Showing posts with label Cornwall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cornwall. Show all posts

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Mebyon Kernow + Cornish Nationalism": Book Review

Unlike Scotland and Wales, Cornwall represents ambiguity as a Celtic nation. Formerly Celtic-speaking, its last native speakers having died before the nineteenth century, for five centuries it remains an English county. This paradox, accepted by many of its residents, introduces this study by Bernard Deacon, Dick Cole, and Garry Tregidga. (Cardiff: Ashley Drake-Welsh Academic Press-Griffin Press, 2003. ISBN: 1-86057-075-5.) Mebyon Kernow & Cornish Nationalism sums up, concisely and dispassionately, the formation of the 'Party for Cornwall' in 1951, its revivalist and antiquarian predecessors, and its inspiration for wider Cornish Solidarity pressure groups and Cornish Assembly campaigns now agitating for de-evolution in the wake of SNP and Plaid Cymru's successes over the past decade.

The language had faded well before industrialization took full hold over Cornwall. Contrasting with Welsh and Scots nationalist efforts in the early 20c, Cornish progressives took the momentum that erosion of agriculture as a basis for most of its residents provided, and celebrated the spread of the machine. Yet, by the end of the last century, the last tin mine having closed after millennia digging and refining the metal that made Cornwall famed, the trust placed in mechanization had crumbled. Instead, the influx of second-home owners from 'up-country' loomed, along with the relegation of Cornwall as a touristed but otherwise neglected backwater by Westminster, as larger threats. Reasserting Cornish Celtic identity has both played into the hands of those vacationing or retiring there, and tricked those predicting that cultural nationalism could never lead to political activism among those once again proud to be Cornish, not English.

The second chapter surveys the early 20c language movement. The Celtic Revival, as elsewhere in the Atlantic archipelago, remained mired too often in antiquarianism. Garbed druids were picturesque, but failed to use their powers to halt emigration of the land's youth. Many who sought to resurrect the language fought against any accompanying radicalism, paralleling the Gaelic League-IRB Hyde-Pearse contentions. Henry Jenner is here quoted in 1926 as claiming 'no wish on anyone's part to translate the Irish political expression "Sinn Féin" into Cornish, [or] to agitate for Home Rule for Cornwall [or to] foment disloyalty to England's King or the British Empire.' (16) Jenner's assurances of an apolitical revival showed how fearful many of the elder generation could be about any revolution, given the scale of Ireland's recent wars.

Only at mid-century, in the postwar British reassessment of conventional pieties, did nationalists form a constitutional party, Sons of Cornwall, MK. Even tiny nudges towards what was perceived as a call for federalism or regional representation aroused mainstream culturalists' fears echoing Jenner's jitters. Under Richard Jenkins and other committed activists, change began, however small. The competition, the content, and the compromises could be tiny: unable to select among three vying canonized candidates to be Cornwall's patron saint, it was agreed to consecrate the Duchy to their care as a trio.

But, by the early 1960s, more substantive rather than symbolic considerations loomed. Although the authors make no mention, the parallel with Sinn Féin in the Wolfe Tone Society ginger group of the mid-60s sharpens the depiction of what confronted a miniscule cadre. Young Cornish patriots, like their Irish and other Celtic counterparts, longed for not nostalgia but real advance into a politically relevant and economically practical terrain upon which the recovery by Celtic nationals of their land, their subsistence, and their citizenship could be contested and won. For MK, the enemy emerged after the Greater London Council was formed. The GLC proposed-hidden from local scrutiny-that their metropolitan overpopulation problem could be alleviated by the relocation of thousands of its urban millions to rural areas such as Cornwall. This 'overspill' would flood whoever and whatever remained of a native, regional, and Celtic culture, the MK argued. Inspired by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, MK fought back through conventional elections. Like the Welsh and Scots (and the Irish parallel again of Official SF-The Workers Party, unmentioned again by the authors), such methods sputtered and few gains were kept in the invader's Parliament. Powers of resistance again slipped away from Celtic control.

Three splits, in 1969, 1975, and 1980, weakened MK. Two of these led to splinter parties. The complaint reminded me again of that leveled against the Provos more than once. The older organization, restless youth and militantly minded veterans complained, was too broad rather than too narrow a place for Celtic action. If everyone from soft-focus language lovers to conservative ruralists to itchy leftists belonged to MK, it could not move forward into grasping and holding onto meaningful gains, politically or practically.

By the 1970s, opposition did coalesce around one main enemy: housing. Holiday homes and the rising prices that tourism spurred combined. They undermined the ability of native Cornish to afford to remain in their homeland.

But the radical action of another group of Mebyon, the Sons in Wales, the Free Welsh Army, and other shadowy contingents was not the acceptable face of Cornish nationalism. As the paper Cornish Nation became radicalized by such Celtic guerrillas in the early 70s, protests were lodged about its 'increasingly sympathetic coverage of Irish Republicanism.' (61) And in a media climate that loved the global warming of fist-pumping wild youth, the Cornish staged their own performance art. Posing as, inevitably, the 'Free Cornish Army,' students from Plymouth Polytechnic, among '40 fully trained units' as they claimed, marched and were duly photographed and publicized before the trick was spoiled. (62) The heated atmosphere of the decade did, however, lead to another substantial storm, albeit contained within the confines of the Cornish nation. The Cornish National Party broke away from a too-timid, so they charged, MK in 1975. Two years later, the CNP leader left, lamenting its 'infiltration by communist elements.' (67)

By the 1980s, then, MK languished. As with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, the authors explain, the Thatcher years hastened MK's retreat into 'internal reflection about its philosophical role.' (75) Restless younger members, often with socialist ideological support, formed into pressure groups for more immediate action. Ties with leftists and Greens were sought. An elusive An Gof entity threatened violence. MK and nationalists consistently rejected physical-force efforts. They preferred backing up anti-nuclear grassroots efforts. They fought 'Devonwall,' in which the Crown would consolidate Cornish with Devon's services after its 1974 reconfigurations of the British counties.

The new European Parliament, later that decade, inspired calls for local representation, but the Cornish constituency was deemed too miniscule.

With the 1990s, the anti-Poll Tax protests sparked a novel legal defense. It was deemed illegal under a treaty, never repealed or superseded it was argued, that was signed by England with Cornwall-in 1508. Allied as Cornish Solidarity, many resistors to the Crown expanded regional resistance. Although only as a fill-in line under a newly placed box marked 'Other,' the Cornish could present themselves to the rest of Britain as a distinct ethnic group for the first time. In 2000, ten percent of the Cornish electorate, or 50,000 voters, signed a call for a local Assembly. At the time this book went to press, this effort met with stalling by Westminster, but the authors cautiously conclude that such a renewed pride in Cornish regionalism signals a sea-change from ingrained attitudes dominant as late as the 1970s that diminished cultural heritage, belittled local tradition, or condemned political activism among the Celtic remnant at the tip of the British island.

Their summaries make instructive reading. Deacon is a lecturer in Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter. Dick Cole currently leads MK. Dr Garry Tregidga serves as the Deputy Director for the Institute for Cornish Studies (at Exeter). They hold that the language activists have been often 'over-defensive'. (114) This may, they suggest, reflect decades-and centuries-of malaise in Cornish society. So long marginalized as the Celtic Fringe colonized within England itself, its natives lack confidence that its leaders can produce change and decide actions on the local level. Yet, the authors add, the cultural agenda derided by many as nostalgic decades ago now proves that results can be measured. The Celtic manifestations may be more displayed as kitsch in souvenir shops than before, but the Cornish flag flies, signs reflect bilingual heritage long suppressed, and resistance to the Anglophonic juggernaut can be seen more immediately than before by locals and tourists alike. (Compare my review of Marcus Tanner's "The Last of the Celts", which has a pessimistic chapter on this heritage industry in Cornwall and considers all six Celtic nations as doomed to extinction as the language erosion in turn eliminates any ground upon which natives can survive with any indigenous culture or self-governing polity.)

Still, the visual recovery of a Cornish nationalism, the authors warn, does not wrest territorial security. The Cornish flag was forcibly removed from flagpoles after the 2002 death of the Queen Mother, they note. This symbolizes how fragile are the symbols.

Flag-waving, they concur, may make Cornish prouder, 'but it has not fostered a clearly and consistently pro-active nationalist political activism.' (115) But, the druid-garbed revivalists of a century ago could never have predicted how fluid Celtic identity could become. Rather than looking back to antiquated slogans, the authors remind us, the newest Cornish symbols may be heard in music-and emblazoned on surfboards. (Amazon US 8-14-12; in slightly edited form to The Blanket 30 Nov. 2005)

P.S. See the New York Times, 17 November 2005. Sarah Lyall's 'Saving Cornish: But Stop. Isn't That Spelled With a K?' About 200 can converse in Cornish. But four competing versions contend, and any e-mailer, Lyall claims, rather than selecting the 'wrong' version and so incite the recipient's hostility, had better write only in English.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Simon Young's "A.D. 500": Book Review

What if a Byzantine delegation travelled to the British Isles in the chaos after the Romans left and the Saxons invaded? Young collates what's extant about British Celts, Welsh, Irish, Picts, Scots, and Saxons. He dramatizes this material as if recorded by a scribe editing the earlier ambassadors' log-book. The conceit reveals information that I predict even specialists will learn from, and the generalist will enjoy. It's instruction made entertaining, thoughtful, and even wryly witty.

Young's drawn upon archeological and historical reports that are up-to-date. He favors a rather earnest tone, but this reflects the mood he figures the Greeks would have assumed in reporting the wonders and barbarities they, emissaries from Constantinople, would have witnessed through skeptical, jaundiced, yet credulous eyes. I found the earlier material, as the dozen delegates sail up the Atlantic fringe to land around Cornwall to wander through the Pretanic homelands into Wales, rather familiar, but this time period for all its lack of substantial extant detail has been scoured by scholars. Similarly, the Irish portion must take in later accounts that are back-dated to allow us more insight into customs that presumably lasted long, and went back earlier, for the Celts.

The book does lumber along with the Greek trekkers, stringing along anecdotes but often-- if inevitably given the gaps we face in the historical record-- they seem more strung along than intertwined. As Young admits in his preface: "Though the following pages may not satisfy professorial standards of history, it is far more gratifying for reader and author alike to place the little beads of sixth-century knowledge on a fictional string, than don rubber gloves and forensically isolate them, putting each in its own sterile museum box." (x) I must agree.

I liked the Pict portion, for all its necessarily scantiness, for this people seems the most enigmatic for us. Going down through Scotland, when the party crosses the ruined Roman walls that bordered the war zones of what became England, the narrative quickens and the sense of excitement in the traveller's journals can be felt. "The days of glory, these, when legionaries knelt beside the writhing bodies of dying Picts and tried to read in vain the strange tattoos they found there" strikes the exact tone of a chronicler. (134-5) The dangers surrounding foreigners caught between the crumbling defenses of the Christianized, semi-Romanized remnants of British Celts and the ever-encroaching pagan, brutal, Saxon hordes gain vivid retelling. "In fact, modern Londinium is like a sandcastle barracked by the sea, where a child has begun to dig out its finely sculpted innards to add a few more desperate inches to its walls." (192)

This is a short book, that flows in parts-- especially in the pre-"English" section and also at the end that does not wrap up the events neatly-- too awkwardly due to the Young's task of integrating lore and data into the mindset of a sixth-century scholar editing eyewitness journals of the sights they saw in turn rumored or reckoned, taken in reality from fragmented evidence and textual scraps. Yet, he does manage to convey the horror and wonder that must have greeted perhaps the real Greeks that made it, perhaps from a couple of hints in the records, that far north. His book concludes with abundant references that support his hedges and his claims. For that reason, with hesitations, I recommend it. There's doubtless no easier way for the inquiring non-academic to dip into this century's British and Irish realms. From here, of course, the original texts and the scholarly journals can be entered. This remains my favorite period of history, for we know so little still about what fills imaginatively, if hesitantly, two hundred pages here. (Posted to Amazon U.S. and Britain, 9-17-09)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Coirnis: an teanga Ceilteach beo aríst

Tá Coirnis beo slán aríst. Léigh mé an alt fúithi. Tá sé anseo: "Cornish Coming Back from the Brink" le Henry Chu ina 'Amanna na gCathair na hÁingeal' inniu.

Is cuimhne liom chomh ag léite fúithi agam go bhfuil dúshlán de réir aistriú ceart. Mar sin ní raibh comhcheangal ag rá Coirnis, níl leagan sin in úsaid gach uile duine anois. Tá tri modhannaí: Coiteann, Aontaithe, agus Nua-aoiseach i An Corn.

Ar scor ar bith, insíonn Chu go raibh aontaithe anuraidh faoi caighdéan ag scriofa sí faoi dheireadh. Mar sin féin, tá trí chéad duine Coirnise ag labhairt go líofa an teanga seo anallach Ceilteach is cosúil as Breatnais agus . Tá duine leath-mhillúin i gcónaí i gCornach.

Is iníon deiféar bhean a tí agam. Tá an nheacht seo i a chónaí ina Ghleann Féir i gCalifoirnea Thuaidh. Tá sa cheantar go raibh áitriú leis mianadóirí Cornach ar feadh an "Ruathar Ór."

B'fhéidir, tá foghlameoirí fásta ina bhaile sin féin ag éisteacht a podcraobhannaí "Miotas Ceilteach" gach seachtaine leis An Corn as Coirnise. Cuireann Maitiú Ó Clerigh Kernewegbva amach bealach naisc sin fós. Ní bheireann mé an podchraobhanna eile as Coirnise ansiúd air triu iTunes i Meiriceá, os a choinne sin.

Go iontach, bhí eipeasód de "Na Siommainach" leis "Sibeal" ag liú as Coirnise: "Rydhsys rag Kernow lemmyn!" {"Saoirse dó An Corn anois!"} Deir Chu go raibh cúis is déanaí uirthi. Ar ndóigh, níl ábalta muid ag féiceáil an eipeasód seo amuigh An Bhreatain Mhór ach oiread.

Cornish: A Celtic tongue alive again.

Cornish is alive and well again. I read an article about it. Here it is: "Cornish Coming Back from the Brink" by Henry Chu in the "Los Angeles Times" today.

I recall while I was reading about it that there was a struggle concerning a correct version. Since there was no continuity in speaking Cornish, there is no rendering that's in use by every person now. There are three styles: Common, United, and Modern in Cornwall.

However, Chu tells that there's unity last year about the standard in writing it, at last. All the same, there's only three hundred Cornish people fluently speaking this ancient Celtic tongue, similar to Breton and Welsh. There's a half-million people living in Cornwall.

There's a daughter of [the] sister of my woman of [the] house {="my wife's niece"}. This niece is residing in Grass Valley in Northern California. This district was settled with Cornish miners during the "Gold Rush."

Perhaps, there's adult learners in that same town listening to "Celtic Myth" podcasts every week from Cornwall in Cornish. Matthew Clarke sends out "Kernewegva" by way of that site too. I cannot catch the other Cornish podcast from over there through iTunes in America, on the other hand.

Wonderfully, there was an episode of "The Simpsons" with "Lisa" {"Lizzie" is closest in Irish} yelling in Cornish: "Rydhsys rag Kernow lemmyn!". {"Freedom for Cornwall now!"} Chu says it was her latest cause. Naturally, we weren't able to see this episode either, outside Great Britain.

Ghriangraf/ Photo: "Bheith móralach as Cornach/ Kernow bys vykken/ Proud to be Cornish" cap from/caipín ó/"Cornish Heritage Shop/ An Siopa Dúchas Cornaigh".