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.

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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.

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

Continuing the publication of the paper that I made to the Gorsedh Kernow Conference. In this week’s second part, we begin to look at the results of my primary data, and an Endangered Language researcher speaks out about threat of cultural homogenization in Cornwall, we discover some of the views of the Cornish young and highlight English Heritage’ missed opportunities to boost Cultural Capital on indigenous Cornish matters.

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My primary data generation consisted of twenty-three individual interviews, carried out in person, on the phone, by email or via Skype. These took place between November 2016 and February 2017 with further interviews carried out between May and August 2017. I ran five focus groups in different locations between January and February 2017 which were attended by a mix of Cornish born people and in-comers. The largest focus group was attended by ten people, the smallest by six, and the total number of people attending them was thirty-two. There was an even split of male and female attendees with 28% of those taking part being forty or under, and 18% of participants being in-comers.

What became pretty apparent when I examined the results of my data was that people’s concerns broke down, pretty broadly into two issues. Firstly, the influence of individuals or bodies which are either not based in Cornwall or, if they are, are not perceived to have sufficient positive relationships with Cornish Cultural and Historical groups and secondly, what appeared to be an inability by tourism bodies or site managers in Cornwall to grasp how to tap into the burgeoning Cornish cultural scene. Taking each of these concerns in turn, I will now highlight the issues that the focus groups and interviews flagged up and examine the response of some of the tourism bodies and site owners in Cornwall when I put these matters to them subsequently, and then, use all of the information gathered to propose some methods of making Cornish social, cultural and historical groups feel more included and taking more of a leading role in the presentation of Cornish culture in the tourism industry in the territory. NB This will be reported in Parts Two to Four of this blog representation of the Gorsedh paper.

The phenomena that the representation of indigenous culture and history in Cornwall is being, at best distorted and at worst wilfully ignored for what a number of respondents felt may be political reasons was something that resonated strongly. Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Merv Davey said:

“English Heritage’s control of the interpretation of Cornish sites is political control of history. The anger at English imperialism might draw in people to support (the) Cornish (language) who otherwise might not be concerned.”

Archeologist and author Craig Weatherhill went further with his opinion on the present situation with the tourist industry:

“Visit Cornwall, the National Trust and English Heritage have shown themselves over several decades that they are utterly incapable of delivering genuine Cornish culture…their senior staff are largely imported into Cornwall from outside. At Tintagel, the carving on Merlin’s face into a cliff-face supposedly protected under SSSI designation is an example of burying Cornish history under a plethora of largely spurious legend.””

A researcher in Endangered Languages at SOAS, University of London told me that these “specific instances of attack, such as Disneyfication of beloved landmarks” is simply part of a wider narrative which she sees as “cultural homogenization and a very hard metaphorical slap in the face to the Cornish.” This viewpoint was found in several other people’s opinions – that misrepresentations of Cornish culture is just one example of several battles that Cornwall is facing – whether it be through numbers of in-comers moving into the territory, second homes and lack of affordable housing and the Devonwall parliamentary constituency concerns. One of my respondents highlighted the consequences of this:

“There is a lack of teaching of our separate history, culture or language, so the Cornishness comes out of us. The Cornish are hanging onto their identity by their fingernails.”

Under the present Devolution Deal, it is not possible for Cornish schools to be able to have specific lessons in each year group on specific Cornish history, or even where events in England were felt and experienced completely differently in Cornwall. Yet, despite this, there are high hopes that children in the territory, who are growing up in an era where both Kernewek and the renaissance of a number of Cornish cultural events is increasingly visible, may possibly grow up wanting to do something about it. School Census data (previously known as PLASC data) shows that the number of pupils in Cornwall who self-identified as Cornish rose every year from 2006, when 23.7% of pupils stated they were Cornish rather than English to 2013 (the last data set available) when the figure had grown to 46% – a total of 32,254 out of 70,097 pupils (Ethnicity breakdown from the schools census – Cornwall Council 2006-2013). My respondents in all locations felt that the National Curriculum first needed to recognise and encourage the teaching of Cornish culture and Cornish history more widely in the territory’s schools – something which is still notably lacking due to, what one person described as “the provision of teacher training in Cornwall, which gives no additional time in their training on local history and culture or on the Cornish language”. A cut in funding for Kernewek from Westminster, and budget restrictions that schools are facing nationwide has created a vicious circle whereby schools that may be keen to embrace Kernewek and Cornish culture are prevented to due to lack of timetable space and money. Yet, should awareness of Cornish culture and history continue to grow, there are grounds for positivity about the role that the territory’s young people will play, and the recent initiative of a family Cornish language learning group at Heartlands on Saturday mornings, initiated by Loveday Jenkin and Rob Lawrance is another sign of what this could, potentially mean in the future.

Despite this, it appears that tourist site owners have not really caught up with the momentum. The use of duel language signage at museums or tourist sites is notably lacking. Is this because, as one bard of the Gorsedh Kernow asserted that he suspects there is “a concerted campaign to weaken Cornish identity, as in certain quarters there is a perception that an emboldened Cornish identity is a threat.” Or even perhaps, as a former Grand Bard told me, that there are fears that “monoglot speakers don’t understand, or want to understand what others are doing.” I believe, if this is the case, the likes of Visit Cornwall, English Heritage and the National Trust are missing a trick. Many of the sites that the latter two institutions own are ones which, it could be asserted, people would visit in an attempt to boost their Cultural Capital.

For Bourdieu & Passeron (1977), Cultural Capital is “a mechanism for the transmission of social status…(and) can be differentiated into three sub-forms; institutionalised, incorporated and objective” (Moskal: 2016: p 143). It is the institutionalised cultural capital that interests us most in this particular case. Here, capital is accrued due to an individual’s success in gaining language learning skills and cultural exposure with resulting intellectual and financial consequences (Georg: 2004 and Smala et al: 2013). Exposure to Kernewek, or Cornish culture at such tourist sites is an example of allowing visitors to gain an additional knowledge and skills, which sets such a person apart from those who do not possess such abilities (MacLeod: 1987, McCollum: 1999, Polanyi: 1995). The motivation and skills that can be perceived to be part of exposure to such phenomena are, for Norton (2013) “a range of symbolic resources (language, education, friendship)…which will in turn increase the value of their cultural capital” (p 6). The socio-economic background of people who may be expected to visit such sites in Cornwall, Tsimprea Maluch et al (2015) have noted should be those who would be actively interested in separate cultures and language.

John Pollard, the then leader of Cornwall Council highlighted to me the potential consequences of the likes of English Heritage and the National Trust taking on a more open minded approach to Cornish culture when he said:

“Growing awareness of our heritage and language is an important element. We need to open up people to the different culture and history of Cornwall…(people) need to take on board local issues and feeling.”

NEXT WEEK: The views of Visit Cornwall and the National Trust, plus English Heritage’s perspective on how they incorporate Cornish history and identity in their sites and what they describe as their “sensible new interpretation” at Tintagel.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bourdieu, P. (1977): ‘Outline of a theory of Practice’: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Bourdieu, P & Passeron, J-C. (1977): ‘Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture’ translated by Nice, R. Sage: London.

Bourdieu, P. (1991): ‘Language and Symbolic Power: The Economy of Linguistic Exchanges’: Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ethnicity breakdown from the schools census – Cornwall Council (2006-2013) Available at http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/login?returnurl=https%3a%2f%2fsecure.cornwall.gov.uk%2fCoreStats (Accessed on 7th April 2017).

Georg, W. (2004): ‘Cultural Capital and social inequality in the life course’: in European Sociological Review Vol. 20 No. 4.

MacLeod, J. (1987): ‘Ain’t no makin’ it: levelled aspirations in a low-income neighbourhood: Westview Press: Boulder: CO.

McCollom, P. (1999): ‘Learning To Value English: Cultural Capital in a Two-way Bilingual Program’ in Bilingual Research Journal: Vol. 23 No. 2-3.

Moskal, M. (2016): ‘Language and cultural capital in school experience of Polish children in Scotland‘ in Race, Ethnicity and Education Journal, Vol 19 Issue 1.

Norton, B. (2013): ‘Identity and Language Learning: Extending the Conversation:’ Multilingual Matters: Bristol.

Polanyi, L. (1995): ‘Language Learning and Living Abroad: stories from the field’ in Freed, B (ed): ‘Second language acquisition in a study abroad context’: John Benjamins: Amsterdam/Philadelphia.

Smala, S., Bergas Paz, J., Lingard, B. (2013): ‘Languages, Cultural Capital and School Choice: distinction and second-language immersion programmes’ in British Journal of Sociology of Education: Vol. 34 No. 3.

Tsimprea Maluch, J., Kempert, S., Neumann, M., Stannat, P. (2015): ‘The effect of speaking a minority language at home on foreign language learningin Learning and Instruction Journal Vol. 36.

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

Last week, I presented the above paper to the Gorsedh Kernow Conference. Over the coming weeks, I will reproduce the presentation in several parts of around 1,000 words each.

This first part examines the huge concerns of Cultural Geographers and Social Scientists into representations of Cornish Culture and Heritage by the tourism industry and two mini case-studies featuring Heartlands and Tintagel.

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The extent to which tourism bodies and site owners currently mis-represent Cornwall’s indigenous culture and history is now so marked that it is not just Cornish people that have been voicing concerns. Over the past twenty years, a number of cultural geographers and the wider social science community have written about their disquiet. Back in 1998, the unease of academics was demonstrated in the International Journal of Heritage Studies where Kennedy and Kingcome (1998) warned of the dangers of:

“Cultural artefacts and guide-book representations (which) raise the spectre of a sanitised, Disneyesque ‘Kernowland’…For the Cornish, the combination of ‘heritage and tourism’ has serious and demoralising implications. There is the uneasy sense of living in a theme-park where sites are misappropriated, preserved and commodified by others”    (p 45 & 54).

Everett and Aitchison published a paper in The Journal of Sustainable Tourism in 2008 highlighting the dangers of Cornwall becoming “increasingly perceived as a place only to be consumed and exploited by tourists” before going on to pose a stark warning about it termed the “commoditisation” of Cornish culture “by the influx of mass tourism, which poses a serious threat to ‘Cornishness’ as a form of cultural identity.”

Critics of these views may point to a group of academics who may not sufficiently understand that areas such as Cornwall who rely on revenue generated by tourism to stay financially afloat need to be creative in their representations of culture. But what are the actual ramifications of this?

Before I go into a more in-depth examination of the views of the interviews and focus groups that I held for this paper, it is worth a brief examination of two particular sites; Heartlands and Tintagel in relationship to their depiction of Cornish history and culture.

On its website, Heartlands is described as:

“Truly tak(ing) you someplace else. This is a lighning bolt of fun… Set in the shadow of an iconic Cornish engine house, Heartlands has brought the former derelict mining landscape at Robinson’s Shaft back to life through a £35 million project, thanks to a mammoth amount of hard work, the support and imagination of the local community and some generous funding from the Big Lottery Living Landmark programme (£22.3 million), European Union, Cornwall Council and the Homes and Community agency.”

Based on the above, you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that here was, potentially an authentic piece of Cornish culture, which could show tourists a crucial part of Cornwall’s social and economic history. However, there have been major concerns at the direction that Heartlands has taken – perhaps heading towards what Harris (2010) termed as being an example of “cappuccino Cornwall…designed for the affluent middle classes and does not welcome lower income groups” (p 40), and see also the work of Binks (1997) and Deacon (1997) on the blurring or reconstruction of legitimate culture. A participant in one of my focus groups stated:

“I think the biggest thing is, yes, we have to have tourism, but the concern is the right type of tourism. I’m worried that Cornwall is going to turn into some Disney style theme park. Cultural tourism is what we want. It saddens me that all that money that was spent at Heartlands and now they are looking at putting in Premier Inns and KFC drive-thrus and Subway.”

The issue that this additional development may be brushed aside as people not comprehending the importance of these planned facilities in increasing the revenue generated by sites like Heartlands. However one reckons without the simple fact that, as one in-comer put it to me “There is no other place that I’ve been whereby people go round that particular region and use it to express their identity and pride in it.”

Another prime example that those concerned about the direction that Cornwall’s tourist sites are taking has been seen with recent developments and plans at Tintagel. This, they argue has been seen with a carving of Merlin into the rocks and a King Arthur statue as well as plans to build a footbridge on a site managed by English Heritage. This case, described by The Guardian Newspaper as ‘The Battle of Tintagel Castle,’ has received UK wide media attention as concern grows over what has happened at the site. The Heritage Journal was brutally frank about how they saw this development: “English Heritage’s need for finance is over-riding any consideration for the actual history and heritage of the site at Tintagel”. Such concerns were also echoed in the compliance report of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in March 2017, as it highlighted concerns that “Cornish history is (being) distorted” (Doronieth Kernow and Morris: 2017).

A very quick examination of these two Cornish sites has highlighted a range of serious concerns about the direction that the management of Cornish heritage and history has taken. What I believe makes the situation highly incongruous is that these new developments are taking place in an era where expressions and visibility of indigenous Cornish culture are more widespread than they have been, arguably since the time of the Celtic Revival, and indeed against the backdrop of Cornwall becoming a recognised National Minority under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention. Additionally, first-hand experience at what is possible at important cultural sites in Brittany, where all signage and explanations in museums is presented in both French and Breton also raised queries in my own mind as to why Cornwall has failed to do this quite so prominently.

NEXT WEEK: Endangered Language researcher speaks out about threat of cultural homogenization in Cornwall, Views of the Cornish young and English Heritage’ missed Cultural Capital opportunities.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Binks, H. (1997): ‘Jamaica Inn: The Creation of Meanings on a Tourist Site’: in Westland, E. (ed): Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place: Patten Press: Penzance.

Deacon, B. (1997): ‘The Hollow Jarring of the Distant Steam Engines: Images of Cornwall Between West Barbary and Delectable Duchy’: in Westland, E. (ed): Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place: Patten Press: Penzance.

Doronieth Kernow (2017) Advisory Committee Report Supports The Cornish & Makes Grim Reading For Government. Available at https://doroniethkernow.wordpress.com (Accessed on 10th March 2017).

Everett, S. & Aitchison, C. (2008): ‘The Role of Food Tourism in Sustaining Regional Identity: A Case Study of Cornwall, South-West England’ in ‘Journal of Sustainable Tourism’ Vol. 16 No. 2.

Harris, R. (2010): ‘South Crofty and the Regeneration of Pool: National Agenda v Cornish Ethnicity’: in Payton, P. (ed): ‘Cornish Studies Eighteen: Exeter University Press: Exeter.

Heartlands Cornwall: (2017): ‘Visitor Information’: Available at: http://www.heartlandscornwall.com/visitor-info.php (Accessed on 21st August 2017).

Heritage Journal, The: (2017): ‘Tintagel: Do English Heritage Understand the Meaning of the Word ‘Heritage’’: Available at https://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/tintagel-do-english-heritage-understand-the-meaning-of-the-word-heritage/ (Accessed on 26th June 2017).

Kennedy, N. & Kingcome, N. (1998): ‘Disneyfication of Cornwall – Developing a Poldark Heritage Complex’: in ‘International Journal of Heritage Studies’: Vol. 4 No.1.

Morris, S. (2016) ‘This is not Disneyland it’s Cornwall: The battle of Tintagel Castle’ The Guardian 18th March 2016. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/18/this-is-not-disneyland-its-cornwall-battle-tintagel-castle (Accessed on 20th April 2017).

Morris, S. (2017) ‘Government accused of neglecting Cornish culture’ The Guardian 11th March 2017. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/10/council-of-europe-criticises-uk-for-cornish-language-funding-cuts (Accessed on 21st April 2017).

 

Gorsedh Kernow Esedhvos 2017

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This year’s Esedhvos is almost upon us, and on a personal level it will be a hugely important one, as I have been invited to present a paper at the Gorsedh Kernow conference which takes place on Friday 1st September in Launceston Town Hall – more of which later!

The Esedhvos commences on Wednesday 30th August with the Grand Bard’s chair on display at St Mary Magdalene Church in the town.

The main events begin the following day at Launceston Town Hall with a Book Festival from 11am – 3pm, with admission free. A number of new books will be launched at 11:30am including Cornish Bards of the Launceston Area by Bill Roberts, Place Names of Launceston, a facsimile edition of Cornish for All: A Guide to Unified Cornish by Robert Morton Nance and Padstow Carols. The afternoon sees two ‘Meet the Author’ sessions with two writers interviewed on stage in each session. First up at 12:10pm is Judy Scrimshaw, author of The Little Red Egg a children’s book about a family of dragons who lay their final egg in Cornwall, who will be talking to Rael Harvey. Following this sees former Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Rod Lyon in discussion with Elizabeth Carne about his work Tenkys. The second batch of ‘Meet the Author’ interviews commences at 1:30pm and Dr. Bernard Deacon, writer of Cornwall’s First Golden Age and the forthcoming collection of essays From A Cornish Study, will be in discussion with Gareth Parry, who will later be joined by David Thorn, who co-authored Bude Pioneers of Photography: Tintagel to Clovelly. From 7:00pm in the same venue, the presentation to winners of Young People’s Awards and Adults Awards & Competitions by Merv Davey, Grand Bard. The evening will be hosted by Ed Rowe (perhaps better known as Kernow King) and will also feature a guest appearance by Jim Causley, folk singer and songwriter who is a relation of the great Cornish poet Charles Causley, who was born in Launceston a hundred years ago this month.

Friday 1st September sees the Annual Gorsedh Kernow Conference at Launceston Town Hall, which this year is entitled ‘Cornish Culture and Tourism: Friends or Foes’. Grand Bard Merv Davey will open the event, before Visit Cornwall’s Malcolm Bell will address the conference. Following this, I will be presentating a paper entitled Cornish Culture & Tourism: A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow. Making presentations after me will be Fiona Wotton (Director of Cornwall 365 – a body aiming to build a network of cultural and tourism players around the territory), Kim Conchie (CEO Cornwall Chamber of Commerce) and Merryn Davies-Deacon (PhD candidate at Queen’s University, Belfast researching Regional Minority Languages of France with a particular focus on Breton). My own paper will be published on this blog in three or four parts on a weekly basis from next week (w/c 4th Sept 2017) onwards. Tickets need to be purchased in advance (£5) to join the audience. The evening sees a Cornish Troyl/Ceilidh with Carmen Hunt & the Scoot Lyskerrys Collective at Launceston Town Hall, which is free to enter.

Saturday 2nd September sees a range of Cornish stalls at Launceston Castle from 11am before the procession of bards from the Central Methodist Church to Launceston Castle from 1:30pm via Church Street, High Street and The Square, with the Bardic Ceremony led by Grand Bard Merv Davey from 2pm at the castle grounds, or, if wet at St. Mary Magdalene Church. The evening sees a host of music. A Gala Concert will take place at Central Methodist Church, Castle Street, Launceston featuring Jane Nancarrow reading poetry of Charles Causley, Rob Strike and students from Launceston College, Mike O’Connor & Barbara Griggs and Launceston Town Band. The event will be compered by Bert Biscoe. Tickets, costing £5 should be purchased in advance from Launceston TIC (Tel 01566 772321). Starting at 8:30pm is the ‘Come All Ye’ Cornish music and song session at The Bell Inn, Tower St, Launceston, and hosted by Rob Strike and there is free entry.

The Esedhvos ends on Sunday 3rd September with three final events. First, from 9.30 – 11.30am  ‘Blas a Gernewek – A Taste of Cornish’ session, will take place at Launceston Town Hall with entry free. At 11.00am, a free History Walk around the beautiful town of Launceston, led by bard Rob Tremain, will start at Launceston Town Hall and finish at The Bell Inn before a Choral Evensong in Cornish at St. Mary Magdalene Church from 3:00pm.

If you have never experienced an Esedhvos – do everything possible to get to Launceston this year – it is a fantastic celebration of Cornwall’s indigenous history, culture and language.

 

 

2017 Festival Interceltique In Review

 

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Above: The programme for this year’s Festival Interceltique.

 

Having been on my “really must get round to visiting” list for a number of years, at long last this was the year that I finally did get round to visiting the Festival Interceltique in Lorient.

It’s probably fair to say that this particular blog post is aimed at those who either haven’t attended the festival, or are planning on visiting next year. For a more factual history of the Festival Interceltique, please refer to the previous post on this blog.

Anticipation had been building in the Breton press for days ahead of the opening of this year’s event. Le Telegramme had published daily maps of the festival site, featuring the must-see events taking place each day. Embarking from the impressive and beautifully redeveloped Lorient station which still has a pervading smell of fresh timber, and the eye catching metallic netting around the stairs, it took only a walk of just a couple of minutes to hear the sounds of the Championnat National des Bagadou taking place at the Stade de Moustoir – the 16,392 seater home of FC Lorient. This competition was one of several for which tickets needed to be purchased to enter (9 Euros in this case) – but, there is more than enough going on for free to keep anyone entertained all day long.

Passing the stadium and heading for Quai des Indes, a fair was taking place on Place Jules Ferry. Whilst there were a large number of food and drink stalls in this area, the majority of which, I think it’s fair to say had a tenuous link to Celtic fayre, so these were ignored and instead, I approached the Village Celte (Ker ar Gelted) where the gatherings of the festival began in earnest. Rows of stalls specialising in the wares of the Celtic nations presented many temptations to pull out the wallet. My advice here would be to look round all of the stalls before buying and then return to purchase what you really want as there is so much there of interest – whether it be rugby related or more traditional cultural artefacts!

 

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Above: Here we go – the Village Celte.

 

A leisurely stroll through this area brings you out at the beautiful harbour area of Lorient and the real heart of the festival – Quai des Pays Celts. Each of the Celtic nations represented at the festival has its own pavilions with merchandise directly related to that nation, traditional food and drink from the country and a live performance stage. This area is one which, up until the early evening is free to access and means that a visitor can spend an entire afternoon watching live music from bands from every Celtic nation at each of their stages for absolutely no charge. There is a plethora of good food which is not overly expensive, although why the Wales pavilion decided to showcase ‘Fish and Chips’ as its dish is still not particularly clear.

 

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Above: A view of part of the Celtic stalls at Lorient Harbour.

 

It was only fair to give my hard earned cash to the Cornish food and drink outlet, and fully re-energised by a brilliant pasty brought over from the Homeland, followed by splits with Rodda’s clotted cream, all washed down with a pint of Betty Stogs, I moved further along the national pavilions as the early afternoon live music performances began in earnest.

There was a real mix with all sorts of different genres going on, most with a distinctly Celtic edge, but rock music was just as prevalent as the traditional folk bands. Indeed, I don’t think I will ever forget what I saw on the Galician live music stage – a band performing punk in the Galician language, accompanied by the Gaita (traditional Galician bagpipes). It had to be seen to be believed, but it was absolutely fantastic! With Scotland being this year’s headline nation, their tent had a particularly good vibe going on, which was only added to by the live performance by Tide Lines. This band describe themselves as being heavily influenced by the traditional music of the Gàidhealtachd but whose highly eclectic sound is driven by electric guitars, with drums and keyboards. Their first single, “Far Side of the World”, entered the UK download charts, less than 24 hours after the band was launched on social media in June 2016. They fused rock music (some of which was sung in one of the traditional Hebrides languages) with bagpipes. The crowd were absolutely jumping – at 2:15pm in the afternoon – as Bretons, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and other nationalities responded to the sound together.

 

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Above: Rocking the Scotland tent, Celtic rock with the outstanding Tide Lines.

 

At the conclusion of their outstanding set, I retraced my steps to the Cornish pavilion to hear the lighter folk sound of The Rowan Tree, who got a good sized crowd engaged.

It’s important to point out that if live music isn’t your thing, then there are plenty of other things going on from dancing, sport and art – plus the traditional food and drink stalls will keep you going with cuisine from all over the Celtic world.

This first visit to the Festival Interceltique was memorable for all sorts of reasons. The sense of Celtic pride, the togetherness, the spirit of celebrating everything that these nations share, the friendliness and outstanding atmosphere is one that will stay with me forever. I will be back in 2018.

 

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Above: The Rowan Tree from Saltash playing on the joint Cornish/Manx stage.

 

Festival Interceltique – Unity and Celebration

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

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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

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

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.

 

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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.