I met a man fiercely protecting a silver ball! The St Ives Feast, taking place on February 4 2013, is an ancient celebration associated with the consecration of the church of St Eia in 1434 AD, of which Hurling the Silver ball – a highly physical throwing and carrying game – is the highlight.
Following a procession through the town with locals wearing pieces of ivy and accompanied by musicians, the rough and tumble of play takes place. It starts when the ball – having been blessed with holy water – is tossed by the mayor to the ‘scrum’ below from the steps of the church, cheered on by the watching crowd.
St Eia is the town’s patron saint and the story goes she crossed over from Ireland in a boat made of ivy, hence its symbolic use on the feast day. The cricket sized ball is made of apple wood, coated in silver, and the game is considered to be an old form of rugby… though participants are also known to hurl themselves into the chilled sea to escape their pursuers! It was once played widely in Cornwall with an old Cornish saying identifying as ‘our sport!’.
Whoever has the ball in their possession and returns it to the mayor on the steps of the Guildhall at the stroke of midday, receives the customary reward of a silver coin. Along with the ‘Obby ‘Oss of Padstow and Helston’s famed Furry Dance, it is yet another example of Cornwall’s strange surviving customs and is said to date back many centuries, at least 1000 years.
Visit Cornwall in 2013 and discover more about its history and traditions when you stay at award-winning CLC Trenython Manor. Our comfortable and stylish hotel rooms and luxuriously appointed lodges are in a wonderful setting of landscaped gardens and woodland with views from the resort right to the sea.
Picture by HarryLawford