Bumping into Jack Kerouac on the road to understanding Celtic roots
Despite having been born and bred in Newlyn, with a name like mine claiming to be Cornish has often caused me problems, writes Frank Ruhrmund.
Similarly, the mere suggestion that I might also be a Celt has been laughed at and dismissed as absurd. So it is with some relief that in Celtic Cornwall: Nation, Tradition, Invention, author Alan M Kent tells of how American writer Jack Kerouac "was aware of his Brythonic Celtic roots".
Apparently the author of On The Road knew his surname was Celtic and in his writings argued for a Cornu-Celtic connection. In an interview, admittedly a drunken one, published after his death in 1971, he said: "The Kernouacks went to Cornwall a thousand years before Christ. In the south west country of England, inhabited by the Celts, the name of the language is Kernouac. And something happened with the Cornish rebellion and they said, 'let's get out of here and cross the channel to Brittany'. They went there and their name was no longer Kernouac, but Kerouac."
While I'm unable to say anything like this happened to my name, it makes me feel that if Kerouac can claim to be a Celt then so can I.
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For starters, I can never visit such places as Boscawen-Un or Chapel Downs Well at Sancreed or look at the cross which formerly stood in Penzance's Market Place without feeling they have a special meaning for me. These sites are but three of the many entries Alan M Kent gives us in his gazetteer of west Cornwall, mid-Cornwall, north-east Cornwall, south-east Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
Every reader will have a favourite "marker of Celtic Cornwall" – and Kent gives us more than 500. He also prefaces the gazetteer with a splendid introduction in which he explains that his book is an investigation of Cornwall's Celticity.
"Many people are intrigued by Cornwall's Celtic heritage, but where can they find it and what is it?" he asks. Using a mix of archival and contemporary photographs to answer these questions, he provides an explanation as to why each place is significant. It says much of his knowledge of the subject, his deep regard for Cornwall and his writing skill that Kent makes the whole enterprise as engaging as it is erudite.
As a 21st century hopeful Celt I can't recommend Alan M Kent's Celtic Cornwall: Nation, Tradition, Invention highly enough. it is published by Halsgrove at £24.99.