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Encyclopedia > West Cornwall May Day celebrations

The West Cornwall May Day celebrations are an example folk practices found in the Western part of Cornwall,United Kingdom associated with the coming of spring. The celebration of May Day is a common motif throughout europe and beyond. In Cornwall there are a number of notable examples of this practice including the Obby Oss in Padstow and Furry Dance or Flora day in Helston. Cornwall (Cornish: Kernow) is a county at the extreme South-West of England on the peninsula that lies to the west of the River Tamar. ... A hobby-horse is childs toy horse popular during the days before cars. ... Location within the British Isles. ... The Furry Dance (also known as the Floral Dance or Flora Dance) takes place in Helston, Cornwall, and is one of the oldest customs still practiced in the British Isles. ... Location within the British Isles Helston (Cornish: Hellys or Henlys) is a small town in Cornwall, UK, at the northern end of the Lizard Peninsula. ...

Details prior to the 20th Century

Prior to the 20th century it was common for young residents of the towns of Penzance and St Ives and other nearby settlements to conduct their own festivities. During this festival it usual to make 'May Horns' usually fashioned from tin cans and 'May Whistles' made from small branches of the sycamore tree. The tree branches also forming decorations for peoples homes. Map sources for Penzance at grid reference SW470303 Penzances old docks with Abbey Slip and St Marys Church behind Arms of Penzance Penzance (In Cornish - Pensans) is a port in Cornwall, England,UK, facing southeast onto the English Channel. ... St Ives harbour and the local rescue lifeboat. ... MEG ILLIF 1630 260 2894 ...

The following is from a contemporay description of the events themselves in 1881 collected by Robert Hunt in 'Popular Romances of the West of England Online Transcript of the original

THE first of May is inaugurated with much uproar. As soon as the clock has told of midnight, a loud blast on tin trumpets proclaims the advent of May. This is long continued. At daybreak, with their "tintarrems," they proceed to the country, and strip the sycamore-trees (called May-trees) of all their young branches, to make whistles. With these shrill musical instruments they return home. Young men and women devote May-day to junketing and picnics.

It was a custom at Penzance, and probably at many other Cornish towns, when the author was a boy, for a number of young people to sit up until twelve o'clock, and then to march round the town with violins and fifes, and summon their friends to the Maying.

When all were gathered, they went into the country, and were welcomed at the farmhouses at which they called, with some refreshment in the shape of rum and milk, junket, or something of that sort. They then gathered the "May," which included the young branches of any tree in blossom or fresh leaf. The branches of the sycamore were especially cut for the purpose of making the "May-music." This was done by cutting a circle through the bark to the wood a few inches from the end of the branch. The, bark was wetted and carefully beaten until it was loosened and could be slid off from the wood. The wood was cut angularly at the end, so as to form a mouth-piece, and a slit was made in both the bark and the wood, so that when the bark was replaced a whistle was formed. Prepared with a sufficient number of May whistles, all the party returned to the town, the band playing, whistles blowing, and the young people singing some appropriate song.

Revival in St Ives

St Ives in recent years has succesfully revived some of the customs described above as part of its May Day Celebrations.

See Also



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