• May 6, 2014

News from Celtic League

The Kernow Branch Secretary of the Celtic League has written to a UK Member of Parliament (MP) asking them to review their position about an annual Cornish festival, which they deemed to be racist.

Diane Abbott MP, who was elected as the UK’s first black woman MP in 1987, introduced a House of Commons motion in 2006 calling for the Cornish ‘Darkie Day’ Padstow folk festival to be stopped. However, since her Commons Motion in 2006, the organisers of the original ‘Darkie Day’ festival, which has been running in Padstow for over a hundred years, have been working with the police to modify elements of the celebration that may have previously caused offence to members of the public. One significant change has been the rebranding of the festival as ‘Mummers Day’.

Now the Cornish Branch Secretary of the Celtic League – himself a regular participator at Cornish cultural festivals – has written to Diane Abbott, in light of the recent inclusion of the Cornish people under the terms of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCPNM), to ask if she is now prepared to review her previous calls to have the festival stopped.

The FCPNM states that those national minority groups who are protected under its terms have the right, under Article 15:

“…to create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural [and] social life… in public affairs, in particular those affecting them.”

The festival occurs twice a year on Boxing Day (26th December) and News Years Day (1st January).

The full text of the letter from the Branch Secretary can be found below:

“2nd May 2014

Dear Ms Abbott,

I am sure that you are aware of the present Government finally including the Cornish as a national minority under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities last week. This is the culmination of fifteen years intensive work by Cornwall Council, many individuals and groups including the Celtics League, and more than a hundred years of Cornish revival. With that in mind, I am writing to ask you to review your attempts to suppress Cornish Culture in the past. Back in 2006 you perceived Padstow’s midwinter festival to be racist and tabled a motion to get Ministers to stop it.

Over the years, elements that had been considered racist had indeed crept in, but at heart it was a midwinter “guise” dance which is part of pan-European folk tradition. Following a provocative film and a complaint to police, police worked with the organisers to modify the event to make it less offensive, however even after that you apparently wanted the event stopped altogether (https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cornwall/4603886.stm).

I am now asking you to review your position, since Cornwall’s culture and language are integral to its recognition as a national minority. You have previously been sent evidence of Cornwall’s culture by folklorist Dr Merv Davey (https://www.an-daras.com/merv_davey_thesis/md-thesis-app-4-1-Padstow_Mummers.pdf). When he published his research you failed to respond to his letter, I do not know if you have done so subsequently? In his letter to you, Mr Davey outlined very briefly some of Cornwall’s traditions, many of which have historically been appropriated by the dominant English culture by such folklorists as Cecil Sharpe.

We Cornish have a long tradition that sits within European folk tradition but in a distinctive way. The “Guise” tradition is historically associated with mummers plays, but in Cornwall it detached from mummers plays and was attached to processional events. Now, the only guise in mummers plays are those plays that are performed peripatetically such as Helston’s Hal-an-Tow (green painted faces) and Bodmin Riding (leather masks). Both of these events have a procession associated with them, and processional songs and dances. The “guise” tradition is mainly associated with processions such as Montol & Golowan in Penzance (black painted faces and/or masks), the two processions mentioned and Padstow’s May Day (masks) and the renamed Padstow “Mummer’s Day”. So while there is a cross over, the guise tradition does not appear in set mummers plays performed without a procession.

If you could review your position then perhaps you could change Cornish perceptions of Labour as an anti-Cornish party.

Yours Sincerely,

Branch Secretary,
Kernow Branch Celtic League
George Eustice MP
Ed Milliband MP
Branch email: kernow@celticleague.net
Branch Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kernowbranch.celticleague
Branch Twitter: https://twitter.com/KernowLeague”




For comment or clarification on this news item in the first instance contact:

Rhisiart Tal-e-bot
General Secretary, Celtic League
M: 07787318666

The General Secretary will determine the appropriate branch or General Council Officer to respond to your query.


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.

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