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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July 2003, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
A flap in the cream tea county
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online

To holidaymakers on their annual pilgrimage, Devon is about cream teas, sand and long sunny days. But attempts to give the county an exotic Celtic edge have provoked a fierce backlash.

There's one place in Britain where the combination of green, white and a dash of black has always provoked strong passions - Glasgow. They are the colours of the city's Celtic football club, which together with Rangers FC make up the bitterest rivalry in British sport.

But now, almost at entirely the opposite end of the country, that same palette is fuelling a clash with echoes of Scotland's legendary Old Firm rivalry.

In Devon, the zephyrs that blow off the Atlantic have this summer given flutter to a previously unseen spectacle: a flag of green, white and black.

It is the flag of Devon.

Flag being flown in Dartmouth
Being flown in Dartmouth harbour
There's nothing ancient about the design - a white cross with black outline on a green background - or how it was selected, by voting on the internet.

But in a short time the flag has started to take root.

Tourism chiefs have seized on it as a clever marketing ploy; the image now sits on the local BBC website; and one of Britain's leading flag makers has reported unprecedented interest.

"In a few months it has achieved the sort of popularity that takes years or decades for most regional flags," says Charles Ashburner, of Mrflag.com.

But travel west, across the Tamar river that divides Devon from its neighbour Cornwall, and not everyone is so happy.

Where Devon's flag was knocked up in 10 minutes by a student on his home computer, Cornwall's - a white cross on a black background - has been around for 1,000 years.

Slanging match

That flag has become a rallying emblem for Cornish independence and embodies the ancient Celtic heritage that nationalists believe distinguishes them from Englanders.

Designed by Devon student Ryan Sealey and beat others in an internet poll
Widespread use will gain it 'official' status
Is expected to be recognised by the Flag Institute

What really grates with the Cornish patriots is how ardent Devonians are using their new flag to stake out their own claims of a recent Celtic history.

They even want to name the flag after St Petroc, a Celtic saint better known for his Cornish connections.

The issue has provoked heated exchanges on internet chat sites, with the Cornish accusing their neighbours of hi-jacking their identity and Devonians hitting back, claiming sour grapes.

Leading Cornish nationalist John Angarrack refused to talk to the BBC, but forwarded his views from a recent e-mail exchange.

"Promote Devon all you want, but do not denude Cornish distinctiveness in the process," Mr Angarrack tells his adversary.

"Devon is a county of England despite any dodgy marketing ploy like the Devonshire flag. Reject this nonsense but cherish and defend the beating heart of Cornish culture."

Celtic cult

The idea for a Devon flag seeded itself last year after an article appeared on BBC Devon's website vigorously reasserting the county's Celtic past.

Devon country scene
A traditional sight of Devon
Convention has it that the Celts were forced out of Devon, and into Cornwall by the Anglo Saxons, rendering the county as English as Surrey or Kent.

But there is a growing feeling in the South West that Celtic influence was not expunged and is greater than traditionally thought.

Passionate Devonian Paul Turner, who runs a "Celtic Devon" website, believes the bust up is down to the Cornish "feeling threatened" by Devon's new Celtic pride.

"They are being unreasonable, saying we cannot feel the way we do and they don't have a right to tell us that," says Mr Turner.

Bob Burns, another champion of the new flag, accuses the Cornish of "distorting history" in a bid to carve out a separate identity from their neighbours.

The Cornish call this "Devonwall" politics - an attempt by Devon to hi-jack Cornish identity.

"People are quite aware in Devon that the Cornish make political capital by claiming to be different," says Dr Mark Stoyle, a Devon historian. "Besides, it's fashionable to be a minority."

A backlash against city-dwellers settling in the South West has also led to this new-found Devonian identity, he suggests.

The row has even spilled over into academia, with Cornwall's leading historical scholar, Prof Philip Payton, accusing Devon of "wanting to invent traditions".

"The idea of naming the flag after St Petroc is gratuitously offensive," says Prof Payton. "Most people here will treat it with mild disdain."

But they'd better get used to it. A Devon company, Jetz Novelties, has just signed an order to make 20,000 hand-held Devon flags, and has plans for flag-emblazoned baseball caps and cuddly bears.

Boss Richard May is determined to make the flag a success. "I won't be happy," he says, "until every sandcastle in Devon has one of those flags on top."

Some of your comments so far:

The flag of Devon is rather pretty, but while Devon may have a Celtic past, Cornwall has a Celtic present.
Patrick Smith, England

Plymouth Argyle football team have always had green, black and white as their colours - so what's the fuss all about?
Pete, UK

This flag is terrible. It is drab and featureless. The county flag should contain elements that reflect the nautical heritage of Devon and samples of the flora and fauna of the county.
Edna, UK

What's the fuss about? Northumberland has had its own flag for many years and no-one accuses us of trying to hijack the Scots' identity. The deep county ties and loyalties are one of the great characteristics of England. Long may they last.
Richard Allen, England

Having been born on the right side of the river (Tamar), I love it. I look forward to car bumper stickers to show off in Bahrain.
Debbie, Bahrain

As Pete states, the flag is in Plymouth Argyle Colours, but as most PAFC followers are Cornish I think of this as a Cornish flag. I'll not be buying one.

Why not use the ancient flag of the kingdom of Dumnonia, or the royal standard of the House of Wessex, both of which would be more true to history than this 21st Century confection, if rather less politically correct.
Mark Croucher, England

Flag maker Charles Ashburner replies:
Flags with simple designs are cheaper to make... and cheaper flags sell more easily... which encourages more flagmakers to meet the demand... which in turn puts more flags on the street. The mark of a successful modern flag therefore is that it can be afforded by as many of the people who want to fly it as possible. Complicated and hard-to-make flags may be admired for their aesthetic qualities, but they'll never become truly 'popular'.
Charles Ashburner, MrFlag.com

As an Englishman and former Devonian resident, may I ask what's wrong with being an Anglo-Saxon? How much of our own heritage have we bothered to explore?
Simon, United States

I have no problem with the people of Devon creating and flying their own flag, but I do not think they should make it so similar to the Cornish flag. From a distance, it could definitely be mistaken for a Cornish flag. It seems the Devonians wish to steal some of our Cornish identity.
Nigel, Cornwall

An interesting article, but Celtic FC colours are green white and gold not green, white and black.
AM, Scotland

I was in Devon last month visiting friends and didn't see a single one of these rather dull and uninspiring flags . I think their popularity among true Devonians is as invented as the "Celtic" character we're being expected to believe in by a crankish minority.
Mike Lord, England

Unfortunately, we Celts have a dismal history of prefering to fight between each other instead of supporting each other...
Chris Stott, Isle of Man

I strongly suspect the person behind this flag was a Plymouth Argyle fan. As an Argyle fan myself, I was part of a group that produced three flags almost identical to that shown in the report - and this was nearly three years ago!
James Dennis, UK

In response to CC, UK, Plymouth Argyle FC is based in Plymouth, in Devon. I don't understand why he/she thinks the majority of PAFC supporters are Cornish.
Lucy, UK

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