Britain's latest minority has Cornish cachet

Cornwall – home to the ubiquitous Cornish pasty and the 'Pirates of Penzance' – this week joined the UK's other Celtic groups as a recognized minority. What will that mean for the people on the peninsula?

Toby Melville/FILE
The British government said Thursday that Cornish people have been given the same status as the UK's other Celtic peoples under European Union law protecting national minorities.

It's one of Europe’s lesser known liberation struggles.

Stuck out on the western toe of England, Cornwall has long claimed a distinct identity from its colonizer, which absorbed the territory nearly a 1,000 years ago.

With its simple black and white-crossed flag of Saint Piran and Cornish language, the county sees itself as, well, rather different from the nation across the River Tamar.

Admittedly, only a handful of people speak Cornish – a cousin of that other Celtic language, Welsh – but patriots have been hailing a revival among the population of 540,000.

This week their campaign received a huge boost when they were recognized by an obscure European body as a national minority group. That means they will share the same status as the UK’s other Celtic groups – the Welsh, Scots, and Irish.

So what will that mean for the people on the peninsula? Not a lot, really. It does mean government departments and public bodies will now be required to take its views into account when making decisions. And it might attract more funding in future.

But day-to-day life in Cornwall will probably continue as normal.

To the outsider, that means tourism and sandy beaches, disused tin mines from a once-thriving industry, cream teas and, of course, the ubiquitous Cornish pasty. Cornwall also claims the hometown of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic "Pirates of Penzance."

Throw in a few fishing songs, mystical moors, and Land’s End – the most southerly tip of England – and that’s most Britons view of Cornwall, other than the flag-based car stickers with Kernow or Cornwall on them. And they’re said to be mostly displayed by tourists.

But for those seeking more autonomy for Cornwall, the new designation under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is a symbolic step.

“This is a fantastic development," said Dick Cole, leader of the Cornish independence party Mebyon Kernow. “A lot of people have been working for many years to get Cornwall the recognition other Celtic people of the UK already receive. The detail is still to come out on what this might mean, but make no mistake that this is a proud day for Cornwall.”

And most people west of the Tamar will raise a pasty to that.

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