Aidan Taylor con The Cornish Paradox: Identity and Rugby Union (English Edition)
This study examines the connection between rugby union and notions of a Cornish identity. Both have been connected since the game’s formalisation in the late Nineteenth century through the Cornish Rugby Union but particularly since the war rugby has often been a barometer of Cornish feeling and still represents the county on a scale not possible in other sports.
Public displays announce what people are and also what they are not (or don’t want to be) as those in remote British colonies can testify. This study examines the Cornish difference, for some usually in a Celtic way. Others, bemused by ‘nationalists’ see any difference diluted since mass in-migration began in the 1960’s. I accept both points of view but distinctive images of Cornwall are possible not just through sport but in local politics and there is a degree of overlap. Many have divided loyalty to county and England, therefore whether or not the Cornish are a race apart is undecided. Intense feelings of difference were encouraged in the 1990’s but have changed as rugby has. The physical landscape though is very important to local identity and what each rugby team represents, and I finish by studying the impact of professional rugby and what it has done to the game in Cornwall.
With the Rugby World Cup being held across England in 2015 the game will be in the public eye like never before, twenty years after shedding its amateur status. Elite club rugby has changed beyond recognition compared to the amateur days and most counties are, or have been, represented at Premiership level. There is one exception – Cornwall, a real rugby heartland, where the game’s tradition for hospitality and camaraderie is truly embraced. Visitors are aware of a difference from the rest of the UK which is reflected through media images and people’s feelings. This was once displayed non-politically by the region’s flagship team in the county championship but acquired a new status after the 1960’s as people tired of interference in local politics and therefore Cornish identity. In the modern shrinking life of instant information and communication individuals now actively seek out identities as anchoring points in a fast-changing world keeping hold of a common past.
Was rugby the main catalyst for protecting Cornwall or did people use it for reacting to issues? The sight of 40,000 in the black and gold county colours at Twickenham during the 1990’s was a stimulating sight but popular support has origins going back to the early Twentieth century whether playing home or away. This study aims to examine the connection between rugby and Cornish identity and how both have affected each other over the years. It is tempting to draw conclusions based on the vibrant 1990’s, an era when the county game still had some status to highlight Cornish problems (thanks in the main to loyal supporters). But this theory does not work historically; earlier in the century important games had a backdrop of emigration and a poor economy, yet accounts show that rugby was supported strictly on a sporting basis. Perhaps only a massed gathering at rugby’s headquarters would receive sufficient coverage in the media, focussing attention on twenty years of economic strife. Therefore I do not take sides – the game’s representation differed between early and late Twentieth century. What I will show is that it changed as Cornish life did; a strong local identity pre-war was important but not all-embracing. Decades later the approach would change, adapted to meet potential threats to county and residents.
Promoting indigenous history and calls for independence are more common than a generation ago, largely a result of the Cold War and its demise. The UK is not immune to this with autonomy for Scotland and Wales prompting support for a Cornish Assembly yet links with England are either denied or strengthened. Cornish rugby is firmly in the latter camp despite its' ambivalent position.