BARDS of the Cornish Gorsedh came from all over the world to take part in the ceremony, led by Grand Bard Merv Davey, Telynyor an Weryn, at Launceston Castle on Saturday.
Dressed in their blue robes, they processed through the town square from the Central Methodist Church alongside banner holders, and took their seats in the circle in the castle grounds, where they heard Mr Davey — in Cornish (Kernewek) and English — call for ‘Cornwall’s story’ to be told.
Gorsedh Kernow preserves the history and culture of a Celtic people through poetry, song, dance, music, art, sport and spoken word. It exists to maintain and give expression to the national spirit of Cornwall as a Celtic country. The circle and crowds of people who gathered to watch the ceremony were reminded of the importance of recognising Cornwall as a distinct part of Great Britain.
Speaking of the huge effect tourism has had on Cornwall, the Grand Bard emphasised that much depended on the way Cornish culture is portrayed and the way that assets such as the language and folk tradition are ‘used or abused’. He insisted that Cornwall and the Cornish must be the ‘author of their cultural destiny and not outside commercial interests’.
He noted that the castle grounds they stood in are managed by English Heritage, adding: “Their increasing use of Cornish signage is to be congratulated, but their continued use of the advertising slogan ‘step into England’s story’ to promote their sites in Cornwall, is not.”
He went on to say English Heritage’s promotion of Tintagel Castle ‘as an Arthurian Disneyland undermines its authenticity’, adding: “Gorsedh Kernow calls on English Heritage to reject the Disney tales and tell the Cornish story.”
Mr Davey later told the Post: “The whole point of this castle is it’s not in England. We should be stepping into Cornwall’s story, not England’s.”
Launceston’s town crier Rob Tremain, Cryor An Dre Lanstefan, the ceremony’s circle steward, told the Post they asked if the town could host the 2017 Gorsedh around six years ago, when they realised this year also marks the centenary of the birth of late poet Charles Causley, Morvarth.
Mr Tremain said: “On this wonderful summer Saturday it’s all come to fruition thanks to a lot of hard work from a small local team.”
Mayor of Launceston Margaret Young addressed bards and members of the public who gathered to watch the ceremony and speaking of the special year, said: “Having the Gorsedh here today is a great honour and a special day to continue celebrations.”
The Grand Bard, stood alongside delegates from the Welsh and Breton Gorseddau, said: “Lanson is the historic capital and gateway to Cornwall, a place where a traveller is welcomed in Cornish as they leave England. Here they meet with a change in culture as Cornish language names appear on signs, maps and satnav.
“Launceston has a proud place in Cornwall’s story, with its castle built by Brian of Brittany, the Breton knight who became the first Earl of Cornwall following the Norman Conquest. Throughout the centuries the people of Cornwall have asserted their unique identity and heritage, and it is this distinctive culture that won us international recognition as a legally protected national minority.”
The circle watched the flower dance by the girls of Cornwall, before offering of the fruits of the Earth by the lady of Cornwall, Sophie Hillman from Launceston, attended by her sister Donna Hillman and friend Emily, also from Launceston.
The youngest flower girl, six-year-old Demelza Hallett, from Launceston, who took part along with her sister Eleanor, was later presented with the Lennox Green cup for the youngest flower girl by the Grand Bard.
Bards who have passed away were remembered during the ceremony, including former Post editor Arthur Bate Venning, whose bardic name, Dyller Dunheved, means Launceston editor.
New bards were installed into the College of Bards, including Jon Cleave of Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends, who was awarded a bardship for promoting Cornish identity through song. His bardic name is Lev Enev an Tir, which means Voice of the Spirit and the Land.
He described the ceremony as ‘very moving’ and said it was ‘fantastic’ to have been awarded a bardship.
After the ceremony, marshalled by Launceston Lions, with a free bus from St Joseph’s School helping the less able to get around, a tea including the Lanson cake was enjoyed.
In the evening a gala concert took place at Central Methodist Church. Compered by Bert Biscoe, Viajor Gans Geryow, the audience heard a reading of Causley’s poetry by Jane Nancarrow, music from Rob Strike and Launceston College students, Mike O’Connor and Barbara Griggs and Launceston Town Band.
Afterwards, a packed Bell Inn hosted ‘Come All Ye’ Cornish music and song session.
The Gorsedh celebrations finished on Sunday, with a taste of Cornish session at the town hall, a history walk with Rob Tremain for those hardy souls who braved the rain, and Choral Evensong in Cornish at St Mary Magdalene Church.
In response to comments from the Grand Bard, Georgia Butters, head of operations for English Heritage in Cornwall, said: “English Heritage is fully committed to presenting the Cornish language, history and culture at those historic sites in Cornwall in our care and we were delighted to facilitate the Gorsedh Kernow ceremony at Launceston Castle.
“Since the Middle Ages, the legends and literary associations of Tintagel have played a key role in shaping the castle. The importance of these legends is widely acknowledged by historians and archaeologists. With our exhibition and interpretation, visitors to Tintagel can now get a complete overview of its history — from the artefacts discovered there to the legends associated with it. We believe that understanding how these legends shaped Tintagel’s history is crucial to understanding the site, and our interpretation both explains this and places these legends within the context of the site’s Cornish history and international significance.”