Today is Saint Piran’s Day (Cornish: Gool Peran), or the Feast of Saint Piran, the national day of Cornwall. The day is named after one of the patron saints of Cornwall, Saint Piran, who is also the patron saint of tin miners. St Piran’s Day started as one of the many tinners’ holidays observed by the tin miners of Cornwall. The miners of Breage and Germoe observed St Piran’s feast day as that of their patron saint until at least 1764.
Piran’s identity is not entirely clear. He is said to have been an abbot, possibly in Perranzabuloe, in the 5th century – originally from Ireland. Legends associated with Piran include:
- The heathen Irish tied him to a mill-stone, rolled it over the edge of a cliff into a stormy sea, which immediately became calm, and the saint floated safely over the water to land upon the sandy beach of Perranzabuloe in Cornwall. His first disciples are said to have been a badger, a fox, and a bear.
- He was joined at Perranzabuloe by many of his Christian converts and together they founded the Abbey of Lanpiran, with Piran as abbot.
- St Piran ‘rediscovered’ tin-smelting (tin had been smelted in Cornwall since before the Romans’ arrival, but the methods had since been lost) when his black hearthstone, which was evidently a slab of tin-bearing ore, had the tin smelt out of it and rise to the top in the form of a white cross — hence the image of a white cross on a black background on the Cornish flag.
“St. Piran’s Day was said to be a favourite with the tinners who having a tradition that some secrets regarding the manufacture of tin were communicated to their ancestors by that saint, they leave the manufacture to shift for itself for that day, and keep it as a holiday.” There is little description of specific traditions associated with this day apart from the consumption of large amounts of alcohol and food during Perrantide, the week leading up to the 5th of March. The day following St Piran’s Day was known by many as ‘Mazey Day’, a term which has now been adopted by the revived Golowan festival in Penzance. The phrase ‘drunk as a perraner’ was used in 19th century Cornwall.
The modern observance of St Piran’s day as a national symbol of the people of Cornwall started in the late 19th and early 20th century when Celtic Revivalists sought to provide the people of Cornwall with a national day similar to those observed in other nations. Since the 1950s, the celebration has become increasingly observed and since the start of the 21st century almost every Cornish community holds some sort of celebration to mark the event. Saint Piran’s Flag is also seen flying throughout Cornwall on this day.
Cornish pasties would be ideal to celebrate this day. You can find my recipe here — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/tin-miners-and-cornish-pasties/ You can also make Cornish clotted cream. It is possible to buy clotted cream in some markets in the UK but it is not the same as homemade. I used to make it all the time. This video gives the basics, which are to place a shallow tray of heavy cream in an oven set at 80°C/175°F for about 10 to 12 hours. The cream reduces to a buttery, creamy concoction which is perfect for topping scones and jam at tea time.