The 19th Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival & Highland Games will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Niagara County Fairgrounds. The venue represents a major change for the popular local event.

With strong growth in attendance in recent years, the festival outgrew its original home, Krull Park in Olcott, organizers said. Niagara Celtic's board of directors determined more space and amenities were needed to prevent overcrowding.

According to associate director Vicki Banks, the county fairgrounds on Lake Avenue offers more bathrooms, improved security, paved walking paths, many permanent shelters and room to expand.

“The fairgrounds allow us to grow in ways we hadn’t imagined before,” Banks said. “We have many teams of volunteers working hard to ensure what we all love about Niagara Celtic continues, while also letting it flourish in new ways.”

Volunteers expect guests to be pleasantly surprised by the unique ways they will use the fairgrounds, blending the property’s trees and buildings with the former layout of the festival. This led to a new design that splits the festival into six regions that help guests navigate through the grounds.

At "Highland Park" visitors will find Clan Village and the popular Highland Games, while "Madoc Yard" offers free kids activities, Irish dance groups, weapons demos and various Celtic ceremonies. Nearly all of the regions will host the festival's 80-plus vendors — a record total — allowing easy access to the many foods and products on display.

At the "Dagda Faire" region, named after the Celtic god Dagda, a "festival-within-a-festival" has been organized. It’s a Celtic infused Renaissance Faire designed to showcase fantasy alongside history. Features include music, swordfighters, acting troupes, a puppet wagon, food, hands-on fun and more.

“Our guests love dressing up and being a part of the atmosphere," Banks said. "We also know how many people are drawn to fantasy and folklore, and decided a new mini-faire was the perfect way give this popular part of Celtic culture a huge spotlight.”

The festival offers four music stages hosting more than 40 bands / artists. These include fan favorites The Screaming Orphans, Glengarry Bhoys, Tuatha Dea, McCarthyizm, The LeftOvers and Penny Whiskey.

Celtic College increased to two classrooms and is indoors. The Highland Games have their own private field for the first time, allowing an improved experience for athletes and spectators.

Also new this year is the Special Events Field for parades, ceremonies and various demonstrations, including on-site Rugby scrimmages and clinics. The popular Saturday Evening Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) also continues, featuring concerts at the Fireside Stage, which is located beside the Ceilidh's ceremonial fires.

Volunteers are being recruited to assist the festival. Anyone who signs up for four or more  hours gets free admission to the grounds and food tickets. Sign up at NiagaraCeltic.com.

General admission ranges from $14 to $28 (children aged 12 years and younger are admitted at no charge). To purchase tickets in advance and see the daily event schedules, go to NiagaraCeltic.com.

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