Gool Peran Lowen / Happy St Piran’s Day!

Hello readers! There has been a flurry of Cornish activity over the last week so this is a good opportunity to introduce a key player in contemporary Cornish identity: St Piran.

Kate and Piran flag

This is me with my Cornish flag my mother got me for Christmas! So, Thursday the 5th of March was St Piran’s day, and it is celebrated annually by parades, speeches, rallies and music events across the county – and across the diaspora too! St Piran is popularly regarded as the patron saint of Cornwall (although St Petroc and St Michael are also contenders for this title) and he also is the patron saint of tin-miners. Legend has it that his hearthstone was a a piece of tin ore, and the heat of the fire drew the silver metal out of the dark stone. This is represented by the white cross on the black background of the Cornish flag. The story of St Piran (or Peran in Cornish) is that he was a 6th century Irish saint who was tied to a millstone by the heathen Irish and thrown into the sea. However he didn’t sink and drown, but instead floated over on the millstone from Ireland to Cornwall where he landed on the north coast beach of Perranporth. However, the story also goes that he liked a drink and died by falling down a well.

One of the oldest places of Christian worship in the UK, the oratory was covered in sand and lost for hundreds of years, eventually emerging in the 19th century. However, in the 1910 it was encased in a concrete shell to protect it. This was eventually covered in sand itself, but in 2014 work was begun by the St Piran’s Trust to re-excavate the site and put in place a long term plan for its conservation. Amazingly the oratory is still used for religious services. Over Christmas I attended a carol service in the oratory, which was a moving experience.

St Piran's Oratory

ABOVE: The oratory before the carol service in December 2014. 

A march across the dunes to the oratory to celebrate St Piran’s day happens every year – and this year a special ‘Trelawney Shout’ was organised in almost 70 pubs across the county.  A ‘shout’ is the term for Cornish pub singing, and ‘Trelawney’ is Cornwall’s adopted national anthem, which deserves a blog post all of its own. At 9 pm on St Piran’s day, singers across the county (and even up here in London!) all sang Trelawney together as part of their St Piran’s celebrations. More celebrations were to be had though – on Friday evening (6th or March) I and some friends went to “Kernow in the City” – an event celebrating St Piran’s day for the Cornish in London. There were pasties and ale, singing and dancing, a Cornish quiz and a good time had by all.

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ABOVE: Slideshow of Cornish music at Kernow in the City: The Red River Singers, Dalla and The Oggymen

There is already a campaign to make St Piran’s day an official public holiday in Cornwall, provoking heated debates on Cornwall’s identity and government in comments sections across the internet. Perhaps there has been some inspiration from the Welsh here – in 2000 the National Assembly for Wales voted unanimously to make St David’s day (their patron saint) a public holiday. While Cornwall doesn’t have any level of devolution or self-government as yet, this is creeping up the political agenda with the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg pledging to create an elected Cornish Assembly as part of his campaign in the county. However, Mebyon Kernow, a left of centre Cornish political party, have been campaigning for more power within the county for much longer.

So – gool Peran lowen or happy St Piran’s day to you. Thanks for reading – comments, feedback and questions all welcome!