 1983, was a challenge, says Sharon;
“It was a challenge and a privilege to portray a real person, and a person that many will remember; she was such a unique character during the seventies.”
Dewi Emrys: Cythraul yr Awen dramatizes the relationship between Dewi and two women who massively influenced his life. These were Dilys Cadwaladr, Nina’s mother; and Eluned Phillips, Dewi’s friend. Sharon Morgan will be playing Eluned Phillips and Judith Humphreys is Dilys Cadwaladr.
The mystery surrounding Dewi Emrys’ lost Eisteddfod Chairs comes under the spotlight on Tuesday, 29 July on S4C in Twm Morys a’r Cadeiriau Coll. Twm will hear that Dewi was one of only two poets ever to have won four chairs at the National Eisteddfod; the other was Dyfed. After Dewi won his fourth chair the National Eisteddfod changed its rules, and now a poet can only win the chair twice. But although Dewi was famed for winning four chairs, he is also known as the poet who lost the most chairs.
At the 1930 Llanelli National Eisteddfod, Dewi Emrys won a chair for his ode ‘Y Galilead’. But soon after his victory, the chair went missing. And the same is true about the chairs he won for his odes at the National Eisteddfodau in Liverpool (1929), Bangor (1943), and Bridgend (1948).
In Twm Morys a’r Cadeiriau Coll, Twm will travel all over Wales and also to Liverpool, visiting a hospital, a castle, and a city hall while searching for the lost Eisteddfod Chairs of Dewi Emrys and other celebrated bards.