Celtic Culture & heritage

Not dead yet: John Gillingham on the Cornish Language

Transceltic is pleased to welcome Dr. Kevin Scannell as a contributor.  This article is the first of a series by Dr. Scannell on the Celtic languages, which were originally published on his blog Indigenous Tweets.

Cornish inscription

I am excited to begin the series with the Cornish language (Kernewek), one of the six Celtic languages, spoken in Cornwall, at the southwestern-most tip of Great Britain.  Cornish is a particularly interesting case since it is among the languages to have been declared "dead" as far back as the 18th century, one of the first victims of the expansion of English that is threatening so many languages around the world to this day. However, the reports of the death of Cornish have been greatly exaggerated!  Indeed, it is in many ways an inspiring case of language revival; today it is spoken by an active community of second-language learners and a number of children are being raised in the language, with the first Cornish language preschool opening just last year.

The language is also famous for a decades-long dispute over orthography that has hindered the revival movement in many ways; we touch on some of those issues in the interview below. The good news is that in 2008 many of the major figures in the language community came to an agreement on a Standard Written Form (PDF link) for Cornish. For other small language communities who are trying to produce written materials for language revitalization and are struggling with dialect variations or spellings differences, there are certainly important lessons to be learned from the Cornish experience.

Tyrconnell - Gaelic State in Ireland

Tyrconnell flag

Tyrconnell (Irish Gaelic: Tir Chonaill) was an independent Gaelic state in Ireland. It covered an area that was larger than the present County Donegal.  It took in parts of Derry, Sligo, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Leitrim. The powerful Irish family O’Donnell (Ó Domhnail) ruled the land under Brehon Law.  The statutes of Brehon Law were used to govern early medieval Irish society. As quoted in historian Peter Berresford Ellis' interview with Transceltic, it is “what could be claimed as northern Europe’s oldest legal system”.

The Kingdom of Tyrconnell was said to have been founded in the fifth century by Conall Gulban, a son of Niall Noígíallach. Niall Noígíallach was an Irish King known as Niall of the Nine Hostages. He got his name from his strategy of taking hostages in his battles with other chieftains. There are a number of present day Irish names which claim a link to Niall and his dynasty of Irish chieftains held sway in Ireland for several centuries. The O’Donnell’s were descended from Conal Gulban.

Barrule: Celtic Band Bringing Manx Music to the World

Barrule - the trio

Barrule are a Manx band that is going places. Bringing a distinctive Manx sound to the musical style shared by musicians from around the Celtic world. The name Barrule is taken from the famous Manx summit associated with the Celtic God Manannán mac Lir, from where their Island home derives its name. The band’s debut album entitled ‘Barrule’ is being released in the UK on May 20th 2013.

The trio are made up of talented musicians Tomás Callister, Jamie Smith and Adam Rhodes. Their growing reputation has seen them supporting legendary Scottish Band ‘Blazin Fiddles’ at Yn Chruinnaght 2012 inter-Celtic festival in Isle of Man. Other appearances around the Celtic Nations have included Festival Interceltique de Lorient, Brittany, Lowender Peran Festival, Cornwall and Cwlcwm Celtaidd inter-Celtic Festival, Wales.

Daphne du Maurier and Cornwall

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier (May 13 1907-April 19 1989) was an author and playwright who had a deep love for Cornwall. In total she wrote 15 novels, 12 non-fiction books, 3 plays and a number of collections of short stories. Her novels "Rebecca" and "Jamaica Inn", set in Cornwall, were adapted for film and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. "Frenchman's Creek" published in 1941 was made into a film in 1944 and directed by Mitchell Leisen. Amongst other of her works adapted for the screen were "The Birds" (directed by Alfred Hitchcock) and "Don't Look Now" (directed by Nicholas Roeg).

Daphne du Maurier was born in London, one of three sisters; the elder was writer Angela du Maurier (1902-2002) and the younger painter Jeanne du Maurier (1911-1996). Her father was actor-manager Gerald du Maurier (1873-1934) and her mother actor Muriel Beaumont (1881-1957). Daphne du Maurier lived in Cornwall for many years where she died in 1989.

3rd St Augustine Celtic Music and Heritage Festival

Saint Augustine Celtic Festival

The incongruity of Buccaneers, Pipes, Palm Trees and the flags of the Celtic Nations was difficult to dismiss whilst Transceltic attended the 3rd Annual St. Augustine Celtic Music and Heritage Festival held in this beautiful Florida City which dates from 1565. The British, under Oliver Cromwell, captured Jamaica in 1655 and 13 years later Jamaica served as the base for a devastating attack on St. Augustine.  It was in response the rapine pillage of 1668 that led to the construction of the magnificent fortress that today  guards the waterfront.  This is a mystic ancient place benefiting from a compact walkable town centre which is reminiscent of the New Orleans French Quarter or Quebec City. Saint Augustine is the oldest permanently occupied European settlement in the United States, a genteel, cosmopolitan and above all a welcoming and secure environment of dazzling beauty.  It is somewhat shocking to exit the infamous Interstate 95 and travel 15 minutes through a busy commercial corridor of malls, coffee shops and car dealerships to cross a bridge and enter into the 17th century.

Interview with John Callow on Illiam Dhône

We put the following questions about Manx nationalist and political martyr Illiam Dhône to acclaimed historian John Callow. For more information on Illiam Dhône and the historical context in which he lived, read our introduction to Illiam Dhône.

1. Why do you think Illiam Dhône took the actions that he did and which eventually led to his execution?

John Callow on Hango Hill

The English Civil War (1642–1651) had placed enormous strains upon the Manx economy and society. The island had been militarised to an unprecedented degree, with the creation of new state of the art artillery forts and gunpowder mills. Conscription was used for these building projects and for sustaining the Earl of Derby's war effort. In addition, the Earl had sought to overturn inheritance law, limit farm leases, and re-assert the centralised control of Stanley authority in almost every aspect of Manx life. The balance between lord and tenant was dramatically redrawn on the Isle, in favour of the rich and the powerful.

It was no surprise, therefore, that there was discontent: or that a rebellion had been attempted before, in 1643. What was surprising, not least to the Stanleys, themselves, was that the rising of 1651 was led by one of their own clients. However, it really shouldn’t surprise us that Illiam Dhône was moved to act in the good of his island home.

He knew full well what could happen to a native Gaelic society when it was visited by English invasion. Tales of (and refugees from) Ireland at the time of both the massacres of 1640 and the Cromwellian conquest of 1649 would have been the source of frightening rumours and first-hand accounts of the cultural and physical devastation wrought by the total collapse of Charles I's government.

Biography of John Callow

John Callow at Manx Quaker burial ground

John Callow is a writer, screenwriter, and historian, specialising in Seventeenth Century politics and popular culture. He is the author of 9 books including: 'The Making of James II' (2000), 'Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Europe' (co-author with Geoffrey Scarre 2001), 'King in Exile' (2004) and 'James II -The Triumph and the Tragedy' (2005), 'Change the World' (2010), 'The Art of Revolution' (2011), and 'GMB at Work - The story behind the Union' (2012). He has recently completed work on a new cultural history of witchcraft, 'Embracing the Darkness', published by I.B. Tauris.

John is of Manx descent and alongside his books he is the author of the article 'The Limits of Indemnity: Sovereignty and Restribution at the Trial of William Christian (Illiam Dhone)' (Seventeenth Century, vol.XV. no.2) and a forthcoming study of Illiam Dhone's work at the heart of Lord Fairfax's administration of the Isle of Man, 1652-60. He has appeared in numerous television programmes, including 'Find My Past' and the 'One Show'.

Introduction to Illiam Dhône: Manx political martyr

Illiam Dhone

Illiam Dhône (14 April 1608 - 02 January 1663) was a Manx nationalist and politician, who was executed by firing squad at Hango Hill in the Isle of Man on 2nd January 1663. The name Illiam Dhône means "Brown William" in English, a name that was given to him because of his hair colour. His name in English was William Christian. Illiam Dhône was appointed Receiver General of the Isle of Man in 1648.

At the time of the Civil War, James Stanley 7th Earl of Derby was a loyalist supporter of King Charles I. In 1651 he left the Island to fight for the English King against the Parliamentary forces. He was captured and his wife Countess Charlotte de la Tremouille hoped to try and negotiate her husband’s release by holding out against the surrender of the Island’s garrisons. However, Illiam Dhône in an act known as the Manx Rebellion gave up her remaining forces to those of Parliament who at the time had besieged the Island. James Stanley had by this time been executed.

Biography of Peter Berresford Ellis

Peter Tremayne

Peter Berresford Ellis, Celtic historian and novelist, author of the international bestselling Sister Fidelma historical mysteries under his pseudonym of Peter Tremayne, became a prominent advocate of Pan-Celticism in the 1960s. He joined the Celtic League in 1966. Born in Coventry, Warwickshire, in 1943, he was the son of an Irish journalist. While his mother's paternal family were an old English one, her mother was of a Breton family. "With Irish, Breton, Welsh and Scots uncles and aunts as well as the English, what else could I do but be interested in the Celts?" he has often quipped.

Leaving College Peter went into journalism, and eventually helped Brendan Mac Lua (1935-2009) launch the Irish Post newspaper in Britain in 1970. Peter was deputy editor. He later became editor of weekly magazine in London before returning to higher education. As well as a first class honours degree in Celtic Studies, a master's degree in the same subject, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. In 1987 he received an Irish Post Award in recognition of his work.

The same year was inaugurated a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd mainly for his ground breaking work The Cornish Language and its Literature (Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1974) which was used for many years as a text book for the Cornish Language Board.  He took the Bardic name of Gwas-an-Geltyon (Servant of the Celts).

Isle of Man Food and Drink Festival 2012

Manx Food Theatre

Be environmentally friendly, buy local and support Manx farmers and food producers. That was the clear message that came from the Isle of Man Food and Drink Festival held at Knockaloe Farm on the Isle of Man on the weekend of 22nd and 23rd September 2012.

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