How did you celebrate St Piran’s day? Did you take part in a furry dance? Or have a two-course pasty supper? Our Cornish readers will know that last Sunday (March 5th) was St Piran’s Day, when the whole county celebrated the life of a 5th-century Cornish abbot and saint.
(They clearly have long memories in the Duchy).
Supposedly of Irish origin, he was adopted as the patron saint of tin-miners, and as a result, is now generally regarded as the patron saint of Cornwall. As with all saints he had to suffer for his celebrity. Legend has it the ‘heathen Irish’ tied him to a mill-stone, then rolled it over the edge of a cliff into the sea, which immediately became calm, and the saint then floated safely over the water to land on the beach at Perranzabuloe in Cornwall. Having washed up in the county (so to speak), he then established himself as a hermit.
Today’s visitors to Cornwall needn’t take such drastic action to get there (although queuing on the road network in the summer can feel like the modern day equivalent of being tied to millstone). And it is a measure of how popular the County is, as both a holiday destination and place to live, that a local radio station (called Pirate FM, naturally) carried out a poll to see whether St Piran’s Day should be declared a National Holiday!
One of the supporters for the idea, Mike Chappell from Cornwall’s Celtic Congress, suggested that it would be worth having the Day off as “It’s early in the year and people like to get out and celebrate it”.
And boy do Cornwall celebrate their old hermit. Towns and villages throughout the county laid on at the weekend parades, festivals, processions and lots (and lots) of eating and drinking. The Furry Dance, by the way, is a processional dance performed four-abreast – often by children.
Probably the most symbolic event was staged at Perranporth, where the local community stage the St Piran’s Play. Produced by the St Piran Trust, dozens of actors and musicians portray the stages of St Piran’s life, whilst hundreds of people walk over the dunes and watch the play dressed in black, white and gold, (the colours of Cornwall) and carrying the Cornish Flag.
Few counties can probably match Cornwall for the way in which its local community celebrate their history and culture and as a result keep alive their local identity.
Yeghes da! As they probably said a lot in Cornish at the weekend. That’s ‘cheers’ to the rest of us.