Yesterday evening after dinner we went out to listen to the 10 man singing group "Fisherman's Friends"... and they were very good indeed. They sang on the foreshore, with microphones and amps, sometimes a capella, sometimes accompanied by guitar and/or accordion, and it was easy to see why they have become moderately famous. So far, so good, but then they sang a song that struck a deep chord with the audience and with me, called "Cousin Jack".
The song is about the exodus of Cornish men and women that started in the mid-18th Century when mining and fishing, the primary economic activities, declined -- the former due to cheaper mines being developed elsewhere in the world, and the latter due to overfishing. At least, that's what it starts off as... but by the time it finishes it has become a powerful lament for a Cornish nation that may not have had much of a political existence, but which clearly had a cultural and regional identity.
Lines such as "our language is no longer spoken", and "the English live in our houses and the Spanish fish in our seas", have particular resonance when you see second/holiday homes going up on the outskirts of most villages and towns, and so few fishing boats in the ports.
The bulk of Cornwall's land, in the center, is poor moorland, unsuited to much other than sheep farming, so agriculture is not a major source of revenue. And after over 4,000 years of mining, Cornwall's reserves of tin and copper, which used to produce over 50% of the worlds supply of those metals as late as the early 19th Century, have been largely exhausted. The seas seem never to have recovered their once astounding fertility (the figures and descriptions of the pilchard industry during the 19th Century are mindboggling)... or if so, the fish are being caught elsewhere (there are not only few boats in the ports... there are also very few visible at sea). And so tourism and real-estate related activities seem to be all that is left... and that clearly rankles (we have, for example, seen various signs calling for an end to holiday homes).
There is a political movement to have Cornwall declared as a Celtic nation, with some regional autonomy going in the direction of that in place for Wales or Scotland, but the small size of the population (around 530,000), and the fact that many of those are non-Cornish immigrants, means that the movement has never developed much momentum.
But if they should one day, I think that the Fisherman's Friends, all but one of whom grew up within a half a mile of Port Isaac harbour, and in particular their song "Cousin Jack" may be seen to have played a significant role. At any rate, the intensity with which the song was sung, and the applause it received, were higher than for anything else they performed. It moved me... and I think that if I were Cornish, it would do much more than that.