Ertach Kernow - Cornwall's Celtic Culture
One hundred and seventeen years ago A great Cornishman campaigned and won for Cornwall to be acknowledged as a Celtic nation. For Henry Jenner and for Cornwall this was a great success and in 2021 Cornwall remains a member of this pan-Celtic group of six nations.
In 1903 Henry Jenner visited Brittany to be made a bard of the Breton Gorsedh. It was during this visit he gave a speech in Cornish to the Union Régionaliste Bretonne advocating Cornwall be duly recognised as a Celtic nation. The majority of delegates voted to support Cornwall’s admission. Recalling the event later on, he commented "I tried the experiment of a Cornish speech on an audience of educated Bretons. They understood almost all of it. This helps illustrate the closeness of the Cornish and Breton languages.
In 1838 a Pan-Celtic Congress was held at the Eisteddfod in Abergavenny and gradually a Pan-Celtic movement developed. In 1901 The first major Pan-Celtic Congress was organised in Dublin. It was during the 1904 Pan-Congress in Caernarfon that Henry Jenner appeared to apply for membership on behalf of Cornwall, acceptance was confirmed with a telegram to him in Cornish. Later ‘The Celtic Congress’ was formed in 1917 with a view of reviving the Celtic Association and its Pan-Celtic Congresses. Prior to World War II its meetings were irregular, but in 1932 the first Cornish event was held in Truro.
By 1949 there had been a gap in congresses since 1938 and it was here the International Celtic Congress had in reality come into being. Events have been organised virtually every years since and have been rotated amongst the six member Celtic nations in turn. The International Celtic Congress is a pan-Celtic organisation that concerns itself with the culture of the participating nations. This includes the languages along with music, dance, literature and other aspects of Celtic intertest. Each congress includes a series of lectures by each nation in its own national language, the host nation has the choice of theme for those lectures. It is an opportunity for the host nation to showcase various aspects of its own nation through tours to places of interest. The International Celtic Congress and many of its six branches are charities and involved in education and sharing of their own national Celtic and cultural heritage. This acts to encourage preservation through creating wider interest in each nations tangible and intangible heritage.
These are not political organisations and may not appeal to those whose aims are directed towards independence from the UK union. However, the question might be asked as to what makes a nation, a line on a map or a sense of place with its own culture including its own unique language. If a nations language and culture is lost what is it and where is its soul that makes it a cohesive nation. Even looking north to our Scottish Celtic cousins, the SNP government has perhaps acknowledged this and agreed on re-election to increase funding and support for the Scottish Gaelic language. Some might suggest that it is through the gradual eradication of the various Celtic languages, especially in Wales and Cornwall, that England could best maintain control of its Celtic fringe. A more enlightened view would be to support culture including the languages giving those who would be most discontented less room to gain support.
With the programme of events now online and available Cornwall can announce its contribution to this virtual congress. This year’s theme is ‘How to be Successfully Celtic in the Modern Business World’ has Jeremy Gilbert the founder and Managing Director of St Justin, based in Penzance, providing the lecture. St Justin as many people will know is a successful producer of Celtic themed jewellery in many metals including pewter and tin and is internationally recognised for quality and its Cornish and Celtic themed products.
Entertainment is also part of each International Celtic Congress and Cornwall have been producing a number of videos for inclusion throughout the event. The COVID crisis has unfortunately prevented a selection of Cornwall dancing being shown, but we have been fortunate with a great selection of contemporary Cornish Celtic musicians singing in Kernewek. This is a terrific showcase for Cornish musical talent and also helps promote the Cornish language to a far wider and younger audience. It’s so good of these musicians to give their time and permission to share video footage in support of Celtic Congress Cornwall, through the Urban Kelt organisation based in Newquay that promotes Celtic music.
Contributions from musicians and bands include The Rowan Tree. This award-winning group have attended Pan-Celtic international festivals and are well known internationally. They have pushed the boundaries of traditional Cornish Celtic folk music. Minko a multi-instrumental singer-songwriter who has featured on a number of BBC Radio programmes and with support from Jarvis Cocker and Cerys Matthews composed a musical score for a BFI film, recently winning Kan Rag Kernow and representing Cornwall in the Pan-Celtic International Song Contest 2020. Ben Harris has been a trailblazer in introducing Kernewek to the Cornish Rock music scene over the past decade with his band Hanterhir. At the International Celtic Congress, he performs a solo rendition of ‘Arloedthes a’n Lydn’ from the groups album ‘The Saving of Cadan’ available on Easy Action Records. Brother Sea are a Celtic-folk duo bringing together two award winning songwriters, Kris Lannen and Richard Trethewey. Their music with its hypnotic vocals is accompanied by classic folk instruments creating a sense of awe and intrigue. Rosie Crow has toured Europe and the United States with various acts including Cyndi Lauper. Embarking on a solo career Crow released her highly acclaimed solo album. GQ calling it album of the month & ‘Crow was the ‘best thing to come out of Cornwall since Poldark. Will Keating self-produced his debut album ‘Cornwall My Home’ (Kernow ow thre), which was highly acclaimed. It celebrated songs by Harry Glasson. singing stories of Cornwall’s rich history and heritage recently being streamed worldwide via ‘The voices Of Borough Movement’, making Will a superstar of Cornish identity. Last but not least is Teylu a duo consisting of Molly Biscoe and Harriet Seed. Both grew up in musical families and have formed a strong friendship and musical bond. They write, practice and perform gigs together and are a new bright light in Cornwall’s musical world.
Mention and thanks is also due to Bryher Flanders the writer and director of Cornish language film Mowes for use of clips from the film to back Teylu’s song which appears in the film. A terrific short Cornish language film, which even if you don’t speak Cornish is fine as it’s subtitled. MOWES is a 'coming of age' story, filmed in Truro, about a sixteen-year-old girl who discovers that there’s more to where she grew up than she thought. The animated artwork used in the film was produced by Molly Biscoe giving it a dynamic and fun feel. Look out for the cameo role of Bert Biscoe.
The Cymru hosted international Celtic Congress is being held online from 2nd July and ticketing is by household rather than individually. Hopefully, many people from throughout Cornwall and the Cornish Diaspora will support Celtic Congress Cornwall and its efforts to showcase Cornwall in a positive light alongside our Celtic cousins from Alba (Scotland) Breizh (Brittany) Cymru (Wales) Eire (Ireland) and Mannin (Isle of Man). The range of lectures and entertainment, as well as language lessons and gatherings, for all six of the Celtic languages make this event a truly Celtic cultural experience.