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Celtic festival planners think bigger

OLCOTT -- If St. Patrick's Day has you thinking about your Irish roots, you may want to learn more about the Niagara Celtic Heritage Society.

The society was established in 2000 "to help restore, preserve and promote Celtic culture in Western New York," according to organizers. Meetings begin this month to plan the group's biggest festival of the year -- the Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival in September.

The festival is slated for Sept. 16 and 17 in Olcott's Krull Park. It attracted thousands last year, said Vicki Banks, who manages the society's Web site.

"We draw from all over -- Toronto, Buffalo, Rochester, out-of-state -- if you are of Celtic heritage, you love it and will travel to celebrate it," Banks said.

Banks said the group is always looking to expand its festival, and welcomes new ideas and sponsors.

"This is the time of year that we are looking to book vendors, musicians and athletes," she said.

Last year's festival featured a variety of entertainment on its main stage, pipe bands, Highland Games, Irish step-dancing, border collie demonstrations, a children's play area and a marketplace for Celtic goods from jewelry to family heraldry.

"We're hoping to make this one of the biggest events as far as tourism in Niagara County goes," said Rebecca Schweigert, a society member active with the festival. "We want to use this to put Niagara County on the map."

Banks said it's important to note that one does not have to be of Irish, Scottish or Welsh descent to join. "You just have to be interested," Schweigert said.

The annual society membership fee is $10, and it's $25 for a family, which includes festival discounts, drawings and a subscription to Dragonfly Digest, the group's newsletter.

To join, contact the society through its Web site, www.niagaraceltic.com. For anyone interested in helping with the September festival, there is a meeting at 7 p.m. March 27 in the Lighthouse Grill in Olcott. Potential sponsors are asked to contact festival coordinator Phil Banks at 778-5730.

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