St Pirans Day Celebrations in Redruth – Proud To Be Cornish

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Morning has arrived and I drew the curtains with anticipation. The sky looks clear as predicted by the weatherman, who would have guessed!

It’s Saturday and I am heading to Redruth for the annual celebration of St Pirans Day the patron saint of the tin miners.

Working on the outskirts of Redruth I rarely venture into the main street but have popped to the post office and bank once or twice before. I had a basic idea what to expect with parking but no clue where to stand, which way the parade would come and where will I find my best vantage point so this would be trial and error.

Grabbing a quick bite to eat I finish my coffee just as the LED on the battery charger flicks to green. My wife and I hit the road and I use the time in the car to clean the lenses. For this trip I have the trusty 17-85mm, and just in case I am perched on a wall for the view the 70-200mm. Despite both having dust caps and uv filters they are filthy and it’s time well spent sorting out.

Guessing the main street could be closed we head down the A30 and come into Redruth passing Tescos. I guide us to the quietest car park I could think of after looking at Google maps and to my surprise we were spoilt for choice.

As my wife paid for a ticket she returned to the car with a 7 foot figure shadowing her. The person was dressed all in black flowing robes and instead of a head it had a horses skull! Surprisingly she hardly reacted when she turned around but I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. This was a group of performers getting ready, I didn’t photograph them then as I was sure I would see them later.

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We briskly made our way to the main street where people had started to gather.

IMG_4970In the sky I spotted a balloon drifting on the breeze against the blue sky before it was lost behind the clouds. I got a quick snap of this while we waited. Moving up and down the street there were many stalls and people advertising Cornish products and between the crowds with some patience I finally managed to get a clear shot of the Rodda’s Vintage Van.

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The parade begins with the town crier walking ahead ringing his bell. This is a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a bicorn hat. The flags wave in the breeze and smiles are made as money is passed into the collection buckets.

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A couple of fellow photographer lean in and crouch to get their shots, the St Pirans flags held high as the procession moves ever closer.

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Distinctive colours of Cornwall, the black and the golden yellow are clearly visible in many of the costumes and coats of arms. The most famous of the tartans shown to the right is the Cornish National pattern designed by the poet E.E. Morton Nance in 1963.

Each colour of tartan has a special significance or meaning. The White Cross on a black background is from the Cornish flag , the Patron Saint of tinners; black and gold were the colours of the ancient Cornish Kings, red for legs and beak of the national bird the chough and blue for the blue of the sea surrounding Cornwall.

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The flag on the left is attributed to Saint Piran, a 6th-century Cornish abbot. One early use of a white cross and black background design is the 15th century coat of arms of the Saint-Peran family. The earliest known evidence of this flag was recorded by Davies Gilbert in his 1838 work: The Parochial History of Cornwall, in which he gives reference to a white cross on a black background that was formerly the banner of St Perran and the Standard of Cornwall; probably with some allusion to the black ore and the white metal of tin.

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Although the daffodil is not our national flower it’s use in the festival has clear significance throughout the county.

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The sound of Cornish folk music plays on the wind, with one group cross-fading to the next in a seamless yet natural symphony. The instruments ranged from Bagpipes, drums, violins and wooden flutes as the participants marched on up the main street passed us.

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From here on the more modern and elaborate costume designs appeared with the arrival of these three adventurous people on stilts. Amazingly they all kept their balance while walking up the inclining walkway whilst ‘throwing shapes’ to entertain the spectators.

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Children from the local schools followed on with smiles and waving their flags in a sea of black and white.

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A huge paper animal looms into view surrounded by bright yellow flowers. The kids did amazingly well at holding it up and moving up the street between all the onlookers. The animals name Tolgus also takes on a special meaning as a district and village in the parish of Redruth.  Historically there were several mines in the area, mining tin and copper and they are deeper than deep. The South Tolgus Mine was 157 fathoms deep (approximately 942 feet) at it’s last reported survey in the 1920’s and other mines are not far behind in that figure.

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In a whirlwind of blacks and purples a party of musicians accompanied by two very tall dark menacing birds and a horses skull dance and play while led by a lady in a rather fetching top hat and bells on her boots. It’s the group from the car park at the beginning of our day and a sort of playful macabre that I think really added to the procession. They created huge laughter when the tall bird like figures jumped at the crowd sporadically roaring at the tops of their voices and once the initial shock and surprise passed transformed into sheer laughter.

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Following the event we felt hungry so while the main street was still packed we walked down to cross street and cut though to an enclosed area that I now know to be called St Rumon’s Gardens  The old ruins which I think used to be a cinema back in 1904 also contains stones from the original chapel of St Rumon dating back to the 1400’s. It was quiet and pleasantly warm and after we ate I dusted off the crumbs, picked up my camera, framed the shot and just about to press the shutter button when 40 children with teachers entered through the courtyard gate and right into view. Little did I know this was the starting and the finishing point for many members of the procession but it was great to see the children being congratulated as they all filtered in. Feeling taking a photo now would be some what inappropriate we packed up our bits and headed back over to the main street again.

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On closer inspection there are many features and buildings around the main street and the side alleys that spark interest. Here are a few that caught my attention over the following 15 minutes.

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I am growing more and more in love with the grundgy architecture of some of the buildings. I find the contrast between the light and dark areas fascinating and often turning a dull light de-saturated image to black and white can boost an unexpected result.

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Walking back up the hill we came across the Four Lanes Male Choir who were mid singing songs, one I recognized from Les Miserable and they were brilliant to watch.

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Wandering down Alma Place we stumbled across a slap stick clown act for the children on unicycle. Although it was aimed at the children I caught myself chuckling as well.  When he hopped on the unicycle I did my best in the situation to snap a photo, although I don’t consider it the best shot that I should have got I still think it’s honest.

Well the sun amazingly has stayed out all day and I am sure that I have a good selection of images to sort through as we weave in and out of side roads and alleys back towards the car the final pictures of the day end up being of an old peeling worn gate/door and a wooden carved Celtic cross.

All in all it was an amazing day. I have found new places, seen new things and best of all I am still dry as it hasn’t rained!! It’s local events like these that really makes my week and dare I say it even proud to be a Cornish lad. I hope that the next time you are in the area and St Pirans Day is nearing you also swing by and get involved.

Look even the bronze tin miner statue had a great time.

Will Allen.

Find me at @thevoyageunite

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