Hywel Teifi Edwards, 1934-2010

January 28, 2010

A campaigner and authority on Welsh history acclaimed as "a combination of scholar and tribal story-teller" has died.

Hywel Teifi Edwards was born in the village of Llanddewi Aberarth, Cardiganshire, on 15 October 1934.

His family was from a coal-mining area of Glamorgan, and he would later draw on his background to produce a rich and notably sympathetic study of the figure of the miner in Welsh literature, Arwr Glew Erwau'r Glo, which translates as "Brave hero of the coal acres" (1994).

After studying at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, he spent his whole career at what is now Swansea University: he was appointed professor of Welsh in 1989, and later emeritus professor.

Professor Edwards rapidly established himself as a leading authority on Welsh culture, and had a particular interest in the development of the National Eisteddfod - an annual festival conducted entirely in Welsh.

He produced a general history for the Eisteddfod's 800th anniversary in 1976 and a much more specialised study of its 19th-century heyday in 1980, both in Welsh. He wrote a shorter overview in English, The Eisteddfod (1990).

He also published several works on broader themes, including Codi'r Hen Wlad yn ei Hol ("To raise the old country to its feet", 1989).

This explored the huge blow to national pride represented by the Blue Books reports of 1847, when three English commissioners produced a notably prejudiced and damning account of Welsh education, and the struggles to achieve a viable Welsh literature in response.

Although never averse to poking fun at national pieties and pageantry, Professor Edwards was a committed Welsh patriot celebrated well beyond the bounds of the academy.

He twice stood for Parliament as a Plaid Cymru candidate, served as a Plaid Cymru local councillor and offered keen support to the now-defunct Welsh-language newspaper, Y Byd. He was also a key speaker at a 2005 rally to secure better protection for the Welsh language.

Greatly in demand as a broadcaster, Professor Edwards had a natural authority and screen presence which he shared with his son, Huw Edwards, the BBC newsreader.

For M. Wynn Thomas, professor of English at Swansea, Professor Edwards was "a combination of scholar and tribal story-teller", "a genius in the deployment of the Welsh language" and "a commanding personality here for the best part of 40 years, a spellbinding public speaker and the major historian of 19th-century culture in Wales. He transformed our understanding of our own past."

Professor Edwards died on 4 January 2010 after a short illness and is survived by his wife, his son and a daughter.


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