Recent research for my MA Cultural Geography dissertation, alerted me to the book ‘The Celtic Revolution: A Study in Anti-Imperialism’ by Peter Berresford Ellis. Published in 2000 by Y Lolfa Cyf on Anglesey, the work is described as highlighting the six Celtic nations’ “fight for survival, their new self awareness and their significance in the world-wide struggle against centralism.”
Berresford-Ellis sees the modern day Celts as being peoples “struggling hard to survive and maintain their individuality in these days of increasing cultural uniformity” (2000: p12). The key to a common rallying point appear to be centred around preservation of language and against the increasing influx of in-comers with the consequential indigenous cultural dilution. It is interesting to contrast two particularly striking examples that Berresford-Ellis gives with the situation in Cornwall.
The fight that Bretons have continually faced in order to keep their own language appears to be strikingly similar to those in Cornwall. In 1902, the French government banned using Breton in churches, in a move many of those in the Duchy would recognise from the days of the Prayer Book Rebellion. Across the Channel, the Bretons refused to follow this edict and within nine years, the Federation Regionaliste de Bretagne and a Breton National Party was formed. More recently, 1977 saw the foundation of the Diwan schools in the territory. Initially formed by a group of parents, these educational establishments provide total language immersion in Brezhoneg for children the ages of 2-6. French language instruction then begins, but the school timetable is never more than a 50/50 split between Brezhoneg and French. In a survey from 2014, it was revealed that 3,854 children were attending such schools.
Berresford-Ellis also highlights the second-home syndrome in relation to Wales. Again, something the indigenous population in Cornwall will now be only too aware of. The author highlights the fact that “the existence in Welsh-speaking areas of 30,000 holiday homes, owned mainly by English families had been identified…as early as 1972 as a contributing factor to the decay of the (Cymraeg) language. By comparison, the areas had a council house waiting list of 50,000.” Sound familiar, anyone? Berresford pinpoints situations such as this with the gradual growth of Plaid Cymru and the beginning of their presence in Parliament. I think though, it is fair to say that it is highly simplistic to link Plaid’s parliamentary presence with this one situation,
So, two Celtic nations which have serious issues almost identical to Cornwall – but what an incredibly different reaction by the indigenous population. In order to get the Cornish language spoken in schools, we are faced with the situation of having to rely on the likes of MAGA to put resources together, which are not taken up by anything near a similar percentage of schools as the situation in Brittany. The question remains, is it possible for Kernewek to get a greater foothold in Cornwall’s schools? If not, why not? Is it possible for there to be a strong political reaction to the amount of second home owners resulting in a surge in Cornish nationalism in politics (through Mebyon Kernow?) Again, if not, why not?