What is St Piran's Day and how is it celebrated?


Held every year in March, St Piran’s Day is an annual celebration recognised across Cornwall.

Created to commemorate St Piran, one of the many patron saints associated with Cornwall, the annual festivities include a number of parades and gatherings across the region.

St Piran is thought to have lived more than 1,000 years ago, meaning this day has a long history.

However, the Celtic county’s modern traditions are believed to have started in the late 19th century. There’s even been recent calls to make St Piran’s Day a public holiday so local Cornish communities can have the day off work.

Here’s everything you need to know about St Piran’s Day.

 (Stefan Schweihofer)
(Stefan Schweihofer)

When is St Piran’s Day?

St Piran’s Day is recognised each year on March 5 and is said to fall on the day St Piran died.

Although it’s not currently recognised as a public holiday, it doesn’t stop people from marking the day with celebration and music.

To commemorate St Piran and his contributions to Cornwall, there are plenty of family-friendly events to enjoy.

These include processions with Cornwall’s black-and-white flags, storytelling events, and even some pasty-eating contests in previous years.

Events have also taken place in the days running up to St Piran’s Day, including a recent ‘dramatic’ procession across the dunes that followed in the footsteps of St Piran himself.

 (The Cornish Pasty Association)
(The Cornish Pasty Association)

Who was St Piran?

Records about St Piran’s life are scant, so most stories about this saint have been passed down through the generations by word of mouth.

According to legend, Piran was actually Irish and worked as a holy man for King Aengus until he fell out of favour with the Irish king.

According to the Cornwall Heritage Trust, the king had Piran tied to a rock and thrown into the sea. However, various reports claim that by some sort of miracle, the stone floated and he made his way to Cornwall at some point in the fifth century.

St Piran became instantly popular among the people of Cornwall, and he built a church whose remnants can still be seen today – St Piran’s Oratory, the oldest Christian church in Britain.He eventually showed the locals how to smelt tin, leading him to become the Tinner’s Saint.

It is this process that inspired Cornwall’s black and white flag, and it remains symbolic of a thriving tin industry that the region benefited from throughout the ages.

Piran has been dubbed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust as the “hardest drinking, hardest living holy man,” suggesting that between converting people to Christianity, he liked to have a good time.

One of the most popular versions of his death is that the saint accidentally fell into a well after having too much of a merry time, where he met his end.

His legacy has been enshrined in Cornwall legend, and he continues to be commemorated to this day, with buildings and even beers being named after him.

Where and how is it celebrated?

St Piran’s Day is celebrated across the county of Cornwall; however, certain spots are of key significance on this day.

Perran Sands, a dune located near Perranporth, is the site of St Piran’s Oratory, where the saint is said to have started helping people convert to Christianity.

The ancient chapel dates back to around 800AD and was buried in the sand until it was recently unearthed for people to visit.

Plenty of other local events occur across the region at community centres, churches and public areas. Expect lots of lively processions through main thoroughfares in Cornwall, music, storytelling and, of course, Cornish pasties.