In his huge text on the geography of the known world, the Greek writer Strabo (63BC-24AD) refers to the Celtic tradition of honouring the bards, the singers and poets who preserved the history and traditions of the tribes living on the western fringes of Europe. Local tribal chiefs would have a bard on hand to entertain the company after supper with harp, song and story from a long oral tradition now completely lost.
We know from ancient Welsh sources that there were three major locations where these bards periodically came together for the purpose of ceremony and competitions in music, poetry and literature. One of these ‘Gorsedd’ places was ‘Beisgawen’ which is now widely accepted as being Boscawen n’ Un the ancient stone circle near St Buryan in West Penwith.
Modern interest began in the late eighteenth century with one famously eccentric Welshman called Iolo Morganwg, who researched what little was known about the ancient bards and then made up the rest! Just as the last few native Cornish speakers were dying out Iolo Morgawg established the Welsh Gorsedd and that led in the late nineteenth century, to interest amongst scholars in similarly restoring the bardic tradition in Cornwall.
The first Cornish Gorsedd back in the 1920s was held at Boscawen and I hope the spirits of the old bards were still there to see it.
Every year the Cornish bards meet at their chosen Gorsedd place - and then they process with dignified ceremony. The venue (Helston this year) is moved around the county to ensure everyone gets the chance to observe these revered custodians of Cornish culture.
The ceremony begins with the sounding of the horn ‘Corn Gwlas’ a symbolic call to the four points of the compass and the Grand Bard asks his fellow bards if there is peace. On their third assurance of ‘Peace!’ the proceedings commence.
In all but the poorest Cornish kitchens, the cooking was done on a cast iron Cornish range, and the use of the range dictated the way that things were cooked – usually with the greatest economy as to fuel. A Cornish under-roast can be made with any sort of meat, but cheap cuts that benefit from long slow cooking are best. Quantities are hard to give, so this is a method rather than a recipe.
Dark Cornish chough, for thee
My shred of minstrelsy
I carol at this meditative hour,
Linking thee with my reed,
Grey moor and grassy mead,
Dear carn and cottage, heathy bank and bower.
From 'The Cornish Chough' by John Harris (1820-1884)