Back to Dance Index >



The Cornish Fire Festival on Midsummers Eve is generally acknowledged to stretch back into the mists of pre Christian time. Originating as a festival of fertility and sun worship it owes its survival to its Christian association with St John's Eve thus the name Golowan (Gol feast, (J)owan John). In fact the popular 'Golowan' festival in Penzance is still celebrated today around Midsummer. Its continuation as a living tradition into the 21st Century is also thanks to the efforts of the Old Cornwall Societies who hold bonfire ceremonies on ancient hilltops the length and breadth of Cornwall on Midsummer's Eve. References to the bonfires and Midsummer celebrations such as that of Bottrel 'Traditions and Hearthside stories of West Cornwall' (1870) which frequently mentioned dancing, unfortunately gave no solid description. However, Lake's 'Parochial History of Cornwall' (Volume III) gives graphic detail of the Fire Festival in Penzance involving lightened tar barrels rolling through the streets and men swinging heavy torches overhead in a complicated circular motion. In fact Penzance had its own 'Obby Oss' which was associated with these activities. This was known as 'Pen Glas' (meaning blue or grey head) which was a horses skull on a pole draped in a cloak. DANCE NOTATIONS A very clear description of the dance is provided by J S Courtney 'Guide to Penzance and it's neighbourhood' (1845): Steps

The suggested steps for this dance are a 'one two three hop' furry dance step or a brisk walk. Movements: 1) Dancers form a line with as great a number as possible (traditionally they would then run through the streets calling 'an eye an eye an eye!') 3) They stop at any point desired, and the two individuals at the leading end would raise their arms in an arch, through which the dancer at the end of the line would dance through leading all other dancers with them. 4) Having 'threaded the needle' the situation is reversed and those dancers who were at the rear of the line now lead the procession and repeat the exercise. TUNE/SONG Any lively March would be suitable for this dance click here to play the midi file click here for the noteworthy file