OLCOTT – From the plaintive keen of the bagpipe to the boisterous pub sing-alongs, and from the toss of the caber pole to the stories of haunted Ireland, the Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival and Highland Games slated for Saturday and next Sunday are sure to hold the attention of young and old alike.
Equal parts music, pageantry, arts, athletics, history, and food and drink, this sprawling event graces the banks of Krull Park on the shore of Lake Ontario from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. next Sunday.
“In a way, this is a great big family reunion,” said Phil Banks, who directs the festival with his wife, Beth. “Everybody feels part of the big Niagara Celtic family, and some magic happens on those grounds during that weekend that’s hard to put your finger on, but it’s something special.”
Members from 37 clans are scheduled to attend, coming from throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina, according to Beth Banks.
“It’s becoming a challenge to fit everything on our grounds,” she said with a laugh.
“And within each clan, there are hundreds of name subsets, and variations on names and others who had allegiance to that clan, so that 37 clans might represent 500 or 1,000 names or more,” said Phil Banks. “There are so many layers of education related to this event, so much history connected to this. Those who come to this event of Celtic descent who don’t know much about their Celtic heritage, well, their eyes are wide when they get here and find it’s so much fun to learn.”
The festival is the primary fundraising activity for the Niagara Celtic Heritage Society, a not-for-profit educational corporation determined to preserve culture from the seven Celtic nations for future generations. The seven nations are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Brittany and Galicia. The society has determined that since Celtic settlements began in Western New York in the early 1800s, about half of the residents of the area share some Celtic ancestry.
This family event features music and dance from morning to night; highlights traditional ceremonies; and hosts re-enactors, living historians and artisans demonstrating wood and stone carving, blacksmithing, weaving and barrel-making.
It also offers workshops with topics including “The Irish Building the Erie Canal” and “Medieval Magic,” as well as a Kids’ Corner with age-appropriate activities.
There will be a special guest of honor in attendance from Scotland this year, Archibald Angus Charles Kennedy, chief of Clan Kennedy. He is the eighth Marquess of Ailsa and 19th Earl of Cassillis. He took his seat in the British Parliament’s House of Lords in June 1994, following the death of his father.
“We are honored,” said Phil Banks. “This is a rare visit for a clan chief, to come to an event like ours, on his own. It really puts us on the map.”
In addition, David S. Henderson, the commissioner of North America and chieftain, and members of Clan Henderson from across the U.S. and Canada will attend this year’s event.
“To have them both here is a double affirmation that we’re on the right path,” he added.
The event also showcases athletic prowess, with the ancient strongman competition called the Highland Games; darts; rugby; a high striker game; and the Niagara Celtic 5K to benefit the Newfane Women’s Lacrosse Club.
The Highland Games run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. These are one of the largest multiple division Highland Games in North America, with more than 60 athletes competing in 11 divisions over the two days, including those for men, women and youth.
Festival admission is $25 for the weekend; $20 for Saturday; $12 for Sunday; and children 12 and under are free with an adult. Free parking and free shuttles are offered to visit shops and off-site events around the hamlet of Olcott.
For more information, to purchase tickets and for a schedule of events for both days, visit: www.NiagaraCeltic.com. Tickets also will be sold at the door.