The story of the Trelawny song starts with a Cornish folk expression of unknown origin “Here's forty thousand Cornish men will know the reason why”. It inspired the redoubtable, and sometimes mischievous Rev Robert Hawker to pen the “the Song of the Western Men”. He explains that this is the story of Trelawny “ When Sir Jonathan Trelawny, one of the seven Bishops, was committed to the Tower, the Cornish men arose one and all and marched as far as Exeter in their way to exhort his liberation”. He published the song anonymously in a Plymouth Newspaper in 1826 and allowed it to be taken as a traditional ballad. In 1840 he published it in a book of poems called Ecclesia in 1840 and made clear both his authorship, and his delight at the way it had been taken as traditional.
Initially “Trelawny” was a ballad without a fixed tune but was eventually set to the melody of a traditional Cornish song called “Wheal Rodney” which Hawker approved of. The tune comes from a broad European melting pot of similar folk tunes; a version is found in Wales as the song “Y Blotyn Du”; as the French “Le Petit Tambour”; and also the nursery rhyme “Grand Old Duke of York.”
By the end of the nineteenth century Trelawny had become a popular expression of Cornishness, encouraged by the development of the Cornish global diaspora. The song continues to take pride of place at events held in Cornwall and around the world where Cornish people come together to celebrate their cultural heritage and sense of identity. You can expect to hear Trelawny at events across Cornwall and beyond during Pirantide, but the high spot comes at 9pm on March 5th. At this point in the evening pubs, clubs and singing sessions across Cornwall will pause to join in a heartfelt rendering of our national song.
At 9pm on March 5th, St Piran's Day, pubs, clubs and events across Cornwall the Cornish Diaspora join in the "Trelawny Shout". To find one near you visit Trelawnyshout.com
Click here to open a video of St Ives Community Choir singing Trelawny in Cornish with subtitles to help you sng along and learn the Cornish.
“Trelawny,” An Daras, accessed May 25, 2020, https://andaras.omeka.net/items/show/83.