Hot Fish featured at Cornish Cousins Gathering

by Flora Toms O’Hagan

Cornish Cousins from the US, Canada and Cornwall gathered in Ely, Minnesota, where their forebearers had brought their mining expertise in the 1880s. Cornwall is the narrow southwestern edge of England tipped by Land’s End. Cornwall’s St. Piran’s flag flew at Ely’s city hall with the American flag.

Workshops dominated daytime activities followed each evening with entertainment. Wonderfully talented cousins from Cornwall included musician and poet Bert Biscoe, Sue Hill of the Kneehigh Theatre, Dr. Philip Payton, director of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter and Chris Blount of BBC Radio Cornwall. All shared the excitement of what it means to be Cornish.

In addition to her theatre work, Sue Hill works in Cornish communities to revitalize old celebrations or invent new ones. Her hands-on workshops for children of all ages created “a shoal of fish lanterns.” Willow branches were bent and shaped into fish skeletons, then covered with wet strength tissue paper saturated in glue.

Candles were mounted in the lanterns for a hot fish parade in Ely in the style of an annual Cornish procession which celebrates a story about a man without kin or wife who set out into stormy waters to catch fish to feed his starving village of Mousehole. Villagers lit his way to shore with lanterns. This miracle of food is celebrated on December 23rd with Starry Gazey pie with seven different kinds of fish.

About the author
Flora Toms O’Hagan is the granddaughter of a Cornish mining Captain who came to northern Minnesota in 1895. She was born and raised in Ely, Minnesota. Chairing the 9th Gathering of Cornish Cousins made her increasingly aware of her heritage and introduced her to the strong spirit of the Cornish. Flora and her husband Robert, both retired educators, live in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

More Cornish Cousins

Membership is open to anyone interested in the history and culture of Cornwall in the Cornish American Heritage Society. Ron Carbis, 13 Saint Ives Place, Gaithersburg, MD  20877-3457; [email protected]. Also visit