of the Villages


If you’ve ever visited Helston in Cornwall on the day of their May Day celebrations, you will have heard the Hal-an-Tow song being sung in the streets (before the famous  Floral Dance at midday.) Read more about its history here. 

Hal-an-tow, jolly rumbalow
We were up long before the day-O
To welcome in the summer,
To welcome in the May-O
The summer is a-coming in
And winter’s gone away-O

What happened to the Spaniards
That made so great a boast-O?
Why they shall eat the feathered goose
And we shall eat the roast-O

Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the fair-O
And we will to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare-O

And as for our good knight St. George
St. George he was a knight-O
Of all the knights in Christendom
St. George he is the right-O

In the world of folk music, there are some songs that have a timeless quality, and resonate with audiences throughout the ages. One such song is “Hal-An-Tow”, performed at the annual May Day celebrations in Helston, Cornwall. Recordings of the song have been made by various folk-rock bands such as the Oyster Band, the Watersons and Steeleye Span.

“Hal-an-Tow” is a traditional song that dates back centuries. The exact origins of the song are unclear, but it is believed to have originated in Cornwall. The lyrics of “Hal-an-Tow” vary slightly depending on the version, but the song typically celebrates the arrival of spring and the renewal of life. It references characters from English folklore, such as Robin Hood and St George, as well as historical events and figures.

The meaning of the term “Hal-an-Tow” itself is disputed, although it almost certainly comes from the Cornish language (a Celtic language related to Welsh). “Calan” in Welsh and “Kala” in Cornish mean the beginning of the month  (“Calends” in English, from which we get “calendar”). “Toos” in Cornish means “bunch of flowers”. So the Cornish “Kala Toos” may have been the origin. All Celtic languages  change the beginnings of words (it’s called ‘mutation’)., so if you want to put ‘dy’ (day) in front of ‘kalan’, it would become ‘dy halan’.

Over the years, “Hal-an-Tow” has been sung and performed as part of May Day celebrations in Cornwall and has become a cherished part of the region’s cultural heritage. You can watch the 2019 performance on YouTube at https://youtu.be/_ky87Ci14L4?si=gIaKdp_xvP3FY7Y3