Although actually within Ceredigion rather than Pembrokeshire, Cardigan castle is within easy reach of Bluestone for a day out.
Cardigan Castle’s main claim to fame in Welsh history is that it was the birthplace of the National Eisteddfod.
It was in 1176 that Rhys ap Gruffydd, Prince of Deheubarth, held a festival of music in his castle, and the present-day week-long National Eisteddfod, which alternates between north and south Wales annually, is attributed to an 18th century revival.
The word Eisteddfod in literal translation means a ‘sitting’ from the Welsh word eistedd to sit and the verb bod (pronounced bode), meaning to be.
Rhys ap Gruffydd’s eisteddfod would have been a sumptuous session with feasting and offerings of poetry and song by bards and minstrels and maybe a stint by the odd jester, for comedy is by no means a modern phenomenon.
The castle dates back to at least the early 12th century, replacing a motte and bailey structure built a mile away around 1093, which was destroyed. The builder was Gilbert fitz Richard, Lord of Clare, who handed it down to his son, also Gilbert, First Earl of Pembroke, in 1136. In that year Owain Gwynedd defeated the Norman rulers in the Battle of Crug Mawr, burning the town up to the castle gate, the Normans managing to defend the castle. Thirty years later it was captured by Rhys ap Gruffydd, who rebuilt it in stone and who held his eisteddfod there. His sons disputed their inheritance upon their father’s death in 1197, one of the sons with wicked treachery surrendering his brother to the Normans and selling the castle to King John.
Prince Llywelyn the Great captured it in 1215, but the Normans recaptured it six years later, only to lose it to the Welsh in 1231 and regain it in 1244 when Earl Gilbert rebuilt the castle that stands near Cardigan Bridge to this day.
Badly damaged during the Civil War it was used only as a prison until the 18th century and, at the begining of the 19th century, a dwelling called Castle Green House was built inside its walls and was lived in until the1990s, although in disrepair from the 1940s. Ceredigion County Council bought the property in 2003 with plans to repair it as part of the regeneration of Cardigan. They have already carried out extensive repairs to Castle Green House, which has been restored to its former splendour.
For many years the castle walls were so unsafe that they were supported by massive timber buttresses, which did nothing to enhance the appearance of the southern approach into Cardigan town. The project was featured in the second series of the BBC documentary ‘Restoration’ presented by Griff Rhys Jones.
The castle stands guard over Cardigan Bridge and the harbour quays just downstream of it, where a flourishing maritime trade was carried on through the centuries and ships left regularly in the 18th century carrying emigrant families to the hope of a better life in America.