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Delving into the life and work of St Piran

As the annual St Piran’s Day celebrations get ready to roll out once again this year, we take a look at the man in question, and how we came to celebrate his legacy every 5th March. 


For this, we will have to transport you back in time to 5th century Ireland. A young man named Piran befriended King Aengus of Munster, rising to the role of priest and counsellor. He served Aengus for many years, but when the king was taken in by the charms of a beautiful young woman, and declared his wish to do away with his wife, Queen Aisnin, Piran was quick to warn Aengus against it.


Piran was vocal about his opposition to the king’s cruelty to the queen, and this angered Aengus greatly. Now, the king had not only turned against his wife, but the man who had been his loyal advisor for many years. He sentenced Piran to death.


Piran was marched to the highest cliff top in Munster, at the request of King Aengus, and was tied to a granite millstone. It would seem this would be Piran’s last view of the land that he had known as ‘home’ for his short life, as he was cast off the cliff and plunged into the depths of the ocean below. 


But something incredible happened. King Aengus’s men watched in awe as the unthinkable transpired in front of them: the millstone emerged from the water and began to float on the surface, with Piran clinging on. Piran and the stone were carried all the way out to sea, making their way through treacherous waters until, finally, land became visible once again. 


Piran washed up on a north Cornwall beach, most likely astounded that he had made it from Ireland in one piece, on the back of the stone that was intended to drag him to his death. Seeing this as a miracle, and a sign that he was meant for greater things, Piran set about preaching to the Cornish people and built himself a small chapel at Perranporth, which still stands today!


During his time in Cornwall, Piran discovered how to smelt tin, leading to the material being mined by the locals and sold on across the world. Piran’s discovery granted him the title of the Tinner’s Saint, although he is more commonly known today as Saint Piran. The flag of St Piran represents the discovery of tin, with the black background being the rock, and the white cross being the silver liquid that poured out of it that day. 


Every 5th March, communities in Cornwall come together to celebrate the life, work and legacy left by St Piran. We usually mark the occasion by partaking in town parades, singing the Cornish patriotic anthem ‘Trelawny’, and tucking into delicious pasties. 


In Launceston, the St Piran’s Parade will involve a number of local schools, including Coads Green, Egloskerry, Launceston Primary, South Petherwin, St Catherine’s, St Joseph’s, St Stephen’s, Tregadillett, Trekenner and Windmill Hill. For the very first time, clients from Bowden Derra will also be joining the parade! 


The parade will start at the Castle entrance at 9.45am, leaving at 10am and arriving in the Square with singing, dancing - including a performance of the newly composed folk dance for Launceston - and merriment to be expected. The parade will then process through the town back to the Castle grounds via the Eagle House Hotel. 


For more stories and detailed accounts of the life of St Piran, check out https://www.cornwallheritagetrust.org/learn/resources/stories-and-rhymes/st-piran/


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