Gorsedh Kernow Bards help keep alive Cornish identity
Saturday 5th September saw the staging of the 2020 Gorsedh Kernow Bardic ceremony at Lys Kernow in Truro. This event was originally to have been held at Bude-Stratton as part of the Gorsedh Kernow Esedhvos Festival there, which has been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although much reduced in size with usually over 200 bards attending, it offered the opportunity for the 22 new bards to be initiated and to remember those that had passed on during the last 12 months. Grand Bard Elizabeth Carne and her team did a wonderful job in organising this event and in solidarity the sun shone down.
Gorsedh Kernow began in 1928 with its first Gorsedh held at Boscawen-Un stone circle, six kilometres west of Penzance. Subsequently these events moved around Cornwall each year allowing east, west and central Cornish towns to participate. Boscawen-Un stone circle has been used a total of four times and the plen an gwari at Perran Round most times with a total of five.
Recent Bardic ceremonies have been held below Launceston Castle (2017), the Barrowfields at Newquay (2018] and in the plen an gwari at St Just in Penwith (2019). This ceremony now forms part of the wider Gorsedh Kernow Esedhvos Festival, which includes many other events and activities. These include a conference, awards ceremony, concert, other music and dance events and a range of other Cornish cultural activities.
At Gorsedh Kernow Bardic ceremonies you may see the Awen symbol meaning inspiration. It represents the attributes of Wisdom, Truth and Love.
Many people ask, who are these bards and what is Gorsedh Kernow? This is best answered in the words of Gorsedh Kernow themselves.
Preserving the history and culture of a Celtic people through poetry, song, dance, music, art, sport and spoken word stretches back to the story tellers – Bards of ancient Celtic countries.
Gorsedh Kernow, which means Cornish Gorsedh, exists to maintain and give expression to the national spirit of Cornwall as a Celtic country and in particular: To foster good relations between Cornwall and other Celtic countries; To promote co-operation and goodwill between those who work for the honour of Cornwall; To encourage study and use of the Cornish language; To encourage the study of Cornish history, literature, art, music, sport and related subjects, and the publication of works on such subjects; To support the holding of the Cornish Eisteddfod, known in Cornwall as the Esedhvos; To hold an annual Gorsedh Kernow Bardic ceremony.
Bards are elected by the Gorsedh Council and the honour of Bardship is awarded to people who have given exceptional service to Cornwall by a manifestation of the Celtic spirit or by service to Cornwall, to people who qualify by a high degree of proficiency in the Cornish language and people of distinction who, in the opinion of the Gorsedh Council, should be received as Bards of Honour.
Bards of Gorsedh Kernow are involved in many projects, such as teaching the Cornish language at evening classes and in schools; arranging the annual Holyer an Gof Publishers Awards for Cornish books; maintaining extensive archive material for future research; liaising with other Cornish cultural organisations, historical and modern, to foster renewed interest in Cornwall.
More information on Gorsedh Kernow and their activities relating to their work relating to preservation and encouraging growth and interest Cornwall's cultural heritage can be found at:
The revival of Gorsedh Kernow began in 1928 with the initiation of 12 Bards together with Cornwall’s first Grand Bard, Henry Jenner, (1848 – 1934). Strong links are maintained with other Celtic countries like Wales and Brittany and with Cornish Australians and citizens from other parts of the Diaspora, where some of the approximate 500 Bards reside.
Through groups, societies, events, competitions and ceremonies Gorsedh Kernow offers non-profit making support and education that upholds Cornish Celtic culture and history. Individually Bards also carryout activities as part of other organisations and groups in preservation and promotion of Cornish interests.
Learn more about Henry Jenner through this YouTube video presented by Pol Hodge, Deputy Grand Bard Gorsedh Kernow. In Kernewek with subtitles
The bards initiated in 2020 include those who have passed examination in Kernewek, the Cornish language and actively work to teach others. Besides these there are those that have carried out a wide range of activities and contributed many years of outstanding work for Cornwall and Cornish interests. Illustrated here are just some of this year’s 22 new bards.
Edward Bolitho the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall has been a wonderful ambassador for Cornwall. He supported very many organisations within Cornwall, including as President of Cornwall Heritage Trust, as well as carrying out his many other duties. Colonel Bolitho expressed his “great honour in becoming a Bard of Gorsedh Kernow”.
Possibly the most high-profile new bard this year is Mark Jenkin who filmed and directed the BAFTA winning film Bait, received with international acclaim. Bait brought Cornwall and Cornish issues to the fore helping raise Cornwall’s global profile.
Richard Trethewey of the Cornish group ‘The Rowan Tree’ has written and performed Cornish music, including in Kernewek and carried out a huge amount of charity work using his musical skills.
Three members of the ‘Old Cornwall’ movement were barded including Priscilla Oates a former President of the Federation who along with the others continue to carry out great work on behalf of ‘Old Cornwall’ who as a movement make great contributions to preserving and sharing Cornwall's heritage.
Claire Tripp who has headed up Azook, now based at Krowji, has for many years worked to preserve and share Cornish images and audio, such as the invaluable Ted Gundry collection of interviews.
Disappointment in not being able to hold this event with a fuller number of Bards attending, together with members of the public, was partially offset by being able to video stream this event around the world. I have written previously about the Cornish Diaspora, for them to be able to see this live as far away as Australia and elsewhere worldwide was appreciated by many thousands of its people. For the first time in many years BBC Spotlight filmed the Gorsedh Kernow Bardic celebration due to Mark Jenkin’s initiation. Mark spoke afterwards to the BBC saying “It means everything to me. To be recognised by the Gorsedh is a big thing, a celebration of minority culture, which is really important especially at the moment when everything is getting so homogenised and the Cornish always get lumped in with the English”.
Worldwide streaming of this year’s event was supported by FEAST Cornwall. There will be a resumption of normal activities next year at Bude-Stratton, which will be a public ceremony open to all. Events such as this Bardic ceremony and other Gorsedh Kernow and Cornish heritage organisations events contribute immensely to the celebration of Cornwall’s distinct cultural heritage, that makes Cornwall unique. The 2020 live streaming video can be seen by clicking the image on the left, more Godrsedh Kernow video's available to view at - https://gorsedhkernow.org.uk/videos.html
Gorsedh Kernow, Grand Bard Elizabeth Carne welcoming speech at the Bardic Ceremony at Lys Kernow, Truro
“Welcome to our special Bardic ceremony today. This is an unusual year and an unusual ceremony, with such a small number of Bards present. We are sorry that because of COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing the majority of our Bards are unable to be with us today and we hope they are joining us through the Live-stream. A special welcome to all of those near and far who are watching online.
This year should have seen us in Bude-Stratton for our Esedhvos and Bardic ceremony. Unfortunately, that has not been possible, but we very much look forward to being there in 2021. Gorsedh Kernow has held a ceremony every year since 1928, even during the War years, so it was important for us to be able to continue that tradition. We meet today to welcome our new Bards for 2020 and to remember those Bards who have left us this year, and we have lost some very special Bards since our 2019 ceremony, including Gwenenen, former Grand Bard, who is greatly missed.
2020 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Old Cornwall Society and there were to have been great celebrations during the year. We are pleased therefore to welcome as our special guest today the President of the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, Mrs Karin Easton. We hope that this recognition of the strong bond between Gorsedh Kernow and the Federation in some way makes up for the missed events.
In these unusual times we need to keep working for Cornwall. So many of our traditions and events have had to be cancelled, but we are still working to promote Cornish heritage and culture as well as the Cornish language. Our Awards and Holyer an Gof winners have been celebrated online this year but we shall be back in 2021.”