St. Piran’s Day in Penryn – A Tale of Two Extremes: Part I

I spent this year’s St. Piran’s Day in Penryn – quite apt given the town’s integral role in the history of Cornwall.



Above: Penryn, location of a St. Piran’s Day of two very different parts. (Author’s own photo)


The day would be spent being part of two different St. Piran’s Day events, firstly in a primary school within the area, and secondly, presenting some of the early research connected to my Cornwall Heritage Trust funded PhD on ‘The Cornish Language From The Late Eighteenth Century To The Early Twentieth Century”. The first part of the day working with children aged six and seven, the second presenting to a room full of people with a huge amount of expertise and experience in the field of Cornish culture, history and linguistics. Audiences probably don’t differ more than that!

In this first account of the day’s events, I will be focusing on the work done within a Year Two class, ahead of next week’s summary of the paper I delivered at the Institute of Cornish Studies’ Keskowsow event at the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter.

St. Piran’s Day may have dawned grey and wet, but it certainly didn’t dampen the excitement in the Primary School when I arrived to spend just over an hour working with a class of Year Two children. In the school hall, Cornish Pirates’ back-row forward Tom Duncan had come in especially to do some rugby activities with Key Stage Two pupils, and walking down the corridor there were the sights and smells of children making their own ‘splits’ to enjoy later that day – perhaps after the Pasty lunch that the canteen was providing for all pupils that lunchtime!

After the Lego fuelled fun of a wet playtime, the Year Two class gathered on the carpet to listen to me tell them a version of the St. Piran’s Day story, especially adapted for the day (Click here to access my PowerPoint of the St Pirans Story). The children were able to explain that St. Piran “was a very special person for Cornwall”, but were not aware that Cornwall was the only part of the UK who were celebrating his special day. Several recounted experiences of visits to St. Piran’s Oratory and describing how it appeared out of “lots of sand that was somewhere where you could get lost!” Particular enjoyment was had by the parts of the story where St. Piran performed some magical events – such as bringing harpists back from the dead, ensuring that his millstone floated on the water, and arrival of a cuckoo in November. St. Piran’s jovial and obvious love of life make him someone who instantly appeals to the young, and the children were very pleased that Cornwall’s saint was such a great, clever person. His character is one who provides children with a perfect starting point to learn about Cornish culture and history.

After the story, we moved on to learning some basic Cornish words and phrases. One of the children provided the example of “Myttin da” as the one Cornish word that he already knew. The class repeated eleven Cornish words or phrases out loud:

Dydh da = Good day (Hello)         Dyw genes = Goodbye

Myttin da = Good Morning           Nadelik = Christmas

Dohajydh da = Good Afternoon  Pask = Easter

Mar Pleg = Please                           Gool Peran Lowen = Happy St. Piran’s Day

Meur ras = Thank You                  Loundres = London

Kernow = Cornwall

The children were then given a sheet of paper with the words/phrases in Cornish on one side, and mixed up translations in English on the other, and I gave them the task of cutting them out, matching the words and then sticking them down into their books.

With the task at an end, two of the class came up to me exclaiming: “Learning Cornish is fun!” Hopefully these activities are just the starting point of ongoing work with the school over the coming months.

NEXT WEEK: Part II: – Keskowsow – Institute of Cornish Studies’ St. Piran’s Day Event.


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