Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hughes, John Ceiriog
HUGHES, JOHN CEIRIOG (1832–1887), Welsh poet, youngest child of Richard and Phœbe Hughes, was born in the old family homestead of Penbryn, Llanarmon-Dyffryn Ceiriog, Denbighshire, on 25 Sept. 1832. Ceiriog (as he was familiarly called) traced his pedigree to Bleddyn ab Cynvyn, prince of Gwynedd and Powys in 1072. After attending school at Nant-y-Glog, he took unwillingly to agricultural pursuits. He was always reading, and it soon became evident that farming was not his vocation. In 1848 he spent three months in a printer's office at Oswestry, and in 1849 obtained employment with a grocer at Manchester, but shortly afterwards became a clerk in a large place of business in London Road, Manchester, where he remained sixteen years. Leaving Manchester in 1865, Ceiriog was appointed stationmaster, first on the Cambrian railway at Llanidloes, then in 1870 at Towyn, in 1871 at Trefeglwys, and the same year at Caersws. He appeared in public for the last time at the Holborn Town Hall on 11 Nov. 1886 in connection with the London National Eisteddfod. He was then in bad health, and died on 23 April 1887, aged 54. His remains were interred in the parish churchyard of Llanwnog, two miles from Caersws, Montgomeryshire. On 22 Feb. 1861 he married Miss Roberts of the Lodge, Dyffryn Ceiriog, by whom he had four children, two sons and two daughters.
His first prize for poetry was won at a literary tournament in Grosvenor Square Chapel, Manchester. In 1853 he won a prize at Nantglyn, Denbighshire, for the best poem in memory of Dr. W. 0. Pughe. In the London Eisteddfod of 1856 he won a prize for the best six stanzas on the Rev. John Elias (1774-1841), and another for a poem in memory of the heir of Nanhoron. About the same time he published the 'Barddoniadur,' and its strictures on Caledfryn, the greatest Welsh critic of the day, attracted attention in Wales. In 1856-9 Ceiriog
published his first satiric verses in `Yr Arweinydd,' of which Tegai [see Hughes, Hugh, 1805-1864] was editor. In 1856 he won a prize of 10l. for his pastoral poem 'Owain Wyn,' which is now recognised as the best pastoral in the language, although it failed to win a prize at an eisteddfod the year before. At the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1858 he secured the prize for 'Myfanwy Fychan,' which raised him to the first rank among Welsh bards. His first volume of poetry, `Oriau'r Hwyr' (Evening Hours), was published in 1860, Ruthyn, 2nd edit. 1861; 10l. was paid him for the copyright. His biographer says that between twenty-five thousand and thirty thousand copies were sold. In the same year he won seven prizes at the Merthyr Eisteddfod for seven temperance songs. His second volume of poetry, `Oriau'r Bore' (Morning Hours), appeared in 1862, Wrexham; his third, `Cant o Ganeuon' (A Hundred Songs), in 1863; 'Bardd a'r Cerddor, gyda Hen Ystraeon am danynt,' and 'Gemau'r Adroddwr' soon afterwards; `Oriau Eraill' (Other Hours) in 1868; `Oriau'r Haf (Summer Hours), in 1870; `Oriau Olaf (Last Hours) posthumously, edited by Isaac Foulkes, in 1888. The volumes published in his lifetime contain about six hundred songs. Of these a hundred are adapted to older Welsh airs, and modern composers have set the rest to music. He also wrote fifty songs for Brinley Richards's 'Songs of Wales,' London, 1873, and composed twenty-five sacred songs at the request of Ieuan Gwyllt and Owain Alaw. Ceiriog was the author of the original song for which Brinley Richards wrote the popular air `God bless the Prince of Wales.' Many of the articles in the 'Gwyddoniadur' (Welsh Encyclopædia) were written by him, notably that on Dafydd ab Gwilym, and he contributed four articles to the 'Traethodydd' (Welsh quarterly). He also wrote weekly for the 'Baner' for twenty-seven years, at first as Manchester correspondent.
Ceiriog is the best lyric poet that Wales has produced. His verse is always true to nature, always pure, always simple. Feeling that he owed much to the eisteddfod, he vigorously supported the institution to the last, and helped to improve its position in public estimation. There was hardly any eisteddfod of importance in recent years with which his name was not associated either as competitor or adjudicator. His adjudications were as a rule carefully written out, and are still greatly valued (see Cardiff Eisteddfod Transactions, 1883, pp. 126-45).[Memoir by 'Llyfrbryf,' i.e. Isaac Foulkes, Liverpool; four papers, 'Ar Fywyd ac Athrylith Ceiriog,' in Y Geninen, 1887-8, by 'Llew Llwyfo; `Preface to Brinley Richards's Songs of Wales, iii; prize essay by the Rev. Elved Lewis in Wrexham Eisteddfod Trans. 1888.]