Festival Interceltique – Unity and Celebration



Above: Poster advertising the 1971 event which became the Festivale Interceltique. Photo via Ouest-France.


Originating in 1971, with the aim of spreading the awareness and reach of traditional Breton music within the wider Celtic sphere, the Festival Interceltique de Lorient has now evolved into one highlights of the Celtic world’s cultural calendar.

However, the festival’s roots reach back much earlier than the 1970s. 1927 saw the beginning of the Festival de Cornouaille in Quimper, and the Fetes Folkloriques took place in Lorient back in 1955. The same town also held the Fête des ports Bretons in 1969 which served as a rallying point for the composite groups who were beginning to bring traditional Breton culture to a wider audience again. The event at the tail end of the sixties saw music competitions, including the traditional bagadou (Breton bagpipe band). The culmination of the event was a large street parade involving Breton music and dance with the participants in traditional costume – something which is repeated in the contemporary Festival Interceltique today with all the Celtic nations represented.


Bagadou (Bagad Kemper)

Above: Bagadou Kemper performing at the Festival Interceltique Bagadou competition.


The importance of the 1969 Fête des ports Bretons cannot be underestimated. It was the culmination of a united relationship between authorities in Lorient and the Bodadeg Ar Sonerion (BAS – The Assembly of Breton Musicians). The BAS’ role, in ensuring that traditional Breton music would survive and flourish now the last surviving traditional participants had been lost, needed the recognition of municipal authorities – and the relationship it began to build in Lorient was of real importance. It was the BAS’ need of a new venue for their competitions that provided further momentum for the establishment of the Festival Interceltique following issues in Brest. Their new relationship with Lorient  saw them move their events there.


In its first year, what we now know as the Festival Interceltique, was known as Fete des Cornemuses (The Bagpipe Festival – see poster at the beginning of this article) and saw the involvement of Alan Stivell. Stivell was not just a name in the Breton folk movement, but he had a wider Celtic following with his work in using the traditional Celtic harp in a range of contemporary pieces of music, and became involved in Celtic rock. Linked to the band The Dubliners, who had toured America performing Irish ballads and songs and received air play on Radio Caroline in the late sixties, thanks to their song ‘Seven Drunken Nights’, Stivell’s presence was a sign that the festival organisers were not just trying to provide a performing space to the traditional Breton folk music scene, but a more modern take on Celtic music too.



Above: Ouest-France reports on the very first festival in 1971.


The 1972 event was the first to be titled Festival Interceltique, and the poster (below left) highlighted the fact that Irish and Scottish performers were now taking part. By 1975, the advertising campaign (below right) alluded to the inclusion of Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, with the festival now extended to seven days. Over time, the participation of more Celtic nations with Galicia, Asturias, New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island included. Diasporic communities in the United States of America and Australia, who last year were the headline nation at the festival are also increasingly involved.



Poster for the 1972 event, the first to be known as the Festival Interceltique. Photo via Ouest-France


The first advertising to explicitly mention the inclusion of Cornwall, Isle of Man and Wales in the Festivale Interceltique in 1975. Photo via Ouest-France.













Many internationally renowned musicians and performing artists have given concerts at the Festival over the years, ranging from The Coors, The Cranberries and Sinead O’Connor. With the popularity of the event growing, Les Nuits Celtiques du Stade de France took place in the 81,000 capacity home of French football and rugby between 2002 and 2004.  Now running for two weeks and attracting over 800,000 visitors, the Festival Interceltique with its annual celebration of traditional and contemporary Celtic music, dance, art and culture is now arguably the leading gathering and rallying point for the Celtic communities and diaspora in the world.

NEXT WEEK: The 2017 Festival Interceltique


Bertho-Lavenir, K. (2012): ‘Beyond Folklore: The Festival Interceltique de Lorient’ in ‘Ethnologie Francaise’ Vol. 42 No. 4.

Cabon, Alain (2012): ‘The Festival Interceltique’: Editions Ouest-France: Rennes.

London Talk on the Social & Cultural Geography of Cornwall

On Tuesday of this week, I presented a short paper to an audience of around eighty people in Staines, South-West London entitled ‘A Cultural Geographer’s Guide To Cornwall’.

The presentation, which lasted just over half an hour, followed by questions was a whistle stop tour of Cornwall away from the tourist trail, examining seven towns and villages which play(ed) a major part in the social and cultural history of Cornwall, and were/are locations of radical social movements where work was done to preserve a sense of distinct Cornish identity and industry, which make the territory the place it is.

The talk included discussion on the strategic importance of Launceston (Lannstevan) before moving on to the village of Pelynt (Pluwnennys), where the role of the Trelawny family, notably Bishop Jonathan Trelawny and his imprisonment in the Tower of London following his petitioning along with other Bishops against James II’s Declaration of Indulgence in 1687 and 1688 was highlighted. Bodmin’s (Bosvenegh) importance, being the centre of three Cornish uprisings was then discussed before moving on to the mining industry in the area around Redruth (Resrudh), which included the development of the Mining Exchange and the work of William Murdoch who put together the first gas lighting. The talk then highlighted the cultural significance of Penyrn (Pennrynn), and Glasney College in terms of the written Cornish language, and being the location for the writing of the ancient mystery plays. Whilst concentrating on Penryn, the audience heard about Peter Mundy, son of a pilchard trader who, it is thought was one of the first Europeans to taste tea when he travelled in Asia. Mundy later returned to Penryn and wrote Itinerarium Mundi, one of the first travel guides written in the English language.



Above: Penryn, home of Glasney College and Peter Mundy.


No cultural and social discussion of Cornwall could be complete without mention of St. Keverne (Lannaghevran), and its most famous son, Michael Joseph An Gof, and the reasons behind his leading the Rebellyans Kernow of 1497. The final location mentioned in the paper was Newlyn (Lulyn), where the reasons behind the riots in 1896 were laid out, along with the explanation of the protest which culminated with the Rosebud trawler sailing up the River Thames to Westminster over the proposed Newlyn Clearances in the mid to late 1930s.

The audience were left with no doubt that there remains an inherent sense of injustice among the Cornish about their historic treatment at the hands of the English, something, which is still continuing today, and will be addressed further in my next paper which will be presented at the Gorsedh Kernow Conference at the beginning of September.

Use of Cornish Culture in Tourism – Conference Paper: Your Views Needed!


Cornish Culture & Tourism: A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow – Ben Gilby, Royal Holloway, University of London

Drawing on research of a multiple methodology nature, including primary data collection undertaken at five locations around Cornwall in February 2017, this paper examines the contentious use of Cornish culture as part of the territory’s tourist industry. Interviews with key stakeholders in the Cornish tourism, cultural, political and academic communities were undertaken in an effort to highlight the present concerns about how Cornish culture is portrayed to visitors and suggest potential routes towards a more authentic and sensitively managed future.

* * * *

I will be presenting the above paper at the 2017 Gorsedh Kernow Conference in Launceston on 1st September and would value the opinions of the readers of this blog on the following questions:

1) In your opinion how well does the Cornish tourist industry use Cornish culture (inc language) in their campaigns/attractions? Why?

2) What do you believe ‘authentic Cornish culture’ would look like as a tourist attraction?

3) Do you believe that groups such as Visit Cornwall, National Trust and English Heritage could deliver authentic Cornish culture as part of their existing sites/plans? Why? Conversely, would only a Cornish Heritage/Cultural group be able to offer an authentic Cornish cultural tourist attraction? Why?

4) Some people have laid considerable criticism at the door of existing groups for what is perceived to be a ‘Disneyfication’ of Cornish culture and identity. How do you react to this?

5) Are there any other opinions or observations on this subject that you wish to make?

All replies will be anonymised if used in the final paper – but I would appreciate it if I could use the name of the town/village that you live in, simply in order to look for any patterns in data by area. 





South-West London Infants Experience Speak Cornish Week!

As an ‘Exile’ living in the South-East of England and teaching in a Primary School part-time, it’s always good, when the opportunity arises to share some information with the children about Cornwall and its unique heritage and culture.

One such opportunity came about earlier this year, when I arranged for my school to become linked to Penryn Primary Academy – a scheme which is in its embryonic stages at present – but children from the two schools have already held several conference call telephone conversations with each other about life in SW London and Penryn, before we look to establish some curriculum links next year.

Speak Cornish Week

As we are presently in ‘Speak Cornish Week’, I wanted to see where we could fit a small event into one of my lessons this week in order to get our children writing and speaking some very basic Cornish. At present, Year One’s Geography topic is the United Kingdom and, after spending a week learning about London, the next scheduled two lessons for this class of five and six-year-olds was to look at a part of the UK which is ‘different to London’ – and the second of these lessons would, conveniently fall in the middle of ‘Speak Cornish Week’!

In the first lesson, we began in London, looking at Paddington Station where the children had to describe the sounds/sights they imagined might be in that picture. Then, thanks to a video clip of the train journey from London to Penzance (compressed into five minutes!), the class were able to describe how their view “out of the train window” changed over the course of the journey. We ended the lesson by looking at a map on the UK and the children had to colour in where London and Cornwall were situated in different colours (see photo below) – which is no mean feat when you are five or six years-old!



Above: The Year One children identify where London and Cornwall are on a map.


Yesterday afternoon saw the second lesson when I taught the children about some of the differences between Cornwall and London – the biggest of which, of course happens to be the presence of a different language! We looked at nine simple greetings or words with the children repeating the words back to me in Cornish. They then returned to their tables to take part in a Cornish Language Quiz where they had to find the right word in Cornish to answer the question and write it in their books (see photos below). The word ‘gras’ was chosen for “thanks” as opposed to the more common “Meur ras” simply as it was an easier word for children of such a young age who had never been exposed to the language before to use. You may also query the presence of a seemingly random Zebra in the picture! All of the classes in my primary school are named after animals, and our Year Ones are Zebra Class, so they wanted to know what the word ‘Zebra’ would be in Cornish!




Above: Examples of some of the written Cornish from the Year One children in SW London (5 and 6 year-olds).


Whilst next week’s lesson will see me move on to another part of the UK with the Year One children (we’re looking at Wales next!), I’ll try to see what they can remember next week and persuade them to use words like “Dydh da!” when I come into their class!!


Summer Event Ahead For Capital’s Cornish Diaspora



‘Wreckers By The River’ – next weekend’s Summer event for the Cornish diaspora in London.


London has been home to a large community of Cornish people or those with Cornish ancestry for several centuries, and next weekend sees a major summer event aimed at bringing together Cornish Exiles from the Home Counties on the banks of River Thames at Richmond.

‘Wreckers Wednesday’ is a monthly event in the capital which aims to bring the diaspora community, and indeed anyone with a love of Cornish culture together. Each evening comes complete with pasties brought up from the Homeland, singing, Cornish ales and the ever popular Meat Raffle. On Saturday 1st July, the group will be holding ‘Wreckers By The River’ at Richmond Boat House on the quay next to Richmond Bridge from 2:00pm to 8:00pm with a whole afternoon of Cornish entertainment planned. The London Cornish Shanty Singers will be making their debut appearance along with Hanterhir, the Cornish folk-rock band. Those coming along will also have the opportunity to learn some Cornish and go out on the Thames aboard a real Cornish pilot gig boat. As if this was not enough, there will be ‘proper Pasties’, Skinners ale and Cakey tea available.

Next Saturday’s arrangements are just the latest of a long series of events organised for the Cornish diaspora in London over the years.  Historically, the most high profile group in the capital have been The London Cornish Association, who were formed back in 1898. Their foundation was influenced by a dinner in 1886 which had been organised by a group of men from Helston living in London to celebrate the expected election of Mr Walter Molesworth St Aubyn to Parliament. The election result didn’t exactly go to plan with their man failing to succeed, but they went ahead with the dinner regardless!  It was such a success that it became an annual event.

It is hoped to see ‘One And All’ at Richmond next weekend and that news and photos from the day will appear in a future blog post.

For further information on cultural, political and social links between Cornwall and London, see the previous blog post entitled ‘Cornwall Connections Conference Review‘ dated 17th March 2016.

Murdoch Day – Celebrating Redruth’s Heritage

Given it is the town which is the source of my own Cornish ancestry, I will always have a major soft spot for Redruth. This Saturday (17th June) it will celebrate arguably the most famous person to be connected to the town.


William Murdoch

William Murdoch


William Murdoch, although born in Ayrshire in 1754 will always be synonymous with the town situated in the historic mining heartland of Cornwall. At the age of 23, Murdoch had begun to work in Birmingham under the steam pioneer James Watt, who rapidly became aware of Murdoch’s potential. Within two years, Murdoch was promoted to become an engine erector at Boulton & Watt’s business in Cornwall. With Redruth at the heart of the territory’s mining industry in this era, it was no surprise that Murdoch made his home in the town – a dwelling now known as Murdoch House, and located at Cross Street. Murdoch quickly became renowned for improving the steam engines in Cornwall’s tin mines.


Murdoch House

Murdoch House, Redruth


He next made a name for himself by developing steam locomotives. In 1784, he produced the first steam driven road vehicle. A replica of this vehicle, known as ‘The Murdoch Flyer’ was completed in 2007 and can be seen at Cornish steam rallies and also on Murdoch Day.

Murdoch Flyer

The Murdoch Flyer


Murdoch then progressed to putting together the first gas lighting anywhere in the world in 1792 – something Redruth remains famous for. Within a few years the method used in Redruth was copied for use on Westminster Bridge and throughout London.

In order to celebrate the incredible inventions of William Murdoch, alongside the special heritage of Redruth, each year, Murdoch Day is held to honour him. Schools and community groups dance and parade through the streets of the town from 10am and there is singing and many stalls. Additionally there will be parades of steam engines (of course, including ‘The Murdoch Flyer’), vintage cars, art installations, exhibitions and a full programme of live music on stage at Green Lane.


Murdoch Day

Murdoch Day, Redruth.




Can Any Political Party Offer Cornwall The Recognition It Deserves?

If anyone had any hopes that a flash General Election would result in the various political parties rushing to offer Cornish voters promises of a land of milk and honey, it was very quickly dashed.

The unexpected campaign caused Mebyon Kernow, fresh from an energetic Cornwall Council election campaign where they recorded a tally of four seats, to regretfully announce that they were not able to stand any candidates for reasons of both finances and extreme exhaustion from the group just coming out of a campaign for votes at Lys Kernow.

Therefore, who was to stand up for Cornwall against the disgraceful treatment it had gained at the hands of the Conservative Government, and indeed by its ‘own’ Conservative MPs?

Six days after Prime Minister Theresa May called the election, Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Dr. Merv Davey issued a timely rallying cry for the territory when he made his Proclamation speech on behalf of the bards in Launceston town square.

Davey highlighted the fact that: “Today it is our culture and heritage which is under threat…and there are still forces at large today that would deny us our Celtic, global identity and demote Cornwall to a provincial existence on the periphery of a so-called south west region.”

The example of local TV and radio failing to cover St. Piran’s Day celebrations, and indeed Gorsedh ceremonies are prime examples of neglect. Davey also observed how negative stereotyping by the media has led to intolerance and racism towards Cornish people. It is Cornwall’s unique culture and history which must, he argued, be used more than ever to counter these threats. The Grand Bard noted the potential of “some powerful democratic tools” that the Cornish have in their arsenal, “including recognition of the Cornish language, Kernewek, National Minority Status and the Devolution Deal which gives clear commitment to cherish and promote our precious Cornish culture.

Davey concluded: “Modern Cornwall is distinct for many more reasons than those laid down constitutionally. We have our musical culture, our folk traditions, Cornish dialect, our sports, our moors, coastline and our Cornish cuisine. The flagship for our identity is our Cornish language together with our membership of the community of Celtic nations that lies along the western seaboard of Europe, all of which is embodied in the recognition of the Cornish as a National Minority. Our landscape has a distinctive geology and history which embraces our world famous mining heritage. Cornwall is unquestionably recognised as a World Heritage Site and this goes hand in hand with our global perspective through the Cornish Diaspora. Such a fantastic heritage resonates with people of all ages and sets the scene for a contemporary Cornwall.

However – the question as ever remains, how can Cornwall gain further recognition of itself when the MPs that represent it go with their party first and constituents second? Several months of research that I carried out around Cornwall in winter and spring 2017 revealed not only a growing frustration with the present group of Cornish MPs (not helped by one of them being accused of calling for all funding for the Cornish language to be withdrawn and another incident where it was stated later how glad they were that foodbanks exist). At every site in Cornwall that I held interviews and focus groups, at least one person highlighted the fact the “the last proper Cornish MP died with David Penhaligon”. What was also abundantly clear was real anger that the situation was not going to change any time soon due to the extreme numbers of incomers in Cornwall completely skewing the Westminster election results in the territory.

Pressure on the government for change and recognition of Cornish needs is stymied by none of the territory’s MPs calling out their party for a total miscomprehension of Cornish issues and a blatant ignoring of the Framework Convention for National Minorities. The Conservative Party’s treatment of the Cornish under the Framework Convention should not be a surprise after Eric Pickles announced on BBC TV a few weeks ago that, as Local Government Secretary in the coalition government, he only backed Cornwall getting funding for Kernewek in exchange for the Lib Dems backing a separate policy and readily admitted that it “was a bribe”.

If Cornwall’s Conservative MPs won’t stand up for Cornwall’s individual needs, you would expect them all to be voted out today, right?

To be continued…

This is a topic that the blog will return to with examples of primary data once my research has received its final grade.