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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Ioan joins the Welsh elite
Ioan Gruffudd
Ioan Gruffudd wore traditional white robes - and a beard
Actor Ioan Gruffudd has returned to his homeland to join one of Wales' most elite cultural groups.

The 29-year-old star of Hornblower and Great Expectations was made a member of the Gorsedd of the Bards - the guardians of Welsh language and culture - at the National Eisteddfod.

Invitations to enter the Gorsedd - which literally means "high seat" - are given to figures who have made a distinguished contribution to Welsh language and culture.

The Welsh-speaking Hollywood celebrity - once voted the world's third most eligible bachelor - wore traditional white robes for the service at Wales' major annual cultural festival.

Alice Evans
Gruffudd's actor girlfriend Alice Evans enjoyed the ceremony

He received the honour in an early morning open-air service at the Gorsedd Circle at Welshpool, mid Wales, near the eisteddfod site in the village of Meifod.

"It's an incredible honour really," said Cardiff-born Gruffudd, whose early career included a role in the Welsh-language soap Pobol y Cwm on S4C, the Welsh version of Channel 4.

"I'm incredibly flattered and thrilled, but it's also a very humbling experience as well," he added.

The ceremony was watched by Gruffudd's family and his girlfriend, fellow actor Alice Evans, with whom he starred in the film 102 Dalmatians.

She described it as "amazing and very moving", although she admitted she hardly understood a word of the Welsh spoken.

There are about 1,300 members
Its first meeting wasn't in Wales... but in Primrose Hill, north London, in 1792
It first appeared at the eisteddfod in 1819
Bards were blue robes, ovates wear green and druids white
The Gorsedd is led by an arch druid, elected every three years
Bards gather on stage during certain ceremonies
Members have a bardic name related to their birth place
But she added: "The strength of feeling that was tangible in the air about Wales and belonging to Wales I thought was fabulous."

Other members of the Gorsedd include the new Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who joined last year when he was Archbishop of Wales.

Others include the Glamorgan and England cricketer Robert Croft, former rugby union stars Gareth Edwards and Ray Gravell, and opera star Bryn Terfel.

It was the 18th-century interest in all things Celtic saw the revival of the ancient druidic order of the Gorsedd of the Bards.

The enigmatic Iolo Morganwg - born Edward Williams in the Vale of Glamorgan, south Wales - was responsible for the establishment of the Gorsedd of the Bards.

This supposedly ancient druidic order was established in a ceremony at Primrose Hill, London, in 1792.

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