Welsh town unveils plaque for poet János Arany

A memorial plaque in honour of Hungarian poet János Arany was unveiled in the small Welsh town of Montgomery on May 14, the site of the castle where 500 Welsh bards were slaughtered by Edward I of England in 1277 and about which Arany wrote his famous ballad, "A Walesi bárdok" (The Bards of Wales), in 1857.

Legend says the poets were killed after refusing to sing Edward’s praises as a conquering king. Arany published his ballad anonymously after declining to write a poem celebrating the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, who ruled over Hungary at the time.

In 2011 Welsh composer Karl Jenkins wrote a cantata based on the poem, which is still studied in Hungary and has made Hungarians familiar with the small market town in the county of Powys.

The plaque was given to Montgomery, population about 1300, by Hungary in 2019 but the Covid pandemic prevented it being unveiled at a large-scale event until now. The trilingual plaque depicts Arany and tells the story of “A Walesi bárdok” in English, Welsh and Hungarian. The Welsh and Hungarian national anthems were played at the unveiling in the town centre.

Balint Brunner, founder of Welsh-Hungarian cultural initiative Magyar Cymru, helped organise the celebration. He said: “I am one of the millions of Hungarian pupils who have said the words of the poem in front of the class Little did I know at the time that I would one day be captivated by Wales, start learning Welsh and launch Magyar Cymru to build cultural bridges between Wales and Hungary. I certainly didn’t expect Arany’s famous poem to make a sudden reappearance in my life.”

The event also included a recital of The Bards of Wales by the Bristol Hungarian Folk Dance Group, family games and activities, and a concert with the Welsh-Hungarian cultural association.

Other aspects to the links between Wales and Hungary include an annual concert in Cardiff organised by Elizabeth Sillo, an opera singer with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, while a similar concert also happens in the Hungarian village of Kunagota, in Békés County.

Since 2019 and the formation of Magyar Cymru, the links between the two countries have been growing. Kunagota is known as Hungary’s “Welshest” village, growing fond of Wales since Sillo, a Kunágota-born classical singer, returned to her roots from Cardiff and introduced Welsh hymns to the community a few years ago

In July 2020 people from across Hungary sent a video love letter to Wales called “Let’s Build Bridges”. It included Hungarians, some speaking in Welsh, describing their love for the landscape, history and music of Wales.

In January last year the residents of Montgomery sent their own video message back to Hungary, which went viral on social media and was featured on Hungarian national television. The unveiling of the Arany plaque was the first face-to-face celebration of the link that has been held since the start of the pandemic, but more events are being planned.

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