Cornish minority status: what does it mean?

It’s been 10 years since Cornish people were officially granted minority status. So what does this mean, and has anything changed since then? Let’s take a look at Cornish identity today!

I’m not fully Cornish, but my dad’s side of the family are very passionate about Cornish identity, and I definitely inherit some of this fervour from them. 

So, while I can’t speak completely from first-hand experience, I do know a fair amount about the importance of Cornish identity. 

What happened in 2014? 

Cornish Flag (cornwall/kernow).

In 2014, the Cornish people achieved official recognition as a national minority under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. 

This status places the Cornish on an equal footing with other Celtic peoples in the UK: the Scots, Welsh, and Irish. 

The decision acknowledges the unique identity, culture and history of Cornwall – highlighting its distinctiveness within the broader UK context.

Why was national minority status granted?

Portreath North Cornwall England UK between St Agnes and Godrevy on the Heritage Coast

Cornish identity is deeply rooted in history and culture. 

Cornwall has a distinct heritage – just one example is that it has its own language, Cornish, which is a Celtic language closely related to Welsh and Breton. 

Though it experienced a decline in use over the centuries – after Cornwall was absolved into England – recent revival efforts have seen an increase in speakers.

The region has unique traditions, such as the annual celebration of St. Piran’s Day, which is dedicated to the patron saint of Cornwall and the traditional Cornish Celtic wrestling and music.

The move to grant minority status followed years of campaigning by groups like the Gorsedh Kernow, an organization dedicated to preserving Cornish history and culture. 

Proponents argued that recognition was crucial for preserving Cornwall’s unique identity amid growing concerns over cultural homogenization and economic pressures.

What does the minority status mean?

The minority status confers several legal protections aimed at preserving the Cornish culture and ensuring equal treatment. 

It mandates government support for the Cornish language, alongside protections against cultural erasure. 

Importantly, it recognizes the Cornish as an ethnic group, which influences policy decisions and funding allocations for cultural projects.

Local reactions

The reaction in Cornwall has been overwhelmingly positive. Many residents view the recognition as a long-overdue affirmation of their distinct identity. 

Mebyon Kernow, a political party advocating for Cornish self-government, praised the decision. 

Local businesses and cultural organizations have also welcomed the status, seeing it as a boost for tourism and local pride. 

However, there are challenges. Some critics argue that the recognition is symbolic and does not address underlying economic issues in the region, such as low wages and high housing costs.

What has changed? 

The recognition of Cornish as an ethnic minority means that more can be done to preserve the language and culture. 

Local schools have begun incorporating Cornish history and language into their curriculums, and funding for cultural events and language courses has seen an uptick. 

Language magazine states that “Kernewek is being learned by more than 4,000 pupils in 23 schools” and BBC Travel states that during Covid-19 lockdowns, there was a surge in popularity for people wanting to learn their ancestor’s tongue. 

In another article, BBC describes a “resurgence of interest” in St. Piran’s Day in Cornwall.

Of course, this has a circular effect, with more locals being aware and interested about their culture, and thus more Cornish cultural movements becoming popular! 

How is Cornwall celebrating the anniversary? 

There are ten events taking place in 2024 that celebrate different aspects of Cornish culture and heritage, from Cornish wrestling to performances to special exhibitions. I’ll be posting all about them next week!

So, what does the Cornish minority status mean to Cornwall? 

The recognition of Cornish minority status was a landmark in the preservation and promotion of Cornwall’s unique identity. 

It reflects the resilience and pride of the Cornish people in their heritage and has seen some positive upticks in celebrating Cornish culture. Hopefully, the events in 2024 will also reflect this!

There’s still more to be done when it comes to expressing Cornish identity, but generally the minority status is a positive thing that’s helped more and more people (myself included) become interested in the region’s rich culture and heritage. 

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