Last modified: 2005-03-05 by ivan sache
Keywords: finistere | carhaix-plouguer | karaez-plouger | bull (black) | cercle celtique d'ahes |
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by Arnaud Leroy
The municipality of Carhaix-Plouguer (Breton, Karaez-Plouger, 7,648 inhabitants) is the main city of the traditional district of Poher, in interior Brittany.
Carhaix is located in the eastern part of the department of Finistère, very close to the departments of Côtes-d'Armor and Morbihan. The name of Carhaix (known as Caer Ahes in 1082) comes from the Celtic words kaer (city) and ahes, the name of the tribe known in Latin as the Osismes. According to the local tradition, King of Cornouaille Gradlon gave the city to his daughter Ahès, and the city was named Karaez, literally Ahès' city.
The city was created de novo by the Romans in 50 BC as Vorgium, the administrative capital city of the Osisme country. Vorgium was an important crossroads of ways serving western Brittany. Several remains of Vorgium have been found in Carhaix, including an 25-km long aqueduct linking Glomel and Carhaix. There is a big project of archeological excavations in order to make of Vorgium the first archeological site in Brittany. The project is sponsored by the municipality of Carhaix and the General Council of Finistère, and handled by the Institut National pour la Recherche Archéologique Préventive (INRAP, National Institute for Preventive Archeological Research).
In the IVth century, Brest (then called Osismis), located on the coast of Brittany, supplanted Vorgium as the main administrative center of western Brittany, and the decline of Vorgium started. The city was burned down by the Alans and rebuilt in the VIth century by the Breton lord Conmor, who was the first Lord of Poher. The princes of Poher played an important role in the history of Brittany in the IXth-Xth centuries. Until the XVth century, the city was besieged and trashed several times, during the Hundred Years' War, the War of Succession of Brittany, and the long periods of anarchy characteristic of the Duchy of Brittany at that time.
In the XVIth century, Carhaix was the seat of a Royal Court of Justice
and a known place of trade, especially for cattle. The city increased
in size, out of the medieval city walls.
In 1675, the city was involved in the révolte des Bonnets Rouges (Red Caps' uprising) against the taxes imposed by Colbert for funding Louis XIV's war in Holland.
In 1800, the opening of the canal between Nantes and Brest (canal de Nantes à Brest) triggered the extraction of local slate. The slates from Maël-Carhaix, after proper cleaving, have been ranked for more than five centuries among the best ones for roofing. Note, however, that Maël-Carhaix is located c. 20 km east of Carhaix-Plouguer and is a distinct municipality. Maël-Carhaix is the birth city of the minstrel of modern Brittany, the bard and poet Emile Le Scan, in Breton, Milig Ar Scanv, mostly known as Glenmor (1931-1996).
The achievement of the railway network in Brittany in 1935 placed Carhaix in the center of one of the most important radial networks in France, triggering trade in the city. In 1956, Carhaix absorbed the neighbouring municipality of Plouguer and the municipality of Carhaix-Plouguer was formed.
In 1992, local music lovers created a small festival called Festival
des Vieilles Charrues (Old Ploughs' Festival). The name was a
reference to the Vieux Gréements (Old Sailing Ships) festivals that
had flourished in the ports of Brittany. The first Festival took place
in the small village of Landeleau, 15 km from Carhaix, with some 500
visitors. Due to the dramatic increase in the number of visitors, the
Festival was relocated in the center Carhaix in 1995. The Festival had
to move again in 1998 to the natural amphitheater of Kerampuilh. Today,
the Vieilles Charrues is one of the biggest music festivals in Europe
and attract each summer more than 160,000 visitors in three days.
The municipality of Carhaix also sponsors other cultural events, such as the Book Fair (October), the Amateur Festival Theater (May) and the Bagadans (14 July, with more than 2,000 musicians and dancers in the streets of the city).
Carhaix is the birth city of Théophile-Malo Corret (1774-1800), better known as La Tour d'Auvergne. During the French Revolution, Captain La Tour d'Auvergne was involved on several battlefields all over Europe; he refused all kinds of promotions because he wanted to fight among his soldiers. During his campaigns, his bedside book was a Celtic grammar book. Aged 54, he refused retirement and served as a simple soldier in the 46th half-brigade. Bonaparte attempted to appoint him member of the Corps Législatif, but La Tour d'Auvergne refused. He only accepted an honour sword and the title of "First Grenadier of the Republic" (Premier grenadier de la République). He was killed on 27 June 1800 in the battle of Oberhausen during the Rhine campaign. La Tour d'Auvergne is officially celebrated in Carhaix each year on the Saturday preceding the 27 of June.
Ivan Sache, 31 October 2004
The municipal flag of Carhaix-Plouguer, as reported by Arnaud Leroy, is white with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.
The coat of arms of Carhaix-Plouguer is:
D'or au taureau rampant de sable.Brian Timms gives:
Gules a bull rampant sable,
which is probably erroneous, because the golden field of the shield is confirmed by the Armorial du Finistère by Froger and Pressensé (2002). In the Armorial, however, the bull is facing dexter, whereas it is facing sinister on the coat of arms shown on the flag.
A paragraph on the website of the Celtic Circle of Carhaix seems to indicate that the arms of Carhaix were ascribed to the Armorial Général ordered by Louis XIV. Since Carhaix was already known as the center of a cattle breeding region, the bull can be considered as an appropriate choice made by the editors of the Armorial.
Ivan Sache, 31 October 2004
Like most Breton cities and villages, Carhaix has a Celtic circle named
Cercle Celtique d'Ahès, founded in January 1947 by Jean Allix and
Albert Trévidic. Carhaix is located very close to the region where the
Breton culture survived the best and was revived by famous artists such
as the sisters Maryvonne, Eugénie and Anastasie Goadec, specialized in
the kan-ha-disk songs, from Treffrin, and the sonnar (piper) and
instrument maker Per Guillou. Allix and Trévidic are also among the
revivers of the festou-noz (night fest) and its adaptation to modern
conditions. Breton music is today so popular, including far outside
Brittany, that it is difficult to imagine it was revived only in the
The Cercle Celtique d'Ahès has been a member of the Kendalc'h association since its creation in 1950. It is actually ranked in the second category. The website of the Cercle gives interesting details on the evolution of the costume in Poher since the beginning of the XXth century. It shows also a picture of two members dressed in traditional costume wearing the flag of the circle during a street parade. The flag is black with a yellow bull facing the hoist of the flag. Above the bull is the writing CARHAIX / KARAEZ / POHER. What is written below the bull is less visible, it must be the Breton version of Cercle Celtique d'Ahès.
Ivan Sache, 31 October 2004