The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part IV

The Nation State and Internal Colonialism

Keating (2001) suggests that literature focusing on groups such as the indigenous Cornish is inherently written from “a hostile or patronizing perspective. Minority nationalisms are dismissed as archaic, narrow-minded and ‘ethnic’” (p xii). Conversely, there are theorists whose views would support the fact that Cornwall’s history may qualify it to be a territory which could be described as a separate nation state.

Cobban (1969) [1945] believed that a “nation is a community which is, or wishes to be a state” (p 108), with UNESCO providing a more detailed definition of a nation-state as being one where “the great majority are conscious of a common identity and share the same culture”. Here, the emphasis is on having a large group of people with a separate culture as being the crucial aspect of being a nation state, and members of Cornwall’s indigenous community would argue that they can be categorized into this group. Where problems arise is in the crucial addition of the phrase ‘great majority’ in UNESCO’s classification. It is questionable whether most inhabitants of Cornwall would identify themselves as being of a common (indigenous) identity, something which is made even more tenuous by the amount of in-migration into the territory, which has led to one academic calculating that this group accounts for approximately 60% of Cornwall’s population (M1: New: 13 February 2017). Hobsbawm (1990) has highlighted the fact that “the word nation…mean(s)…people belonging to a state even when not speaking the same language” (p 17) which emphasizes the increasing difficulty of effectively classifying Cornwall.

There is also a question mark on whether Cornwall self-identifying as a nation state would lead to anything more than increasing the “hostile and patronizing” reaction that Keating observed at the opening of this section due to the highly limited powers of a nation state compared to a sovereign state. Here, the diverging path is all about an emphasis of power, with a sovereign state defined “as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states” (Shaw: 2003: p 178). At the present time, Cornwall has no form of self-government and is wholly dependent on the power of the wider English nation, a situation which Hechter (1999) would recognise as Internal Colonialism.

This term was first referred to by Russian populists to “describe the exploitation of peasants by urban classes” (p xiii) before being used later to highlight the “economic underdevelopment of certain Russian and Italian regions” (ibid p xiv). On a wider scale, Hechter argues that the most prominent adverse impact of Internal Colonialism on the Celtic regions of the United Kingdom is caused by the English (or more specifically the Westminster government) imposing policies which had the perceived impact of making the Cornish, Welsh, Scots and Irish economically dependent on England. This is something which, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s with the final death of the historic mining regions of Cornwall and Wales only became more pronounced (Payton: 1992, 1993, 2004).

The economic impact of Internal Colonialism can also be seen in terms of reduced investment in infrastructure. Hechter (1999) highlights the fact that “peripheral rail routes are only built to suit English centres of production” (p 149). Proof of this can be seen with a glance at the Cornish rail network, which could at best be described as withered. Major towns such as Launceston, Wadebridge and Bude do not have stations, and a bus trip to these places can involve a very long journey.

Reactions against perceived impositions of Internal Colonialism occur primarily when “the cultural identities of regions begin to lose social significance” (ibid p 3), and there are those who would argue that the time is ripe for this reaction to gather momentum within Cornwall. This can lead to what Hechter (ibid) has termed peripheral sectionalism and involves a gradual momentum towards self-determination. The presence of political, cultural and linguistic distinctiveness are the main driving forces behind such movements. Whilst the vast majority of indigenous Cornish will not seriously consider independence from England, they do invoke their history as a separate territory, with the badge of vastly different cultures and language to emphasise that “Kenedhel heb tavas yw Kenedhel heb kolon” (“A man who loses his tongue has lost his land” [M: Interview]).

Nairn (1977) has argued that a potential move towards self-determinism is long overdue in order to bring about “the extremely long-delayed crisis of the original bourgeois state-form” (p 19), which is akin to a “slow motion landslide” (ibid p 68). He believes that, in order for the landslide to gather pace, a wider “political baptism of the lower classes” (ibid p 41) is necessary. This view, it can be argued is finally bearing fruit in other Celtic regions of the United Kingdom at the present time as Scotland pushes for a second independence referendum, just three years after their previous one, and Cardiff has a developing Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru (Welsh Assembly). Yet in Cornwall, the trees remain bare of fruit. Despite a petition signed by over 50,000 people (approximately 10% of the territory’s population at the time) being handed into Downing Street in 2001 pleading for a Senedh Kernow (Cornish Assembly), the then Labour Government refused to yield, despite their commitment to English devolution after transferring some legislative powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Deacon et al: 2003). Why was it that Cornwall failed?

Billig (2010) may well reply that this was because too many people in Cornwall display what he terms as Banal Nationalism. For him, this is “not (the) flag which is being constantly waved with fervent passion; it is the flag hanging unnoticed on a public building”. For every 10% of the Cornish population that signed the Senedh Kernow petition, Billig would point to the 90% who did not. However, Joseph (2004) criticises Billig for neglecting to take into account a nation’s history, especially their “particular interpretation of recorded events” (p 118). For Joseph, the Cornish flag hanging on the public building would not be unnoticed, rather it is a signifier of a separate past, which could be used to build towards a separate future. This future is one which would depend on what path the indigenous people would follow, due to there being a distinction, as Snyder (1976) observes, between patriotism, which is “defensive, being based upon a love of one’s country” (p 43) and nationalism, which “takes on a quality of aggression that makes it one of the prime causes for wars” (ibid). Once again, we see a clear demarcation between Cornwall and its Celtic cousins, with historically, a notable lack of a widespread nationalist movement among the Cornish. Gong (2016) notes the influence that Celtic terrorism movements from the IRA in Ireland, to Wales’ Meibion Glyndwr and the Scottish Socialist Republic League have had (to these, I would also add the actions of the Front de Liberation de la Bretagne in Brittany), and queries whether the absence of a major Cornish resistance movement is seen as an excuse for Westminster to treat the territory with continued inertia with regard to devolved powers. Where there was a Cornish movement, An Gof in the 1970s and 1980s, they failed to carry out large atrocities either within Cornwall or across the River Tamar border. Gong questions what it would take for the Cornish to mobilise a force in larger numbers to be taken seriously and comes to the conclusion that it is unlikely to.

It could be argued that there is sufficient evidence for internal colonisers to excuse their refusal to release the grip with which they hold Cornwall even slightly. They would point to lack of a coherent indigenous community agitating for change which is born out by the total failure of the territory’s own political party, Mebyon Kernow to receive more than 4.2% of the vote in any constituency in a General Election (Democracy Cornwall: 2010 & 2015) and a cultural scene and language made up of reinvented parodies of ancient events, as an example of an area in a total state of confusion or delusion about its self-identity.

However, I would profoundly disagree with this sentiment. Cornwall has every right to identify itself as a nation. It meets every one of Kadchi’s Fundamental Tests of Nationhood (1985) [1951] due to there being “a separate historical past at least as ancient…as the surrounding land, an entirely different linguistic entity and a territorial inhabitation of definite areas” (p 904). Equally, the campaign of hostility and patronisation identified by Keating (2001) is an example of the oppressor:-

“weakening the oppressed to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them…by varied means, from the repressive methods of government bureaucracy to the forms of cultural action” (Freire: 1983: p 122).

Whilst there is very little appetite within Cornwall for an armed resistance campaign, there are growing movements led by cultural group Kernow Matters To Us (KMTU) to protest in more prominent ways than before due to major concerns about Westminster’s lack of understanding of Cornish issues. KMTU organised a protest against the proposed imposition of a cross border Parliamentary Constituency on 30th October 2016 which blocked the border between Cornwall and Devon at Polson Bridge, just outside Launceston for most of the day (see later section for a detailed discussion of KMTU’s influence). Hundreds of protesters waved anti-English placards and sung traditional Cornish songs.

NEXT WEEK: Social Identity Theory, Sonic Geographies and Sonic Exclusion. 

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part III

Cultural Identity Theory

Cultural Identity Theory is “generated by political antecedents; the possession of…collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past (Mill: 1972: p 391).

The history of Cornwall is one full of pride. Whether it be the stirring tales from the Prayer Book Rebellion and the march to Blackheath (Payton: 2004, Parker: 1998, Rowse: 1941), or, in more modern parlance, the achievement of what those in Cornwall consider to be the Cornish ‘national’ rugby union team in making Twickenham finals in the County Championship (Gregory: 1991, Clarke & Harry: 1991). These battles have ultimately led to what Mill suggests is, a “humiliation” of losing a widely spoken indigenous language and eventual subjugation by the English in terms of culture, industry and finance.  Yet, indigenous Cornish people would never use the term of humiliation to describe their past. In my experience, the overwhelming emotion is pride in their sense of a different identity, and in talking about how it can only be a matter of time before more Cornish people join together to regain some of what they have lost.

Benedict Anderson’s theory of the ‘Imagined Community’, one in which “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members (Anderson: 2006: p 6), could see Cornwall as an example of a “sub-nation… which, naturally, dream(s) of shedding this ‘sub-ness’ one happy day” (ibid p 3). Anderson also highlights a number of social phenomena which has prevented Cornwall from asserting its perceived separate identity – notably the absence of widely read print media publishing in Kernewek, something which is still the case today – which he presents as the consequence of “print-capitalism” by the English language in “creat(ing) languages of power” (2006: p 45), and associated argument that “in 1840, even in Britain…almost half the population was still illiterate” (ibid p 75). With virtually all of the printed material in Cornwall in this period being in English due to it being the language of commerce (Kent: 2000), it became increasingly important for the Cornish population to read and write in English rather than Kernewek. Anderson also believes that education being controlled by the wider state led to “cadres for governmental and corporate hierarchies” (2006: p 116). Among my respondents in Cornwall, several pointed to the consequences of a Westminster imposed National Curriculum which offers limited scope for studies in Cornish history and language, leading to Cornish schools being no more than what Anderson has termed  “state sponsored lycees” (2006: p 127).

Yet, where Anderson’s observations run into problems are the wide differences between Cornwall and the United Kingdom’s other Celtic regions. Unlike Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, Cornwall has no indigenous language newspaper or television stations. In 1998, Westcountry Television, ITV’s South-West England franchise holder broadcast a half-hour series, Kernowpalooza entirely in Kernewek (Harvey et al: 2002), but this remained a short-lived experiment, and no Kernewek is spoken on television at the present time. Why have other Celtic regions been able to break through of the chains imposed in Anderson’s narrative? Generally because of varying degrees of devolution that have been given to them, including Brittany, and the Isle of Man’s status as a Crown Dependency. The Government may point to doing a devolution deal with Cornwall Council in July 2015 (Department for Communities & Local Government/Department for Business and Skills: 2015), but this does not include a Senedh Kernow (Cornish Assembly) and crucially contains little or no powers over housing, education, media and transport – which means there can be no provision for adapting the National Curriculum or actively protecting the rights of indigenous Cornish people over access to affordable housing. Anderson has also been criticised by Joseph (2004) for ignoring the fact that “national identities shape national languages…very profoundly” (p 13). This view has parallels with the situation in Cornwall. Whilst it is perfectly correct to state that Kernewek is a language where words have been borrowed from Cymraeg (Welsh) and to a lesser extent Brezhoneg (Breton), it is equally important to recognise that there are perfectly good reasons for this. Cornwall’s gradual growth of its indigenous identity, as a possible reaction to geopolitical and social issues, has meant that in order to evolve and reflect modern phenomena, it has needed to intertwine with its fellow Brythonic Celtic regions. The fact is that the demand to create new words in Kernewek has to have been present in order for it to occur, something which Anderson does not consider in depth within his study.

Whilst Cornwall may see its separate culture and history from England as one of its defining arguments in establishing itself as being more than another part of the South-West, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s work, ‘The Invention of Tradition’ (1983) sets out to highlight the contradiction of many cultural rituals not only being more modern than many believe, but also being modified or invented versions of events by disparate groups. Hobsbawm and Ranger attempt to place all invented traditions into three groups – “those which establish or symbolise social cohesion, establishing or legitimising institutions or states and those which concentrate on the inculcation of beliefs, value systems and conventions of behaviour” (ibid p 9). They highlight what they see as the spurious actions of the Welsh in recreating the Eisteddfod after over 500 years in abeyance (ibid p 56-57), Irish ballads being ‘transferred’ to Scottish settings to create Scottish folk songs (ibid p 17) and the questionable reintroduction of tartan and kilts into Scotland (p 19-22). Added to this is the status of the Cornish tartan, which was created in 1963 by E.E. Morton Nance (Cornish Culture Association Guide: 2015) and, indeed the St. Piran’s Flag (more commonly known as ‘the Cornish flag’), which was described in 1838 in the work of Davies Gilbert, who also notes its similarity to the family shield of the Saint-Peran family of Brittany, a land which has had historic trading links with its Celtic cousins in Cornwall for centuries (Gilbert: 1838: p 332). It is worth pointing out that Hobsbawm and Ranger do not just provide examples of Celtic nations as exhibiting invented or bogus traditions as part of national identity; they also investigate the roots of the British Monarchy’s ceremonial pageants.  For Hobsbawm and Ranger, invented traditions are caused by a clear desire, often coming out of a time of crisis for the cultural group or nation where its:-

very lifeblood…was ebbing away. It required a superhuman effort by a small        number of patriots to force their fellow countrymen to appreciate their    heritage…(by) ransack(ing)  the past and transform(ing) it with imagination (ibid p99).

At the turn of the 20th century, a concerted campaign to revitalise Cornish culture and identity centred around receiving recognition that Cornwall had a Celtic past (D.R. Williams: 2004). Made a bard of the Goursez Vreizh (Breton Gorseth) in 1903 for his work on the Cornish language, Henry Jenner sought Cornwall’s entry into the Celtic Congress, something which was finally accepted in 1904 (Lyon: 2008). The influence of the Goursez Vreizh, the Welsh Gorsedd and Eisteddfodau convinced Jenner that Cornwall should begin its own bardic community, or Gorsedh. Following almost exactly the ceremonies he had seen in both Brittany and Wales, he held the very first Gorsedh Kernow ceremony at Boscawen-Un in 1928 (D.R. Williams: 2004), when he and twelve other Cornish bards were initiated by the Welsh Archdruid (ibid). Eleven years later full bardic robes and regalia, directly modelled on the Welsh robes were introduced (Lyon: 2008 & D.R. Williams: 2004). If the Welsh Gorsedd was a highly modified version of a ceremony from the twelfth century by Iolo Morganwg, then some may venture that the Gorsedh Kernow ceremony was a copy of the ‘new’ Welsh version.

Finally within this section, there needs to be examination of regionalist discourse. Bourdieu (1991) stated how this is a “performative (one)…which aims to impose as legitimate, a new definition of the frontiers to get people to know and recognise the region” (p 223). Here we need to differentiate between performative in the shape of active regional arts and culture, and performative in terms of using an indigenous language. Whilst the arts may provide the widest possible entry point into a culture due to there being no language barriers and, potentially no detailed knowledge of indigenous history required (at least at the level of someone observing the culture, if not fully immersing themselves in it), a language as part of this culture is an extremely important additional component. Joseph (2004) states: “Language and culture are like ‘republics’ populated by words in the one case and ideas in the other” (p 108). I would go further by suggesting that language and culture need to be part of the same republic. Cultural and linguistic groups need to be as one in promoting identical messages and symbiotic events in order to build authenticity and the strongest chance of succeeding. Joseph also touches on the topic of membership of a particular nation – something which is vitally important in the narrative of my Methodology chapter in particular. He states:-

The two basic senses of ‘nation’ can never really coalesce. For them to do so, no-one but members of the nation-by-birth would inhabit the national territory, and no members of the nation-by-birth would live outside the territory (ibid p 92).

Therefore, can a nation be truly authentic unless the only people that live in it are born there and remain there? If you believe this to be true, then every single person who moves into an area acts as a diluent to indigenous culture (Deacon: 1984), and therefore there can be no real sense of an authentic national identity and culture in the vast majority of the world’s nations. Hecht et al’s Communication Theory of Identity (2001), provides additional elements to consider. By dividing an identity into four distinct parts (personal, enacted, relational and communal), there transpires a method by which a single person could act in different ways depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves – whether on their own, in language use and in relation to other people or groups. Nationalist Cornish people, I suspect would find it difficult to comprehend how someone could operate on a different level of identity depending on who they were with or where they were, yet it does provide some explanation for the phenomena of non-indigenous Cornish people moving into the territory and beginning to learn Kernewek and/or actively participate in local cultural groups. If such in-comers met up with friends or family from where they used to live before moving to Cornwall, you would not expect them to speak Kernewek to them or necessarily indulge in Cornish cultural pursuits with them – they would more likely be talking in English, perhaps even in the regional dialect of their previous town about issues closely related to their former home. Yet when around their local acquaintances in Cornwall, it would be more probable that their interest in Cornish cultural or language issues came to the fore.

NEXT WEEK: The Nation State and Internal Colonialism.

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 – Part II

Introduction Section II: Contemporary Identities in Europe – Politics, Culture and Language

This research project has its roots in both a session I chaired at the 2015 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference at the University of Exeter entitled: ‘The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe’ (RGS-IBG: 2015), and the ‘Cornwall Connections’ conference that I co-organised with the Institute of Cornish Studies, which took place in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London in March 2016.

The session at the 2015 RGS-IBG Conference gathered together researchers who were studying European regions such as the North of England, Cornwall, Catalonia, Veneto and Brittany. The topic was particularly relevant at the time that the session took place as Catalonia was several weeks away from launching another bid for secession from Spain and the Lega Nord had enjoyed success in Italian regional elections a few months previously which saw it become the largest party in Veneto (with Luca Zaia becoming President of Veneto) and the second largest party in Lombardy (Consiglio Regionale del Veneto). Session delegates such as Professor Klaus-Jurgen Nagel and Professor Fabrizio Eva, argued that these events were partially explained by the indigenous populations becoming concerned about the dilution of their separate identities and a lack of comprehension of regional issues from the national government. These parallels were voiced in the vast majority of the other presentations during the session, and in the examples given by the audience in the question-and-answer section where additional examples of regional identities in Germany, Canada and Australia were provided.

Held six months later, the Cornwall Connections Conference focused on social and historical links between Cornwall and London, with a particular focus on geo-politics. There were several papers which dealt with a Cornish sense of maltreatment from Westminster, and how this has manifested itself within London-based Cornish cultural groups, and those within the territory agitating for change. The parallel arguments which emerged from these two conferences prompted a desire within me for further investigation.

As I began to study the issues during the summer of 2016, I saw the need to examine closely paradigms around reactions against internal colonialism, sonic geographies (including sonic exclusion) and the expression of regional or quasi-national identities through culture. It was very apparent that, regardless of which particular region that my own research would focus upon, it would act as a bridge towards territories which were experiencing similar situations. The essential dichotomy that these regions have, is how to solve the problem that Moreno (2002) has termed “the dilemma of nationalities” (p 399). The populations of such territories are made up of those that are ultra-nationalists/secessionists, a second group who feel they belong more to the wider nation of which their region is part, and a final one who have no strong feeling either way. The debate heard at the RGS-IBG conference session in 2015 suggested that more people were being swayed by the secessionist opinions.

So, what were the events that led to feelings of diluted regional identity? How exactly were national governments ignoring the needs of their regions, who were the people amplifying regional frustrations and what techniques were they using to amplify it? Looking at Catalonia and Veneto, these issues were a perceived increase in EU migration and difference in the amount of money that the national government was taking from a region in taxation and the amount that was coming back in terms of investment (Eva: 2015 and Nagel: 2015) Figures from 2014 suggest that Catalonia alone is responsible for 19% of Spain’s total GDP but only receives back 9.5% of total government spending (Agència Catalana de Notícies – Catalan Government News Agency). Where this particular region has succeeded is in terms of a well-organised ‘Catalanizing’ agenda led by a large middle class group which crucially included the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie (Keating: 2001 and Miley: 2013). Having such an influential group of people driving the Catalan argument has led to the Convergència i Unió (CiU) political party being able to launch a hugely successful coalition known as JxSi – Together for Yes! The group only missed out on an overall majority in the Catalan parliament by eleven seats in September 2015 (Generalitat de Catalunya – Catalan Government). Such movements have ensured that the Catalan is the main language used for teaching in the territory’s schools, although at present this is under threat from the Spanish government (Agència Catalana de Notícies – Catalan Government News Agency).

Within Cornwall, there are similar concerns over indigenous identity, finance, government policy and migration (although, crucially, this is migration from other parts of England rather than the EU as a whole). Trotsky (2017) [1932] believed that change could only occur when the masses entered forcibly into the realm of rulership over their own destiny. To achieve this, it would be necessary for those agitating for change to have degree of influence within the fields of education, language, religion and the media in order to formulise what Gramsci (1971) termed passive revolution. Historically, Cornwall’s middle-and upper-class owners of mines and land in Cornwall during the 18th and 19th centuries turned their backs on Kernewek in order to trade with businesses across the River Tamar, which meant having to learn English. If the drivers of an economy embrace a different language, and consequently a different culture, then a dominant voice in a region disappears. Equally, religion was not going to come to the aid of the Cornish, and indeed, it played a major role in the loss of Kernewek as a widely spoken language due to the imposition of the Book of Common Prayer.

Only since 2004 has the territory had a university, and, indeed, the joint University of Exeter/Falmouth University campus at Penryn does not contain a Celtic Studies department – a situation which marks Cornwall as the only Celtic region not to have such a faculty within a university in the territory. This historic lack of a higher education institution meant that it was impossible for any sort of radical debating venue for the educated elite of the territory to be established. Allied to this issue is the status of Kernewek in schools. Cornwall does not have devolved government in the way that Scotland, Wales and Brittany do. Consequently, there can be no indigenous language policy without it being agreed by the Westminster parliament, which would involve amending the National Curriculum to include provision for Kernewek language teaching (see later sections).

Closely linked to position of democratic deficit is the political situation in Cornwall. The territory’s own political party, Mebyon Kernow has historically struggled to gain both publicity and votes in Westminster elections, unlike their related parties in Scotland and Wales. Indeed, in no constituency did they gain more than 2% of the total vote in the 2015 General Election (Democracy Cornwall: 2015). This fact has meant that very little pressure can be applied on a national level to the government if the party performs so badly in elections. Interestingly, Cornwall’s most celebrated politician – David Penhaligon, along with others such as Andrew George and Peter Bessell, left Mebyon Kernow to gain electoral success (Penhaligon: 1989). The consequences of a lack of political pressure being applied by a Cornish political party at Westminster for recognition and change has also been reflected in the 2017 Compliance Report from the Advisory Committee on the Council for Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities which was critical of the government’s treatment of the Cornish (Morris: 2017 and Doronieth Kernow). The report expresses major concerns about the Conservative Party’s removal in funding for Kernewek, the potential imposition of a cross-border Cornwall/Devon parliamentary constituency in the present Boundary Commission Review and the Cornish people’s inability to self-identify as Cornish in National Census. The report also criticises English Heritage for the way they have persistently distorted Cornish history (Doronieth Kernow see also later sections) and both BBC and ITV for their minimal profile of Kernewek but also a lack of coverage of Cornish news stories (compared to ones highlighting events in Devon).

NEXT WEEK: Literature Review – Part I: Cultural Identity Theory.

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 – Part I

I am now in a position to begin publishing extracts from my MA Cultural Geography dissertation entitled The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017. It is rather a long piece of work, and so will be broken down into many separate parts, published here over the next month or two.

This week, we begin with the first of a two part introduction which attempted to set the scene.


“Medh den heb davaz a gollaz i dir”

(T. Price: 1858: p 23)

Brezhoneg phrase which translates as “A man without language has lost his land”

Cornwall has had a historically complex and often tempestuous relationship with England. As the author and playwright Alan M. Kent observes, “It is and is not an English county. It is and it is not mentioned in the same breath as Wales, Scotland and Eire” (2000: p11). The territory had its own kings and spoke a different language.

Throughout history, the Cornish people have fought battles against the people of England. An early example of this was seen in 1497 when thousands of Cornishmen, led by Michael Joseph an Gof (the Smith) marched to London in protest at the raising of taxes by Henry VIII to fund a war against Scotland – a country with which the Cornish considered themselves to have a closer relationship than England (see Payton: 2004, Parker: 1998). During the English Civil War, Cornishmen joined the fight against Parliament (Payton: 2004, Rowse: 1941, Stoyle: 2002). At this time, the Earl of Essex and the Roundheads were forced to retreat when invading the territory with the consequence that 6,000 out of the original 7,000-strong Essex army were killed or taken prisoner (Knight: 2016). There is also evidence to suggest that Cornwall has never been legally incorporated into shire England (Angarrack 1999, 2002 & 2008) and questions persist over whether or not, legally speaking it is the Queen or the Duke of Cornwall who has the final say in Cornish matters (Kirkhope: 2014, Williams: 2004). Additionally, there are those in Cornwall who claim that their land has status as a quasi-independent ‘nation’ (Angarrack 1999, 2002 & 2008) due to Cornish Stannary Law. This, they argue gives Cornwall a power of veto over Westminster due to the fact that the Cornish Stannary Parliament, which last met in Truro in 1753, has never legally been dissolved (Rowe & Nute: 1996, Angarrack 1999, 2002 & 2008 and Kirkhope: 2014).

The very essence of what makes many Cornish people feel a race apart from those across the River Tamar border is the Celtic heritage that is seen to play a central role in establishing the foundations for their identity. The fact that; “Celtic identities are in part about class and place-based differences within white identities and privileges” (McCarthy & Hague: 2004: p 389) is crucial to where Cornwall has found itself historically, and where it remains today. Arguably the most important example of this ‘place-based difference’ is the Cornish language, Kernewek. The language reflects, and to some degree cements Cornwall’s historic ties with its Celtic cousins:-

“It was with the kindred Welsh and Bretons that we joined our forces in warlike enterprise…there was one event, of all others the most effectual in strengthening the alliance of the Cornish with their ancient friends, I mean the war against the infidels of the East (England)” (Polwhele: 1806a: p 6-7).

Celtic languages are divided into two classifications. Kernewek is known as a Brythonic Celtic language in common with Brezhoneg (Breton) and Cymraeg (Welsh). The other Celtic languages are grouped as Goidelic Celtic and cover the indigenous tongues of Ireland (Gaeilge), Scotland (Gàidhlig) and Gaelg or Gailck (Isle of Man) – (Berresford-Ellis: 2000). Whilst a recent study by Weatherhill (2016) has sought to disprove the long held theory that Kernewek died out towards the end of the eighteenth century (see also Parry: 1946), it is an inescapable fact that the imposition of the Common Prayer Book in English during 1549 did much to diminish the language. Unlike in Wales, where legislation was provided for the Bible and Common Prayer Book to be translated into Cymraeg, such an adaption was never ruled permissible for the Cornish language (Payton: 2004). The consequence of this linguistic exclusion was a major rebellion – the so called Prayer Book-Rebellion – which saw the Cornish lay siege to Exeter over the period of a month before ultimately being defeated in a battle at Clyst St. Mary in Devon (Rowse: 1941).

Additionally, the razing of Glasney College in Penryn a year earlier, in 1548, had a detrimental impact in terms of academic and literary writing in the Cornish language. It was at Glasney that many medieval mystery plays such as the Ordinalia were believed to have been written (Coleman: 2015, Kent: 2000, Whetter: 1988). These fourteenth century works, — comprising the plays Origo Mundi, Passio Christi and Resurrexio Domini have been highlighted by Coleman (2015) as being among the oldest surviving play scripts in Europe, with the oldest remaining stage diagrams in the world. After the loss of Glasney, only infrequently were literary works published in Cornish; the written word virtually died out by 1650 (Kent: 2000). Indeed, the razing of Glasney also meant that archival material of Cornish language texts were taken away from the territory to ensure their survival in the reformation period. Hawke (2001) and Coleman (2015) carried out intensive research which unearthed rare Cornish-language mystery plays in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and the Bodleian Library in Oxford which were written around 1500.

Some have ventured that the Cornish language could have survived in this period if it had been supported by the territory’s gentry. This was not, however, a realistic hope: Cornwall’s landowners, tin and copper mine owners and management had to speak English in order to sell their goods at market both across England and the British Empire. The workers of Cornwall had, therefore, to begin learning English in order “to converse with their superiors, (and) to address the Deity” (Polwhele 1806b). See also Wakelin (1975), Spriggs (2003), Mills (2010) and McMahon (2015).

The maintenance of Cornwall’s Celtic heritage was the driving force to get more people speaking the language. Stoyle (2002) identifies William Scawen, a Royalist Civil War soldier and MP for St. Germans & East Looe in 1640, as someone who was “the founding father of the modern Cornish language movement” (ibid: p 134). Scawen commissioned the translation of a fifteenth century Cornish poem, Passio Christi into English, and a book in English detailing Cornish identity entitled Antiquities Cornubrittanic (1688). Another important staging post in recognition of Cornwall’s separate identity came in 1707 with the publication of Edward Lhwyd’s Archaeologica Britannica. In this work, Lhwyd traced the Celtic languages and provided a dictionary of their terms. Lhwyd’s work provided a starting point in its linguistic description of the Cornish language (D.R. Williams: 2004) which would eventually be built upon by Henry Jenner.

It was not, however, until the early twentieth century that there was a concerted effort to raise the status of Kernewek. In 1904, Jenner published A Handbook of the Cornish Language before establishing the Gorsedh Kernow, the Cornish group of bards in 1928. The Gorsedh closely mirrored the work of Welshman Iolo Morganwg, who had similarly ‘invented’ a bardic community around his personal interpretation of a long deceased, ancient movement in Wales (see Morgan: 1983). Jenner’s work also included a Cornish-English dictionary published in 1938, which has been updated and can still be found today in bookshops around Cornwall. The revival’s bid to gather pace became increasingly bogged down in the 1980s and 1990s with heated arguments about what an authentic indigenous Cornish language should look like (George: 1995, Williams: 1996 & 2001, Grant: 1998, Everson: 1999, Mills: 1999 and Kennedy: 2001 & 2002). Unified Cornish, established by Robert Morton Nance, had its supporters as did Ken George’s Kernewek Kemmyn (Common Cornish). Also emerging during this period was Nicholas Williams’ Revised Unified Cornish. These unfortunate arguments led to Glanville Price, Professor Emeritus of French at the University of Aberystwyth, deriding the modern version of Kernewek as being akin to “a painting, so hastily restored as no longer to qualify as an authentic work” (1984: p 144). Finally, in the early twenty-first century, the establishment of MAGA (the Cornish Language Partnership), led to agreement on a standard written form of the language, and by 2010, UNESCO altered its classification of Cornish to recognise that its prior description of being an extinct language was no longer true.

The consequence of these events was that the profile of Kernewek increased rapidly. Kenneth McKinnon’s (2002 & 2004) research for the British Council estimated there were 300 people able to hold a conversation in Kernewek. By 2005, O’Neill & Texier’s survey claimed that the numbers had increased to 3,000. According to the 2011 census, 557 people in England and Wales stated that Kernewek was their first language (ONS: 2011).

NEXT WEEK: Wider Contemporary Identities in Europe – Politics, Culture and Language

Research Findings From This Week

At the end of another week of newspaper archive research for my Cornwall Heritage Trust sponsored PhD on The Cornish Language from the Late 18th Century to the Early 20th Century, some fascinating information was unearthed which may well prove worthy of further examination.

A report from The Cornubian and Redruth Times in 6th September 1901 reveals a tourist from the Midlands referring to an old man who was in charge of a boat they were travelling in between Boscastle and Tintagel “using some Cornish”. The report states some of what the man said – whilst it is fair to say that almost all of which was said would fall under the heading of “dialect” rather than “language”, it shows that there was a potential of the odd Cornish word or two slipping into the conversation and so worth trying to find out just who this may have been.

The same newspaper reported on 23rd January 1904 about a Redruth man who had received written communication from Wales in the Welsh language because “the publishers thought Redruth people still spoke Cornish” and so would understand the Welsh!

One of the most fascinating finds this week relates to an article in The Cornubian and Redruth Times dated 21st February 1924 revealing that the London Cornish Association was planning on holding a meeting at King’s Weigh Clubhouse, Oxford Street using the Cornish language, with it stating that: “It is believed that this will be the first occasion since the time of Oliver Cromwell that real Cornish has been spoken in London.” A planned address by Mr. Trelawny Roberts entitled “Nebbaz Gerriau Dro Tho Carnoack” (“A few words about Cornish”) and songs sung in Cornish. After making this find, I have contacted the London Cornish Association and, along with a fellow 1st Year MPhil/PhD student hope to go along in January to view their archives in a bid to find out more about this event and any other potential material.

There was also mention of an article published in the French radical republican newspaper Le Rappel, which was founded on the initiative of Victor Hugo. In the piece in Le Rappel, dated 12 August 1902, Charles Hancock writes about the similarity of Breton and Cornish, shared history and characteristics. A browse of Le Rappel‘s archives (thanks to Anton Chatalier, University of Rennes for links) reveals several other articles relating to Cornish issues. One such piece, by Victor Hugo, albeit published posthumously on 28th May 1889, talks about links between Cornwall and Brittany, and another article on 16th September 1903 by Hugues Destrem talks of the possibility of “peasants from Cornwall coming to Brittany” if the financial hardships being suffered across the territory continued, as a result of this shared history and language roots.

Plenty of food for thought in these pieces!


Research Progress – Two Months In

Last week saw my first presentation as part of the Institute of Cornish Studies Postgraduate Study Circle for students researching elements related to the Cornish Language.

At the present stage – at the present time I have begun to

  • Build on existing relationships with key stakeholders in the Cornish language community – liaising with bodies such as Cornwall Council, Gorsedh Kernow and Cornish Heritage Trust.
  • Commence newspaper archive research – British Newspaper Archive holds ten Cornish newspapers from the period on its records.
  • Make relationships within the academic and cultural communities of Brittany & identifying key locations, people and groups to visit during period of Breton based research later during research process.

At the present time, I have completed three of the ten archival sections of the Cornish press relating to the period of my research, with The Royal Cornwall Gazette, The Cornish Telegraph and The Cornishman all combed through. This has led to the generation of over forty potential names of people who had expertise in, or were using the Cornish language within the mid to late 1800s. Liaising with former Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Rod Lyon, who has carried out research in this area, reveals that around a quarter of these names are either “new” to him, or have not been explored in any depth before. At the present time it remains questionable as to how potentially exciting this should be. It could well be that these are names that people have looked into previously and rejected as being spurious.

The Breton angle of the research is something which continually seems to crop up in the newspaper archival searches, and it is therefore pleasing that I have been able to establish relationships with academics at the Celtic Studies department at the Universite de Bretagne Occidentale and Centre for Research on Breton and Celtic Studies and British Studies departments at the Universite Rennes 2. A researcher at Rennes,  specialising in Dialectology and Breton place names, Antoine Chatelier, has forwarded me a short sound clip of a 93 year-old native Breton speaker called Roger Allanic from Hoedic Island, off the coast of Lorient. Allanic reported to Chatelier that his Great Great Grandfather (more or less Napoleon’s time) went to fish in Cornwall and was surprised to hear that fishermen there “spoke in Breton”. At this point one can assume that this may just have been instances of local fishermen counting their fish in Cornish, but it is something to examine further. Consequently, I am in the early stages of putting together some form of joint research relationship with Chatelier leading to a potential Cornish/Breton study day in Rennes, linked to Peter Harrison of the British Studies department there. It will also be fruitful to see if any other fishermen on Hoedic Island have any related hereditary tales. It is known that archives in Brest, Rennes and Vannes also contain documents related to exchanges of letters between Cornwall and Brittany in the nineteenth century, the language context of which needs further exploration.

The research has also revealed the character of John Hobson Matthews. Born in 1858 in Croydon, he was a linguist, author and archivist. His father was from the St. Ives area (Trewhella family) and mother from Great Grimsby. He lived much of his life in South Wales, around Cardiff in particular. Hobson Matthews was the first salaried archivist in the UK when he had the job of being the Keeper of Cardiff Records. He was known particularly in Cornwall for his book, ‘History of Parishes of St. Ives, Leland, Towednack and Zennor’. Hobson Matthews claimed, in an article published in The Cornish Telegraph on 13th July 1899, and in the Cornubian and Redruth Times the following day as being “The last hereditary Cornish speaker.” This followed written communication with Monsieur Jaffrenou, editor of a Breton periodical in the same year.

Hobson Matthews was a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule and was linked to the Gaelic Union. He published a piece in a staunchly Republican newspaper. The South Wales Daily News reported on 18th July 1899 that he had been made a bard at the Welsh Eisteddfod, and later led a party of Welsh bards to Vannes in 1899 to meet their Breton counterparts.

Whilst Hobson Matthews claims may, at first sight be potentially exciting, there needs to be a hefty pinch of salt taken. My initial research has uncovered a large number of critics about his other claims and writing. For example, The Illustrated London News’ of 13 August 1892 describes his book on St. Ives as “hampered by a false theory” with St. James’ Gazette on 18 April 1899 describing his book on ‘Records of Cardiff Vol. 1’ as “a sham”. There is a sustained period of criticism being put in his direction in the letters pages of South Wales Daily News from 1891-1900. There are, seemingly, endless examples of ongoing rows and petty squabbles between Hobson Matthews and others who are doubting the veracity of his statements/claims. “Misleading” and “ignorant” are among the criticisms. Hobson Matthews describes himself as merely being “the amiable czar of the archives” (17 Apr 1899).

I have now started work going through the archives of Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, and looking ahead to a St. Piran’s Day Cornish language presentation with the Institute of Cornish Studies in Penryn – when this is finalised more news will become available.





Researching the Cornish Language in the Late 1700s to Early 1900s – A PhD

I am in the very early days of PhD research at the Institute of Cornish Studies, based at the Humanities department of the University of Exeter’s campus in Penryn, Cornwall. My research, generously financed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust is on ‘The Cornish Language: 18th Century to the Early 20th Century’. This PhD was the culmination of a MA Cultural Geography Research degree in the outstanding Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, where my dissertation was entitled ‘The Renaissance of Kernewek: The Indigenous Cornish Language: 1900 – 2017’ – a paper which will be published in this blog in an abridged version over several parts in the near future.

My PhD has three main research questions:

i) What was the reach of Kernewek in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Within this era in Cornwall, mass emigration was taking place and a vital part of my research attempts to examine the relationships between remaining Kernewek speakers and the wider indigenous Cornish groups both within Cornwall and among the diaspora. Discussions that I have had with other Cornish language researchers over the course of my Masters dissertation suggest that there may well have been pockets of Kernewek speakers in the area around Summercourt in Mid-Cornwall and Lanherne, near Newquay, as well as some Kernewek being spoken and written on the Lizard peninsula much later than previously thought. If research in these particular areas could prove this, then it could, potentially, lead to the east/west model of language retreat being rethought. Lyon (2001) offers  potential locations and individuals that would serve as starting points for this particular branch of the research. There are two examples within Lyon’s work which I am particularly interested to investigate further. Firstly, the potential identity of the several hundred miners “using uncouth jargon” (ibid p 11), in 1795 around Flushing, which quite possibly was a form of Kernewek.  Lyon suggests this group may have come from the St. Day and Carharrack area. Secondly, the example of John Davey who died in Boswednack in 1891 (ibid p 18-19). Morton Nance expressed doubts about Davey’s use of Cornish, suggesting instead that he picked it up from reading Pryce’s work Archaeologia Cornu-Britannica but Lyon asserts that he “would have had a good knowledge of Cornish, learned traditionally at home” (ibid p 19).  Due to Davey dying in the late nineteenth century, it would be, potentially highly significant to discover whether or not he had learned the language and, perhaps if he was in a position to speak it or teach it to others.

A final aspect of my research within this first framework, would be to consider whether or not Kernewek was used as an example of resistance against the earlier imposition of English – a situation which Gramsci (1971) may recognise as Passive Revolution. It would be particularly fruitful to investigate whether or not there were examples of local figures who were actively involved in the use/promotion of Kernewek and attempting to discover their motivation.
ii) How was Kernewek language use recorded?

Within this section of my research, I wish to examine the locations of language use with an emphasis on the communications between Cornish emigrants and their families and friends who remained in Cornwall.  In terms of the Cornish language community within Cornwall in the period, I wish to examine the relationship between Kernewek as a day-to-day domestically spoken language and the influence of some of its words on Cornish dialect within the English language to see the extent to which there may have been a cross-over in this era. Using the existing research of Lyon (2001) as a starting point, it would be worth examining records from areas around the Lizard and Zennor – both locations in which he suggests that the Cornish language may have still existed to a degree throughout the nineteenth century.

Creating interest among the young generations will be vital in the progression of my research, and I am very keen to use my experience as a qualified primary school teacher to develop ‘Language Detective’ sessions with Cornish primary schools in conjunction with the Institute of Cornish Studies and the Cornwall Heritage Trust, to get as many people on board with finding out what their own families may know or what documents they may have. The next generation of Cornwall needs to have some ownership of this research as they will be the ones who will take it forward in the future.

An additional route that my research would take would be to examine the interconnection between Cornish words in the English dialect and the intersection between them. It is highly likely that much of this cross-over took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Looking closely at early examples of this, and the people who were writing in Cornish dialect may open avenues to explore whether or not these people may have been communicating in Cornish for longer than had previously been thought. A consideration of gender issues could also prove worthwhile – it is possible that the language use of Cornish women, as a socio-economic group has been ignored, with only the men’s language choice being recorded. Research in this area, again, potentially in the form of written correspondence, could unearth evidence of women using Kernewek into the nineteenth century.

iii) What relationships were developed with other Celtic groups and nations, particularly Brittany?

With reference to the Celtic Revival and separate literature surrounding the establishment of the Breton Goursez, I believe it is particularly important to research the connections between the Cornish language communities and their Celtic cousins in Brittany. Stoyle (2002) and Spriggs (2003 and 2005) have noted the emphasis placed by Scawen on the loss of links between Cornwall and Brittany having a negative impact on the use of Kernewek. Despite this, I believe it would be important to investigate what links remained linguistically, particularly within the maritime and fishing industries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Attempting to discover use of Kernewek by Newlyn fishermen and whether or not they may have used aspects of the language when conversing with their Breton counterparts who began fishing around Cornwall from 1902 could offer some important information.

There has been a long history of trade between the regions of Cornwall and Brittany, but more research is needed to discover what written correspondence took place between the two areas in the nineteenth century. Discovering if any letters or written documents remain in Kernewek or Brezhoneg and if so, finding out about the identity and roles of the people who wrote them could be extremely worthwhile. It is known that in the post reformation period, there was a translation of saints from Cornwall to Brittany, and records in Breton monasteries could be a potential source of information as well as the public records offices and university libraries and archives in the territory. Preliminary links that I have made with Dr. Jean-Yves Le Disez at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale, who co-edited the book Bretagne/Cornouailles (Britanniques): Quelles Relations? will prove to be important in this area.

NEXT WEEK: Preliminary Research – in the archives of the British Library…


Lyon, R.T. (2001): ‘Cornish: The Struggle for Survival’: Taves an Werin.





Cornish Culture & Tourism: A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow Part IV

In this final part of the paper I presented for the Gorsedh Kernow Conference, we look at potential solutions to the problematical representation of Cornish culture in the tourism industry, offered by respondents to my research.


The establishment of Heritage Kernow by HM Government and Cornwall Council is an example of what could be a hugely positive step forward. Note the insertion of the word could though. Cornwall Council describes the group as: “Existing to bring partners together to improve understanding, interpretation and stewardship of the culturally distinctive historic character and heritage assets of Cornwall.”  However, like most things, how successful this body will be is likely to depend solely on who exactly is involved on the management committee of the organisation. My conversations with English Heritage were greatly disturbing and so an effective and open minded committee for Heritage Kernow is absolutely vital.

The Heritage Kernow Board, of which the Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard is a member has met sporadically and has come under significant criticism for not listening to grass roots organisations and individuals. Linked to this major concern, my respondents were clear about the importance of having a body who had real control, strong equal relationships with Cornish cultural groups and power to get their voice and narrative about Cornish identity represented within the tourist industry. A key point was that: “This body needs to be financed and run within Cornwall for Cornwall.”

Ian Saltern, highlighted to me: “The pressing need for such an organisation to monitor, advise and assist with developing the presentation of Cornish culture through tourist attractions. There is a fear of getting it wrong which leads to some avoiding Cornish culture entirely and tokenistic representations of Cornish culture playing to jaded clichés.”

The fear of getting it wrong, it could be asserted, is only there if you don’t sufficiently engage with or include indigenous Cornish cultural movements – a fact which goes to further underline the vital importance of getting such an organisation off the ground.

For any organisation to have a chance of success, the existing bodies need to be open and willing to work effectively with the formulation of what Heritage Kernow could be. The National Trust are in the early stages of updating their Cornish language policy, and Ian Marsh, the General Manager for West Cornwall has formed a working relationship with archaeologist and writer Craig Weatherhill to formulate a new document, which has been shared with me. Whilst it must be emphasised that this work is, at the present stages, in draft form, it could potentially offer a major improvement in the visibility of Kernewek and understanding of Cornish culture at the Trust’s sites in Cornwall.

Section 2.1 of the draft document notes that The National Trust recognises the distinctive cultural history of Cornwall and the place of the Cornish language as a unique and positive asset with The Cornish Language Office and other recommended experts forming a relationship to provide the Trust with help and advice, including translation services” (Weatherhill: 2017: p 2).

At the present time, the fact that the National Trust are willing to engage and openly consider further enhancing their use of Kernewek is positive. Whilst the final document when it is put together may be modified from how it presently reads, it appears that there is recognition of the momentum that is gathering around Cornwall. All it needs now is for other institutions to engage with this. There are many people, the vast majority of whom are volunteers, doing quite outstanding work around Cornwall to highlight, promote and stage examples of indigenous culture, history and arts. The skills of these people need to be harnessed by Cornwall’s tourism bodies and site owners so that their work, and the unique identity and history of Cornwall can get the wider recognition that it so desperately deserves.

Should these bodies seek to develop more recognition of Cornish culture, and build more of an inclusive and two-way relationship with cultural and historical groups around Cornwall, they would, quite possibly be pushing at an open door – as long as, and this is the key thing – the relationship that they seek to develop is one which represents Cornwall in a mature and truthful manner.


Weatherhill, C. (2017): ‘National Trust Policy for the use of the Cornish Language – Draft’.

The Push For Independence In Catalonia

Related image

Above: Could this soon be the world’s newest national flag as Catalonia’s independence bid grows?

Back in 2015, I published this article on Doronieth Kernow about movements for independence in Catalonia. Given recent events, it seems worth republishing the piece:


Following Scotland’s independence vote last year, another historic region of Europe is in the process of trying to become an independent state. Catalonia has had a tempestuous relationship with the nation state of Spain ever since Ferdinand of the Principat of Catalonia (or Aragon as it was named) married Isabel of Castile which led to unification. Although Catalonia still had political autonomy, this marriage had, perhaps unwittingly, set in motion a long running series of battles to prevent the region being fully integrated into a greater Spain – a process which began in the 1830s (Nagel: 20151) and concluded with the dictatorships of Primo de Rivera in the 1920s and General Franco from 1939 (adapted from Nogue & Vicente: 2004: p 120-121).

Throughout the Franco era, the use of the Catalan language was forbidden, as was raising the Catalan flag. The only outlet for the identity of the region was through CF Barcelona, who competed in the higher echelons of the Spanish and European football world. People “threw their cultural pride in to Barca. At a Barca match, people could shout in Catalan and sing traditional songs when they could do it nowhere else” (cited in Peffer: 1984: p 120). As Franco’s grip on power lessened during the 1970s, it was through some of the directors of CF Barcelona that Catalan nationalism began to surge. They used their influence within the nationalist Convergencia Democratica de Catalunya to “promote a campaign advocating the use of Catalan in schools, use Catalan to make announcements over the public address system and they also flew a Catalan flag in the stadium” (Shobe: 2008: p 341). It was this influence by an educated group, seeking to use the indigenous language in a move akin to Gramsci’s ‘passive revolution’ theory, which began the reawakening of Catalan identity.

When Franco’s regime ended with the dictator’s death in 1975, Catalonia became one of seventeen autonomous communities in Spain, with its own parliament, and an executive known as the Generalitat. The Catalan parliament has 135 seats, with elections at least once every four years. It is responsible for matters such as culture, transport, and commerce. The region has its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquada and has laid down legislation to ensure that the Catalan language is spoken in all schools. Additionally to this, it has eighteen universities or higher education institutions. With all this existing autonomy, why does Catalonia want more?

The answer to this is manifold – firstly, there is “popular support among the region’s positionally advantaged, native middle-strata, in pursuit of a ‘Catalanizing’ agenda” (Miley: 2013: p 9). This ‘Catalanizing’ has been a long established process, crucially rooted in academia. Garcia-Ramon and Nogue-Font (1994) speak of the role of the Catalan Geographical Society in constructing a nationalist identity of the region, and resistance against the rule of Franco. They also identify how the popular Catalan pastime of hiking developed an awakening of patriotism. Hiking group meetings became fertile ground for Catalan intellectuals to spread nationalistic feelings through lectures regularly delivered as part of group activities. Such overt involvement in Catalan nationalism by the territory’s leading minds meant that “Although the Catalan language was long persecuted by the state…(it) remained widely spoken among the middle classes, including the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie” (Keating: 2001: p 166). As Paasi (2001) has suggested, this was absolutely crucial, – those at the higher echelons of Catalan authority were keeping the language alive, and they were continuing to spread nationalist feelings.

The first step on the road to where the territory presently finds itself was taken on 11th September 1977 – the National Day of Catalonia when: “A demonstration… drew a supposed one million Catalans onto the streets of Barcelona to assert their Catalan identity and demand a statute of autonomy” (Crameri: 2011: p 58). Over the years this growing demand for greater autonomy has been reflected in the elections for the Catalan Parliament. The moderate CiU group have, historically been the most popular party in the Generalitat, but recent elections have seen their popularity plunge from a high water mark of 73 seats in 1984 (Bukowski: 2001: p 159) to its present tally of 50 (Guardian Newspaper Website: 2014). During the same period, the fiercely pro-independence ERC party have risen from holding just five seats to an all-time high of 21 in 2012.

The economy has provided a further factor in independence demands. With the crisis in the Eurozone in 2009, Catalans became aware of an ever-growing deficit fiscal. Historically, Catalonia was responsible for around 20% of the total Spanish GDP, and 30% of total Spanish exports (Bukowski: 2001: p 162). It has always been leading virtually all of the nation’s economic indicators. In order to maximise its financial and political impact within Europe, Catalonia joined up with three other financially powerful regions of the continent – Baden Wurttemberg, Lombardy and Rhone-Alpes – in a bid to develop business relations and attract further investment (cited in Loughlin: 2000 p 30). This served to widen Catalonia’s potential ‘agglomeration of locations’ and put in place reciprocal freight agreements which mirrored Losch’s (1978) theory and strengthened their ‘economics of location’. Additionally, this could aid the region’s ability in breaking what Lefebvre (1991) would see as Spain’s colonization of Catalonia’s spatial grids of power.

As the gap between the amount paid in taxes by the Catalans and what they received in return from the Spanish state in terms of services and investment grew ever wider, concerns grew about the unfairness of Catalonia’s relationship with the Spanish government. Therefore it was not long before “a growing civil movement for independence with a strong presence of young Catalans” began emerging (Crameri: 2011: p 52). This movement presented a powerful argument, claiming that if all taxation collecting responsibilities in the territory was the responsibility of the Catalan parliament, it would result in major improvements to the local budget and welfare situation. There is also an increasing school of thought that an independent Catalonia could thrive, despite the impact of a likely boycott of Catalan goods by Spain and what part of Spain’s debt the new country would have to pay (Nagel: 2015: p398). Consequently, the moderates of Mas’ CiU called for a referendum on Catalonia’s self-determination. To many, this didn’t go far enough, as “most of the opinion polls published since 2010 show(ed) that between 40% and 50% of the population would support independence as an alternative to the status quo” (Serrano: 2013: p 525). Fuelled by the lack of recognition from Madrid that Catalonia was being unfairly treated, the opposition to the national government grew. On 11th September 2012, over a million Catalans marched through Barcelona “under the slogan ‘Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa’ (Catalonia, new state of Europe)” (Marti: 2013: p 509). A year later, groups without any political affiliations organised a human chain of Catalans to be set up from the border with France in the north, to the region of Valencia in the south. Turnout for the subsequent Catalan Parliamentary elections was a record high – 67.8% – and the results set in trend a motion for a non-binding vote on independence in 2014. The outcome was, given the events of the previous three years, no surprise – 80% of the two million people who voted (out of a total eligible of 5.4 million) were in favour of secession. In September 2015, what could turn out to be a landmark Regional Election was held in Catalonia, with the outcome an absolute majority for Catalan nationalist parties. Another record high voter turnout (77.4%) emphasized just what an important issue independence is at the present time. The JxSi movement (Together For Yes) stated: “The responsibility we have now is to fulfil this democratic mandate” (Nationalia: 2015).

The die had been cast, and in November 2015, the Catalan parliament voted in favour of beginning the process to breakaway from Spain, with a stated aim to declare independence as early as 2017. Here we see clearly what Gramsci (1971) meant when he stated the importance of a (regional) political party performing in a way that could set a wider agenda in terms of challenging the hegemony of the state. Spain’s response had all the hallmarks of Hechter’s Internal Colonialism. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatened to impose direct rule on Catalonia and refer the matter to the Constitutional Court, which has “persistently ruled against any moves towards independence” (Herald Scotland: 2015/Nagel: 2015: p 393). Rajoy is in a seemingly impossible position influenced by the forthcoming General Election on 20th December 2015. He will be more than aware that “If the rest of Spain goes down the pan and an independent Catalunya thrives, there are…serious implications” (Guardian Newspaper Website: 2014).


Anderson, B. (2006): ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism: Verso: London.

Agnew, J. (2001): ‘Regions in Revolt’ in Progress in Human Geography Vol. 25 No. 1

BBC News Website: (2014): ‘Catalonia vote: 80% back independence – officials’ 10th November 2014.

Bukowski, J. (2001): ‘A Space for Political Choice? Regional Development Policy in Andalucia and Catalonia’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 12 No. 1

Crameri, K. (2011): ‘We Need Another Hero: The construction of Josep Moragues as a symbol of independence for Catalonia’ in National Identities, Vol. 13 No. 1.

Garcia-Ramon, M-D & Nogue-Font, J (1994): ‘Nationalism and Geography in Catalonia’ in Hooson, David (ed) ‘Geography & National Identity: Blackwells: Oxford.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971): ‘Selections from the Prison Notebooks’: Lawrence & Wishart: London.

Guardian Newspaper (2014): ‘Waiting in the wings: The Genie is out of the bottle – we want more power’ 12th September 2014.

Guardian Newspaper Website (2014): ‘Catalan independence poll: what happens next? 11th November 2014.

Herald Scotland Website (2015): ‘Spain Has Threatened To Impose Direct Rule on Catalonia’ (accessed on 10th November 2015).

Hobsbawm, E. & Ranger, T. (eds) (1983): ‘The Invention of Tradition’: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Johnston, R.J. et al (2000): ‘The Dictionary of Human Geography’: Blackwell Publishers: Oxford.

Keating, M. (2001): ‘Nations Against The State: The New Politics of Nationalism in Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland’: Palgrave: Basingstoke.

Lefebvre, H. (1991): ‘The Production of Space’: Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.

Losch, A. (1978): ‘The Economics of Location’: Yale University Press: New Haven.

Loughlin, J. (2000): ‘Regional Autonomy and State Paradigm Shifts in Western Europe’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 10 No. 2

MacLeod, G. & Jones, M. (eds) (2001): ‘Renewing The Geography of Regions’ in Environment & Planning ‘D’: Vol 19.

Marti, D. (2013): ‘Election Report: The 2012 Catalan Election: The First Step Towards Independence? In Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 23 No. 4.

Miley, T.J. (2013): ‘Blocked Articulation and Nationalist Hegemony in Catalonia’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 23 No.1

Moreno, L. (2002): ‘Decentralization in Spain’ in Regional Studies Vol. 36 No. 4.

Nagel, Klaus-Jurgen (2015): ‘Catalonia’s Struggle for Self-Determination’, Chapter Eighteen in Achankeng, Fonkem: ‘Nationalism and Intra-State Conflicts in the Postcolonial World’: Lexington: Lanham. (2015): ‘Catalan Parties To Start Negotiations Over New Government, Roadmap to Independence’ accessed on 29th September 2015.

Nogue, J. & Vicente, J. (2004): ‘Landscape and national identity in Catalonia’ in Political Geography Vol. 23.

Passi, A. (1986): ‘The Institutionalization of Regions: A Theoretical Framework for Understanding the Emergence of Regions and the Constitution of Regional Identity’ in Fennia Vol. 164 No.1.

Paasi, A. (2001) in MacLeod, G. & Jones, M. (eds) ‘Renewing The Geography of Regions’ in Environment & Planning ‘D’: Vol 19.

Peffer, R. (1984): ‘Spain’s country within a country: Catalonia’ in National Geographic Vol. 165 No. 1

Serrano, I. (2013): ‘Just a Matter of Identity? Support for Independence in Catalonia’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 23 No. 5

Schakel, A.H. & Jeffery, C: (2013): ‘Are Regional Elections really ‘Second-Order’ Elections?’ in Regional Studies Vol. 47 No. 3.

Shobe, H. (2008): ‘Place, identity and football: Catalonia, Catalanisme and Football Club Barcelona, 1899-1975’ in National Identities Vol. 10, No. 3.

Cornish Culture & Tourism – A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow – Part III

In this week’s third part of the paper that I presented to the Gorsedh Kernow Conference, we look at the outcomes of my interviews with Visit Cornwall, English Heritage and the National Trust and see a mixture of some potential grounds for positivity and confirmation of the rather worrying stance and views of English Heritage.



Malcolm Bell of Visit Cornwall has highlighted that his organisation does not outwardly use the Cornish language or wider examples of Cornish culture in his company’s promotion of the territory because:

“All our customers would not be aware of it, let alone being able to understand it…(but) we did ask a question in 2015 and discovered that 33% of visitors knew that there was a Cornish language.”

Bell pointed out that “The tourism industry is responsible for over 20% of all jobs in Cornwall, and in 2015 brought in £491,755,000 into the Cornish economy”, and pointed to a 2012 ‘Community Attitudes survey’ that identified that 89% of residents feel tourism is good for Cornwall. When I questioned him about the more recent criticism surrounding ‘Disneyfication’, Bell replied:

“We have to be honest and authentic and to some that may be Disney, to others it is not. We need to ensure that the culture is interpreted in a way that firstly gains the support of local people and local communities as well as being able to be understood by tourists coming to Cornwall.”

In our interview via email exchange, I suggested to Bell that other Celtic nations are using their separate identity, history and heritage in marketing tourism, he answered:

“We will weave language and culture in a sensitive manner that honestly reflects its role in Cornwall. We will not ram it down the throats of a visitor like Wales has done, but soft sell through education and inspiration.”

The views of Malcolm Bell were put to the members of my focus groups, and the general consensus was that the percentage of visitors demonstrating a knowledge of the Cornish language without any marketing was far higher than they would expect – and therefore could quite conceivably be used in an advertising campaign by Visit Cornwall to “emphasise a notion of Cornwall being a different land within England” and that “Visit Cornwall should and indeed could be able to deliver authentic Cornish cultural things through their campaigns.”

English Heritage, who are responsible for seventeen historic sites in Cornwall also responded to my queries about how they aim to reflect and use Cornish Culture in their sites. Sophie White, who is the body’s Western Marketing Manager began by highlighting the importance of the sense that Cornwall is ‘different’:

“Cornwall’s distinctiveness and interest is what attracts many visitors in the first place. Making steps to reflect Cornish culture will help to ensure visitors return to learn more about a place they love, whilst helping those who live in Cornwall to feel their story is properly represented. At English Heritage, we use Cornish culture and language to educate visitors about the story of a place that is different to the other parts of the island of Britain in the hope that they will leave having learned something new about the place they have visited.”

However, there then followed a slightly disconcerting definition of what the body believed to be “distinctive signifiers of Cornwall”. White went on:

“Many of the more obvious signifiers of Cornwall may not actually be culturally distinctive to Cornwall – sandy beaches in sunshine, fine food, picturesque coastal villages, wild upland landscapes. These phenomena are credible as attracting tourists to Cornwall, but if we accept a distinction between ‘culture in Cornwall’ and ‘Cornish culture’, they tend to be associated with the former rather than the latter, and thus they are often not unique to Cornwall.”

I pointed out to White that if, as she stated originally, it is Cornwall’s distinctiveness that attracts many of its visitors, then surely it would make sense for English Heritage to keep their focus on the elements of indigenous Cornish culture rather than her later descriptions of sandy beaches and coastal villages in what they believe to be the most important distinctive signifiers of Cornwall. In her response, she said:

“We liaise with Cornish interest groups and some of our signs and leaflets feature the Cornish language. We have been investing in a new interpretation of Tintagel Castle and have made extra efforts to make use of the Cornish language as part of these new displays. Resources are often scarce and visitors only spend a relatively short period of time at tourist attractions, so it will never be possible to provide a comprehensive education on all aspects of Cornish culture. We participate in the St. Piran’s Day Celebrations at Launceston with a special St. Piran’s flag flying at the castle.”

It is worth pointing out at this moment White’s reference to the St. Piran’s flag. This is only a recent change after a former Grand Bard asked English Heritage why permission should be sought to fly our own flag from one of our own monument’s on our own saint’s day! As White had mentioned Tintagel Castle, it seemed a good time to turn the conversation in the direction of the large amount of criticism that has come English Heritage’s way for what they term a “new interpretation” and what others have termed “vandalism”. White’s response was:

“We believe a place like Tintagel Castle deserves to be communicated effectively, and our new exhibition and scheme of outdoor interpretations aims to take visitors on an informative tour through the history and legend associated with the 18 acre site. Highlights include a series of interpretive panels exploring 1,500 years of Tintagel’s history and making use of the Cornish language, and an eight foot bronze sculpture Gallos, by artist Rubin Eynon inspired by the legends associated with the site. We are proud of the steps we have made to better tell the stories of the places in our care in Cornwall. The term ‘Disneyfication’ is difficult to define, but the suggestion is of a globalised homogenisation and of stripping a real place or event of its original character. This was certainly not the case at Tintagel, where we made every effort to reflect the unique story of Tintagel in particular, and Cornish culture. We feel confident that our new interpretation provided a sensible balance between the various aspects which make the place so special, whilst ensuring that there was no stripping of the original character of the place.”

 I suggested to White that, at best it could be argued that the elements that English Heritage have included at Tintagel misinterpret Cornish history. In response she said that she feels that her organisation are doing everything they can to reach out to Cornish cultural movements. She pointed to the body’s:

“extra efforts to make use of the Cornish language, following input from other Cornish stakeholder groups, and the Cornish Language Partnership, and the fact that we are active members of the Ertach Kernow Forum and the Ertach Kernow Board, where we liaise with a range of Cornish cultural groups on a regular basis. We find these relationships are very helpful, and we very much appreciate the work of the Gorsedh Kernow and other Cornish cultural groups in making us aware of local feeling on various issues.”

It’s fair to say that my conversation with English Heritage left me with a sense of deep unease about the organisation’s grasp of Cornwall’s heritage and history.

One of the groups that English Hertiage identified as having a relationship with was the Cornwall Heritage Trust. A trustee for this body spoke to me about their personal concerns about English Heritage and wider concerns with the representation of Cornish culture in tourism:

“English Heritage have got a lot to answer for at Tintagel and of course, there is the infamous Lands End fiasco. Existing bodies such as Visit Cornwall and English Heritage seem to be nervous of exploiting Cornish culture – perhaps because they have the perception that it lowers the standard of their offering.  Somehow we need to overcome this vision, created mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries, of the Cornish being somehow old-fashioned and backward.”

In contrast, the views of the National Trust’s General Manager for West Cornwall, Ian Marsh did provide some grounds for optimism for the future representation of the Cornish language and culture at his organisation’s own sites in the territory. Marsh was aware that the National Trust had not always got things right in Cornwall and were open to learn and improve. He told me:

“Our use of Cornish culture is becoming better. We have formed relations with the Gorsedh Kernow to work specifically on projects. When we do Cornish culture badly, and we have done at times, it can appear Disneyfied. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that different people have different tolerance levels.”

So, where do we go from here? I ended the initial stage of my primary data generation with a feeling that we were, potentially at a crossroads. The greater visibility of Kernewek, National Minority Status and the burgeoning indigenous cultural scene around Cornwall means that greater pressure can, theoretically be applied to tourism groups and site owners in the territory. Yet, what steps need to be taken before we can travel towards a more widely accepted representation of Cornwall’s identity in the tourist industry? This is what we will explore in next week’s final part of this paper.