Sunday, September 14, 2014

Meanwhile in Cornwall: Mebyon Kernow founded, 1951

   While the IRA was reorganizing itself, a short distance across the water the small nation of Cornwall was slowly reawakening. The Cornish are an ancient people, with their own culture and language (of the Brythonic Celtic language). The formation of Mebyon Kernow in 1951 led to a political and cultural revival in the region after decades of poverty and socio-political neglect.
The group does great work in the Cornish community today and you can read more about them here:

Chris Dunkerley: Mebyon Kernow – 60 Years on – and still looking good!
December 3, 2010

As Mebyon Kernow – The Party for Cornwall, held its National Conference last month, and now looks to build for the future of the Duchy, it also looks back over the past 60 years that have been significant for Kernow.

The early years
The inaugural meeting of what was called just Mebyon Kernow (meaning Sons of Cornwall in Kernewek) took place almost 60 years ago, on Saturday 6th January 1951, at Oates Hotel in Redruth.

There were thirteen people present and a further seven sent their apologies. Among that score of founder members were four future Grand Bards and a future university professor, and  more.

Helena Charles was elected Chairman, with Lambert Truran as Secretary and George Pawley White as Treasurer. (Although Helena and Pawley have now passed on, Lambert lives  in Western Australia still supporting the Cornish cause).

This initial meeting also adopted the seven original aims of the new organisation:-

1. To study local conditions and attempt to remedy any that may be prejudicial to the best interests of Cornwall by the creation of public opinion or other means.
2. To foster the Cornish Language and Literature.
3. To encourage the study of Cornish history from a Cornish point of view.
4. By self knowledge to further the acceptance of the idea of the Celtic character of Cornwall, one of the six Celtic Nations.
5. To publish pamphlets, broadsheets, articles and letters in the Press whenever possible, putting forward the foregoing aims.
6. To arrange concerts and entertainments with a Cornish-Celtic flavour through which these aims can be further advanced.
7. To cooperate with all societies concerned with preserving the character of Cornwall.

From its earliest days, Mebyon Kernow was openly political and by September 1951, the organisation had officially committed itself to Cornish self-government. The fourth  aim was modified: ‘ to further the acceptance of the Celtic character of Cornwall and its right to self-government in domestic affairs in a Federated United Kingdom. ‘

Helena Charles led the party for the first four years and was also the first person to put MK policies to the electorate, winning a seat on Redruth-Camborne Urban District Council in 1953, fighting under the slogan ‘A Square Deal for the Cornish.’  A member of Gorsedh Kernow under the Bardic name of Maghteth Boudycca (‘Daughter of Boudicca’), she was succeeded as Chairman of MK by Major Cecil Beer in the late 1950s.

Its first two decades saw MK grow from a small band of committed enthusiasts, into  a movement supported by thousands.

Robert Dunstone (Truro) led the party throughout much of the 1960s, before Len Truran (Redruth) took the helm later in the decade. Any list of initiatives taken by Mebyon Kernow in these early years would be very long indeed. Well known political campaigns include those for a Cornish University, a Cornish Industrial Board or Development Agency, opposition to London Overspill, support for traditional Cornish industries, opposition to railway closures and help for Heligoland Freisans who wished to return to their land which was being used as a bombing range by the British government in the mid 1950s.

Mebyon Kernow prepared numerous reports on important policy areas, including Cornish University (30 years before the Lib Dem equivalent), integrated transport system, economic development, education, fishing, mining, broadcasting and local government reform.

The party was also instrumental in promoting Cornwall’s distinctive identity, with many party members also to the forefront of the Cornish Language revival. MK members worked to promote the use of the Cornish Flag of St Piran, to support Cornish sports like wrestling and to commemorate Cornish figures of the past. In 1966 MK erected the plaque memorial to An Gof and Flamank at St Keverne Church where annual commemorations have been held ever since.

“Until the Government of Britain is decentralised and local government made really responsible, we shall continue to endure the present state of affairs, in which an anonymous clerk, in Bristol or London, can make decisions vitally affecting rates in this Unban District.  The devolution of power can only come about if voters in Cornwall, and elsewhere, accept their responsibilities as electors.”
Helena Charles, election leaflet 1952

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