Hellfire Kernow

Hellfire Kernow '23

Hellfire Kernow ‘23 was a ‘spectacularly bonkers’ celebration of Cornish medieval theatre tradition combining art, heritage, community and sport.

The event brought together people from the north, south, east and west of Redruth, and beyond, in four distinct Kryws (‘crews’) of Angels, Demons, Tormentors and Saints.


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Having triumphed in the pilot Hellfire Hurl in 2022, the Saints proudly carried the Silver Ball trophy through the town to the Rugby Club where the four teams played until a battle of good and evil resulted in a win for the Tormentors who celebrated in true Tormentor fashion – with their choreographed Cornish Garm Vresel ‘battle cry’ performed to all.

Hellfire Kernow 2023 was an invitation to all members of the community, to join-in in ways that suited them – with a series of free, drop-in workshops in the run-up to the event for both adults and children to get creative, making costumes and props to use on the day, band rehearsals for musicians to join-in with and community workshops for Redruth’s young people to learn the Cornish language chant and choreography of each Kryw battle cry.

Do have a look at our Hellfire Kernow 2023 Evaluation Report it’s a cracker! Bryntin (‘brilliant’) pictures, some pur dha (‘very good’) quotes, plus plenty of ideas and enthusiasm.

Hellfire Kernow received funding from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The funding was allocated from the Good Growth’s Cultural Events and Talent Programme to cover three years of the project’s delivery. However, Golden Tree was unsuccessful in our bid to Arts Council England (ACE) to become a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) 2023-26.  This is a three-year programme of investment in organisations that they consider to be a backbone of the creative and cultural provision across the country and can help them deliver their strategy. Importantly it means for those three years your core costs are covered along with a significant proportion of funding for your projects. Unfortunately, this Arts Council decision has meant that Hellfire Kernow, which was originally intended as an annual event, will not be returning. This is extremely sad for us; it was a phenomenon of which we are immensely proud. We were blown away by the amazing, positive feedback from the event. We also feel extremely fortunate to have worked with such a diverse and wonderful crew to make it happen and that the community took it into their hearts.

2022 Pilot project

We had set the spark in May 2022 with a series of Hellfire Kernow pilot events, funded by Arts Council England and Redruth Unlimited – a cultural adventure for Redruth, funded by Historic England with FEAST commissioning cultural projects on behalf of the Redruth High Street Heritage Action Zone with the help of a local cultural consortium.

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Working with staff and students at Redruth school and with members of Redruth Rugby Club we ‘reconstructed’ the ancient sport of Hurling to Goal, based on surviving accounts and evidence of the sport, through a series of experimental workshops. Accounts of the popular Cornish sport ‘Hurling to goal’ by Richard Carew in 1602 suggested that this forerunner of Rugby was played with a heavy, metal ‘silver ball’ and is likely the earliest known example from anywhere in the world where the ball must be passed backwards.

After exploring imagery and ideas from medieval manuscripts, four distinct Redruth ‘Hellfire Crews’ were created: i) ‘Demons’, ii) ‘Angels’, iii) ‘Saints’ and iv) ‘Tormentors’. Each Crew created colourful costumes, props and processional imagery for themselves and became the cheerleader fan club for their hurling team. Each crew adopted a Crew Base in the run up to the event to prepare their costumes and garm vresel / battle cry. Thanks to the Redruth venues kindly providing bases for our Crews – Redruth Rugby Club, The Buttermarket, Redruth Community Centre and The Art Room.

The inaugural ‘Redruth Hurling Championships’ were held at Redruth Rugby Club, with the costumed, colourful Crews each supporting their team with chants and garm vresel / battle cry encouragements. Afterwards, the glorious champions were paraded along the ‘Plain an Gwarry Trail’, visiting each of their Crew ‘spiritual homes’ along the way  – The Buttermarket, St Rumon’s Chapel and Kresen Kernow before returning to ‘Hellfire Corner’ at Redruth Rugby Club. The parade finished with a fire sculpture finale, inspired by fragments from medieval scripts.


“This was such a brilliant event that used Cornish legends and language to involve the whole community in a fun and thrilling, rugby-like game with…….historical origins. Allocating everyone who attended to a team or tribe, depending on which part of the town they lived in, was so clever and allowed us to feel loyalty to each other even though we hadn’t met before the game.”

-Spectator, Hellfire Kernow 2022

“Redruth has a wealth of knowledge, history and culture. I think as Cornish folk it’s impossible for us to not feel the significance of a gathering of this kind. I feel proud and blessed.”

-Spectator, Hellfire Kernow 2023