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Why the Christmas lights go dark in Mousehole

Although Christmas is generally an upbeat, happy celebration, for the tiny village of Mousehole it is a time to look back and remember a local tragedy one Christmas over 20 years ago.
Perhaps the most poignant Christmas lights in Cornwall are to be found around the harbour, pubs and shops of Mousehole. Thousands of visitors head down to the peaceful fishing village after dark, from mid-December to early January, to see the lights from 5-11pm nightly.

All sorts of characters, shapes and figures are lit up with fairy lights to put a smile on the faces of children from nought to 90! As well as the usual Christmas trees, bells and Santa’s sleigh there are more local illuminations. See if you can spot the Stargazy Pie with its pilchard heads sticking up from the crust, or the Mousehole Cat from a local storybook. Stargazy Pie is traditionally served at the Ship Inn in the village on 23 December, known locally as Tom Bawcock’s Eve. This is in honour of the brave fisherman who risked storms to land his catch and feed the hungry locals.

The official “switch-on” of the lights is on Saturday 15th December 2012 and is a truly magical festive event which attracts thousands of visitors to crowd the narrow streets down the hill to the harbour. Community carol singing is led by the wonderful “Carolaire Choir” which is made up of the Mousehole Male Voice Choir, members of the Mousehole Methodist Church and the Pendeen Silver Band. If the weather is rainy, the choir singing moves indoors to the Methodist Church.

However, on one significant night, the 19th December, the lights will be dimmed from 8-9pm in memory of a relatively recent local tragedy. Thirty-one years ago, on 19th December 1981, a distress call came in from MV Union Star, struggling in hurricane force winds when its engines failed. It was on its maiden voyage from the Netherlands to Ireland.

The Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne was launched at 8:12pm with the coxswain and seven volunteer crew members. In waves 60 feet high they persistently tried to get alongside the coaster and rescue the five crew plus the Captain’s wife and two daughters, but without success. Unfortunately both vessels sank with the loss of all 16 people. In typical Cornish fashion, despite the huge loss felt to all the families in the small village, within 24 hours a new crew had volunteered.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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