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Shouting the praises of activist and author who led the Cornish revival

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 12, 2013

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"Great son" or "great daughter" of Cornwall is perhaps an overused term, but in the case of Richard Jenkin there is no more apposite description.

Grand Bard of Gorsedh Kernow, life president of the Celtic Congress, president of the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies and Esethvos Kernow, founder member and president of Mebyon Kernow, as well as a respected lecturer, poet and writer both in Cornish and English, Richard Jenkin contributed hugely to the promotion of Cornish culture.

After many years in the planning, Richard Jenkin: A Great Son Of Cornwall has been published to celebrate the life and work of an extraordinary individual, who died in 2002. Edited by Derek R Williams, the 300-page volume published by Francis Boutle combines contributions from those who knew Jenkin, as well as numerous articles and poems by the man himself.

Launched by current Grand Bard, Maureen Fuller, at Leedstown Village Hall, those responsible for its production say they hope the book will remind the public of Jenkin's enormous gift to Cornwall. With readings of Kernewek and English verse by poets Pol Hodge and Bert Biscoe, a prose reading by Derek Williams, along with traditional music and dancing, the evening was intended to sum up Jenkin's love for every aspect of Cornish cultural life.

Published with the help of Cornwall Heritage Trust, Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, Gorsedh Kernow, An Guntelles Keltek, Kesva an Taves Kernewek, Mebyon Kernow, and the Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch Memorial Fund, the new anthology acts as a reminder of how differently Cornwall was regarded until the likes of Jenkin and his ilk began to campaign for greater recognition.

From the 1950s through to the 1990s, Richard Jenkin was at the very heart of Cornish cultural and political life and a key figure in the revival of Cornish consciousness, pride and distinctiveness. In A Great Son Of Cornwall, Derek Williams has gathered more than a dozen revelatory examples of his essays on subjects ranging from Election Impressions to Celtic Cornwall Lives On and Freedom to Cornish Literature In The 20th Century.

In addition, there is a series of original essays and tributes by well-known contemporary writers – including former Grand Bard Jori Ansell, poet Bert Biscoe, author Donald Rawe, historian Peter Thomas and his widow and first female Grand Bard, Ann Trevenen Jenkin – detailing his work for Cornwall and the wider Celtic world is explored.

Arguably Jenkin's most significant contribution to the development of a strong sense of Cornish distinctiveness was his involvement with Cornwall's foremost nationalist group. With this in mind, one of the most illuminating sections in A Great Son Of Cornwall is a contribution by Dick Cole entitled Vote Mebyon Kernow: Vote Jenkin, in which the current MK leader writes: "Richard Jenkin was, without question, Mebyon Kernow's most consistent and most dedicated champion, serving at the heart of the party for more than 50 years.

"The formal launch of MK took place at Oates' Temperance Hotel in Redruth on January 6, 1951.

"Thirteen people were in attendance at the meeting, including Richard and his future wife, Ann Trevenen. Richard remained loyal to MK, its growth and more gradual evolution into an overtly political organisation.

"We trust that he would have been greatly cheered by MK's ability over the past decade or so to win seats on principal local authorities in communities as diverse and far-flung as Penzance, Porthleven, Crowan and Wendron, Camborne, Illogan, St Enoder, Treverbyn, Penwithick and Boscoppa, Bodmin, Bude and Callington, as well as numerous seats on town and parish councils."

It is but one part of the impressive legacy of a remarkable figure.

Richard Jenkin: A Great Son Of Cornwall, edited by Derek R Williams, is published by Francis Boutle at £12.50. For details, visit francisboutle.co.uk

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