The centenary of Iolo's death, 1926
Iolo Morganwg became a popular figure in Wales during the second half of the nineteenth century. Elijah Waring's biography, Recollections and Anecdotes of Edward Williams, published two years later, depicted Iolo as a learned Welshman of sound principles and unblemished character. Waring's volume also contained countless lively anecdotes which testified to his noble personality.
During the 1920s this heroic portrait of Iolo was demolished by G. J. Williams, whose research finally confirmed that Iolo had duped generations of scholars by attributing his own work to Dafydd ap Gwilym. Although G. J. Williams acknowledged the complexity of Iolo's motives and character, it was no longer feasible to rejoice in Iolo's honesty and his contribution to Welsh literature with the same confidence, even if the forged cywyddau had demonstrated his accomplishment as a poet.
The centenary of Iolo's death was commemorated in December 1926, a few weeks prior to the publication of G. J. Williams's study, Iolo Morganwg a Chywyddau'r Ychwanegiad. The main event was held at Cowbridge, and was organized by the National Union of Welsh Societies.
It was anticipated that celebrating the life and achievement of Iolo Morganwg would kindle renewed interest in the Welsh language and its literary heritage in Cowbridge and the Vale of Glamorgan. As a result, considerable emphasis was placed on presenting Iolo to the children of Cowbridge, while the commemorative tablet which was unveiled during the celebrations testifies to his contribution to his locality and his nation.
The National Union of Welsh Societies also used the Iolo centenary to pursue their aim of establishing new Welsh societies, and the inaugural meeting of the Cowbridge Cymmrodorion Society, held in January 1927, was formed as a direct result of the Iolo celebrations. Although the Society failed to survive for long in Anglicized Cowbridge, the Iolo centenary celebrations can be seen as part of the constant and wide-ranging activism of the National Union of Welsh Societies on behalf of the Welsh language in Glamorgan during the inter-war period.
Among those who remembered Iolo with admiration in 1926 was John Evans, headmaster at Heol-y-cyw and a regular contributor to the Glamorgan Gazette. Although he did not play a prominent role in the Cowbridge meetings, the following extract from his regular newspaper column captures the long-lasting appeal of Iolo Morganwg. Despite the popularity of the colourful anecdotes regarding Iolo, his tireless antiquarian labours for his country were repeatedly emphasized during December 1926. Iolo's moral principles and character continued to inspire John Evans and other admirers, which partly explains why it was so difficult for them to come to accept the complexity of G. J. Williams's new interpretation.
Every Vale native knows of Iolo, but few appreciate the Herculean services he rendered not only to Welsh, but also Celtic literature. Even in the Vale and all Glamorgan it has been too much the fashion to regard the sage of Flemingston as an eccentric who always went up and down the land accompanied by his little pony, which he never rode, and only utilised to bear his wallet of books and manuscript in turns with himself.
Iolo was an eccentric, but he was infinitely more - an emancipation of his race, an antiquarian and archeologist, richly endowed with the capacity and genius of painstaking [research], a poet of no mean merit, and above all an honest man of sterling worth, whom nothing or nobody could deviate an inch from the paths of virtue and rectitude. His 'Gorsedd y Beirdd,' 'Coelbren y Beirdd', 'Hynafiaeth Barddas', etc., will endure and be prized as long as Welsh, spoken or printed, remains extant. The Vale has known and is proud of other excellent men, Welsh, Norman and English, but Iolo, take him all in all, is without a peer, and his savoury name outlives, and will outlive them all.
The genial Professor G. J. Williams, lecturer at the Cardiff University, and the urbane Sir Vincent Evans, who promise us, or threaten, wonderful disclosures relating to Iolo's delinquencies in attributing his own work to Dafydd ap Gwilym, will not add an inch to their stature, nor detract an inch from that of good old Iolo, who eccentric and opinionated as he was, would hardly be sufficiently so to palm his wares on those of another, who had lived and flourished in the fifteenth century. When men condescend to forgery they always do the very reverse of what Williams and Evans allege Iolo did, and if they vowed their allegations till red in their faces, few, if any, will ever believe them. They may set afoot some such stunt as that of the Bacon-Shakespeare disputation, which might flare for a day and then flicker and die out.
Iolo, who knew the virtue of every herb in field and garden, is too firmly fixed on his pedestal among English and Welsh men of letters to be affected in the least by derogators, be they small or big fry. Iolo's 'Myvyrian Archaeology', . . . is in itself an imperishable monument to the integrity, industry and ability of its famous author, who though dead since December 17th, 1826, yet liveth and inspires a multitude, scattered all the world over.