Sometimes we all need to set aside the technology and hustle and bustle of modern life to retreat to a realm of fantasy and tradition, where faeries romp and leprechauns play.
The 15th annual Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival and Highland Games on Sept. 19 and 20 in Krull Park invites visitors on a magical journey to the land of the Celts for total immersion into origins and traditions of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh cultures. Whether dressed in jeans or a kilt, visitors will step into living history with something to delight every member of the family. When the cannons fire at 10 a.m. on opening day, the gates will open to another time and place, beckoning visitors to the history and the mystery of the Celts.
Have you ever seen someone toss a telephone pole? Even the sports are larger than life at Celtic Fest, as the Highland Games feature more than 65 male and female athletes from across the U.S. and Canada competing in the Braemar Stone throw, caber pole toss, sheaf toss, stone throw and 28- and 56-pound weights. In Scotland, the “caber” is a tapered pole, usually made from a Larch tree and is typically 19-feet 6-inches tall and weighs 175 pounds, and the event is quite a sight to behold. The official opening ceremonies for the games, with a special performance by Pete Robinson, are scheduled for noon Sept. 19. The Highland Games at Celtic Fest, one of the largest in the world, are ongoing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
There will be musical entertainment in every corner of Krull Park. On the Pavilion Stage, the scheduled performances include Reardon and Garvey Band, “D” Co. Buffalo City Guard Gordon Highlanders, Shannonside Ceili Dancers, the Leftovers, Red Hackle Pipe and Drums and McCarthyizm, with McMahon School of Irish Dance, Penny Whiskey, Glengarry Bhoys and Pyromancy heading the Saturday night Ceilidh. A ceilidh is a Scottish party with music and dancing, and there will be plenty of both along with a roaring bonfire and plenty of libations. Sunday’s Pavilion Stage entertainers include the Blarney Bunch, Schiehallion Dance Ensemble, 1916, Feadan Or Pipe Band, Clann Na Cara Irish Dance and The Screaming Orphans for the grand finale concert on Sunday.
On the Glenn Stage, visitors can see the Niagara Frontier Fiddle Club, Boughton Hill Band, the 96th Highlanders Pipes and Drums Inc., Catch and Release, MacKenzie Highlanders Pipes and Drums, Steel City Rovers, Rochester Pipes and Drums, Poor Ould Goat, Celtic Spirit Pipe Band, Hot Country Liners Dance Team and Tom Keefer and Celtic Cross.
The Celtic Arts Stage performers include Gregor Harvey, Step In Time, Tom Callahan, Merry Mischief, Celtic Moon Band, Rosewood Bridge, Cairde, Kindred, Rochester Irish Set dancers and a traditional Seisiun at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, where all guests are invited to bring their instruments for the informal Irish music-sharing.
At the interactive Celtic College tent, visitors can learn everything from kilt folding and Scottish country dancing to legends and myths with Visiting the Thin Places and Haunted Ireland.
Ongoing throughout the weekend is a myriad of adventures for the traveler to the Land of the Celts. Witness the Calling of the Clans, with more than 40 clans in full regalia at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The history and pride of the Scottish people thrives in the Clan Village. Highland Camp Life offers a glimpse into the ways of life in the past, with Bonnie Prince Charles Edward Stewart arriving by boat at 1 p.m. Saturday. See the blacksmiths, cooper, leather workers and other artisans at work and with many unique wares to sell. There are also ongoing mock battles.
Children have a whole area where they can fish at St. Andrew’s Hole, swing a round of mini-golf, toss a caber pole or even “throw a sheep” (a play on the sheaf-throwing in the official games) in the mini-Highland Games. There are craft and coloring tables, bubble garden, Cave O’Legos, face painting and even a Mother’s Tent for moms and wee ones to take a brief rest. Page the Book Fairy will be on hand and kids are encouraged to gather leaves, rocks and sticks to help construct a Fairy House. Don’t miss the Bard of Basswood, the storytelling tree with magical tales to tell. Newfane Masonic Lodge 73 will be offering a free Child Safety ID program on Saturday. Outside the children’s area they can engage in mock battle with the MacFarlane Clan, brandishing wooden dirks, shields and swords against stuffed British soldiers. Children under 12 are admitted free to the festival and events. For animal lovers, there are Scottish sheep, pony rides, dog agility demos and the occasional Irish Wolfhound or Scottish Terrier, often in costumes (well-mannered dogs are welcome on a leash).
The Marketplace offers all manner of clothing, costumes, jewelry, toys, home and garden art, and many authentic and original treasures. From kilts to fairy doors and sweaters, shop for all things Celtic and more. Most artisans are working on site to create one-of-a-kind items, demonstrating arts like basket-weaving, chainmail crafting, jewelry and bead making and more. You can come dressed in 21st century garb and be transformed with authentic garb like kilts and tartans, have your hair braided with flowers to go with a tavern wench outfit or even get a tutu and fairy wings. Visitors are invited to become a part of the wonderful pageantry that makes everyone a part of the Celtic family for this one weekend a year.
No festival would be complete without food, and there is a veritable feast to tempt the palates of hungry guests. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, Celtic Fest will feature its first Haggis Eating Competition, sponsored by Scottish Gourmet USA. From two food courts, visitors can savor delicacies like Irish whiskey cake, shepherd’s pie, pasties, Scottish eggs, shortbread, smoked turkey legs and potatoes, as well as popular favorites like corn-on-the-cob, caramel apples, fried dough, wings, beef on weck, woodfire pizza, fries, chowders, funnel cakes, kettle corn and more. Liquid refreshments range from hot and iced tea and coffee and water to fruit smoothies. Of course, adult libations abound. In addition to traditional and locally crafted wine, beer and ale, there will be mead and cider to get everyone in the mood.
The third annual Celtic Fest 5K, to benefit Newfane Women’s Lacrosse Club, kicks off on Sunday with registration at 9 a.m. and an 11 a.m. race. With registration, runners get chip scored timing, admission to the festival and guidebook, libation tickets and an event T-shirt for the first 150 registered runners. For information, call Randy at 417-2410 or register on the official Celtic Fest Site. The fee is $25 pre-sale or $30 on race day.
With so much to see and do, festival-goers may want to buy a two-day pass. The cost is $20 for Saturday, $12 for Sunday or $25 for a weekend pass. A group rate for 15 tickets or more is available. There is a $2 discount for senior citizens and students and tickets are available online for easier access. Children under 12 attend free. Parking is free and the grounds, restrooms are handicap-accessible and handicapped parking is available near the front gate.
A free shuttle bus will take visitors from Krull Park to the boardwalk, restaurants and other points in the village from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Complete information on the grounds, events and more is available at www.niagaraceltic.com.