In recent years, January 25 has been the day Urdd Gobaith Cymru – Wales’ largest youth organisation – remembers the patron saint of Welsh lovers, Santes Dwynwen, with an event called ‘Cariad@Urdd’, encouraging supporters to ‘show the Urdd some love’.

In 2022, to celebrate the organisation's centenary, the day will coincide with two attempts to break Guinness World Records – the highest number of videos uploaded to both Facebook and Twitter in an hour. 

Across Wales, young people and their families, as well as whole classes of schoolchildren, will record themselves singing the iconic song ‘Hei Mistar Urdd’ and upload the results to social media.

Meanwhile, a special party – hosted by the presenters of children’s television show Stwnsh Sadwrn – will be broadcast live on BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio Wales.

But despite the light-hearted nature of this mass participation event, Urdd chief executive Sian Lewis is also keen to emphasise the serious message that underscored the founding of the ‘League of Welsh Hope’ one hundred years ago.

Initiated by Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards, the Urdd’s aim was to support the Welsh language by providing activities for young people in ‘sport, the outdoors, the environment’ – physical activities as well as arts and culture.

But it also came into being against the backdrop of the Great War, which had ended just four years previously. Sian Lewis says Sir Ifan’s experience of the first world war shaped his conviction that ‘waging war was not a way to achieve peace’. 

Since then, the Urdd has organised a Peace and Goodwill message, written collaboratively by young people in Wales. First shared in 1922, the message is unique and a worldwide first. Sian Lewis says: ‘It’s the only message of its kind that has been sent by young people to the world continuously every year without fail for a century.’ 

In many ways the message was ahead of its time, as ‘it is an invitation to learn more and to respond; not to preach and say how things should be but to encourage action – whether locally or on a larger scale.’

Today the message chimes loudly with the increased visibility of young people in campaigns for a better world. Lewis describes it as ‘an enabler, amplifying the voice of future generations to share their concerns to those in authority, to listen, to pause, and to consider their actions.’

READ MORE: The history of Urdd Gobaith Cymru and how it began

Last year’s Peace and Goodwill Message was translated into 65 languages and shared on social media in 59 countries, reaching more than 84 million people across the world, and attracted support from Welsh celebrities such as Michael Sheen, Matthew Rhys, Cerys Matthews, Jess Fishlock as well as former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has Welsh ancestry.

The centenary message will focus on the climate emergency and is currently being written collaboratively with young people from Aberystwyth University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Climate is also the focus for the transformation of the Urdd’s residential centre at Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire. When complete, Pentre Ifan will provide accommodation for 55 people, multipurpose meeting rooms, a green energy field kitchen, solar-powered catering and bathroom facilities, a kitchen garden and glamping facilities. 

Urdd chief executive Sian Lewis with its mascot Mr Urdd. An attempt to break the Guinness World Record will take place on the centenary by uploading the most amount of 'Hei Mistar Urdd' songs to social media.A computer generated image of the Pentre Ifan site

Sian Lewis says the focus will be on ‘inspiring and educating young people about their environment and how to be ethical citizens, by understanding the long-term impact of human actions on climate change.’

Stays at the centre will offer ‘a digital detox’ and ‘a safe place for young people to discover the simple pleasures of building shelters, forest bathing, camping under the stars, as well creating memories and nurturing friendships.’

There will also be the chance to grow and harvest food from a kitchen garden, beehives, and residents will cook and eat together in the ‘green energy’ field kitchen.

READ MORE: Podcast to support young Welsh readers and families

One clue to the continuance of a distinctly modern sensibility throughout the history of Urdd Gobaith Cymru – founded just four years after women aged over 30 were granted the vote – perhaps lies with an unsung heroine of its early days.

Mari Emlyn – who as well as being an author and an Urdd trustee is the granddaughter of founder Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards and his wife Eirys – says that her grandmother played a greater role in the founding and development of the Urdd than she has been credited with.

"I’ve recently come across a clip of my grandfather saying, unprompted, on a black and white television programme that he wouldn’t have carried on with the Urdd if it wasn’t for my grandmother," she says.

Later this year, Mari Emlyn will present a programme for S4C as part of the centenary commemorations about the early life of Eirys Edwards, born Eirys Mary Phillips in Liverpool. 

Urdd chief executive Sian Lewis with its mascot Mr Urdd. An attempt to break the Guinness World Record will take place on the centenary by uploading the most amount of 'Hei Mistar Urdd' songs to social media.Mari Emlyn is the granddaughter of Ifan ab Owen Edwards

"My grandmother was an accomplished artist and studied at the Liverpool College of Art," says Emlyn. "She was responsible for a lot of the cartoons in the early editions of Cymru’r Plant and her talent has been compared with that of Walt Disney!"

Eirys Edwards died when Mari Emlyn was seventeen and so she still treasures memories of a woman she remembers as "quite a character, very mischievous, laughed a lot. She loved everyone that respected the Urdd, but was a little less kind towards anyone who wasn’t a loyal fan!"

Sian Lewis and Mari Emlyn both express pride in the Urdd’s ability, over the course of a century, to reach out well beyond children whose first language is Welsh. Over half of current members come from non-Welsh speaking homes, and more than half of the schools who access the Urdd’s provision are not designated Welsh medium schools. 

READ MORE: Welsh language plan survey: more than half of respondents 'not interested in learning'

Mari Emlyn explains that Eirys Edwards also only learned Welsh after meeting her grandfather, and that this fact – the Urdd co-founded by a learner of Cymraeg – is a source of constant inspiration.

"I cannot help but think of the great work the Urdd continues to do with Welsh learners," she says, "whether it’s through schools, sporting activities, the gwersylloedd [camps] – or with its immense humanitarian work [such as] with [Afghan] refugees recently."

READ MORE: Urdd to welcome Afghan families offering food and accommodation

She also recalls her indebtedness to Welsh learners for her own Welsh language education. "There wasn’t a Welsh language secondary school in Cardiff when I grew up so I had to travel to [what was then] Mid Glamorgan. 95% of the pupils at Ysgol Gyfun Llanhari in the 1970s came from non-Welsh speaking homes.

"I feel indebted to all those non-Welsh speaking parents who entrusted their children to a Welsh medium education, recognising that the rewards would be far greater than the challenges for their bilingual children."

That many of those children, and their children, will be singing ‘Hei Mistar Urdd’ with a hefty dose of hwyl this Dydd Santes Dwynwen would surely have brought a smile to the face of Eirys Edwards, the original Mrs Urdd.

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