In Brief

What is St Piran’s Day - and how is it celebrated?

Where to celebrate the patron saint of Cornwall and Celtic culture

Most Brits are familiar with annual celebrations in honour of patron saints St George, St Andrew and St David, but St Piran’s Day on 5 March might be more of a mystery - unless you live in Cornwall.

As Poldark fans will know, Cornwall was historically a centre of the tin mining industry; so it’s no surprise that locals would adopt St Piran, the patron saint of tin miners, as the country's unofficial patron saint.

St Piran was a 5th century abbott who is thought to have been among a wave of holy men who came to Cornwall from Ireland. In fact, some sources claim that St Piran and St Kieran, an Irish saint with whom he shares his 5 March feast day, are actually the same person.

Many legends are connected with St Piran and the miracles he supposedly wrought, ranging from the fantastical, such as speaking to animals, to the practical - he is popularly credited with rediscovering the lost art of tin smelting, says Cornwall Live.

Even if you are unfamiliar with St Piran, you have probably seen his flag before. The black banner with a white cross is the official flag of Cornwall. You can expect to see plenty of them on display in the county on St Piran’s Day.

How is the day celebrated?

Villages and towns across the county are organising events to celebrate Cornish culture, including traditional food, music and, of course, the Cornish language. 

Cornish cultural society Gorsedh Kernow has put together a round-up of all the celebrations taking place.

This year, a short film has been released to mark St Piran’s Day. Viaj an delow follows a specially commissioned granite statue of the saint on its journey from a quarry in Penryn to its new home in Brittany, north-western France.

The two regions share a Celtic heritage - in fact, the Cornish and Breton languages are closely related, and even have some words in common. St Piran will join statues portraying dozens of other Celtic saints on a hillside called the Vallee des Saints.

Viaj an delow was filmed by Stephen Gainey, a businessman and passionate advocate of the Cornish language, who served as the Gorsedh Kernow’s grand bard until his recent death.

His successor in the role, Elizabeth Carne - Melennek, to give her her ceremonial name - paid tribute to those who had kickstarted the Cornish language revival.

“Cornwall is unique with a culture and heritage to be proud of. Our precious language is a special part of that culture and was spoken on these islands long before English,” she said.

You can get started by wishing your Cornish neighbours “Gool Peran Lowen” - happy St Piran’s Day.

If you want to go even deeper, the Cornish Language Partnership’s St Piran’s Day guide features all the Cornish words you need to celebrate the occasion in authentic style - from “sans tasek” (patron saint) to “pasti” (you can probably guess that one) - as well as traditional songs and recipes.

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