By Julie Obermiller Special to Sunday Lifestyle
Niagara Gazette — Prepare to leave life in the 21st century behind once you pass through the gates of Krull Park. This weekend, visitors from far and wide will find themselves immersed in the land of giants and wee little folk, among the greatest storytellers of yore. Alongside the lake that will bring Bonnie Prince Charles aboard the Black Pearl, the 13th Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival is a dramatic and enlightening way to spend time in the Land of the Celts.
Fourteen years ago, Philip and Beth Talladay Banks of Newfane were on a trip to Kincardine in Ontario, Canada, where they rediscovered their love for their Celtic heritage. They loved the bagpipes and kilts and the rich history. Shortly after their return, they were sitting in Connie’s Bar and Grill in Olcott, where men in kilts were enjoying a repast. Highland Athlete Paul Krest and companions had been participating in a Highland Games competition, and it sparked a conversation. The group embarked on a journey to bring the heritage and fun to the Olcott community. Less than a year later, the first Niagara Celtic Festival, across the highway bridge from the present site, drew about 500 visitors.
The three remain the driving force behind the festival that captures the imagination and immerses visitors in the Scottish, Irish and Welsh cultures. They pushed on for the first five years as locals got a better understanding of what they were trying to present, and it blossomed into an ever-growing and changing signature event for the Newfane/Olcott community.
Last year’s festival drew well over 10,000 visitors. A visit to the official website at www.niagaraceltic.com lists complete schedules for all events and participants. If everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s Day, surely everyone who steps through the gate this weekend will be embraced by the Celt family.
Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives by boat at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday. For breathtaking pageantry, visitors will want to witness the official Opening Ceremonies and parade at noon Saturday and the Massed Band Parade at 5 p.m. (repeated at noon and 5:30 p.m. Sunday). Many spectators also dress in traditional garb and join in the 18th century atmosphere. Visitors are encouraged to dress as peasants or kings, and spend the day walking the expanse of Krull Park.
The marketplace offers everything from tartans to shillelaghs to help you get in the spirit.
Continuing this year is a series of cultural workshops designed to educate and enlighten visitors about the history and heritage of the Celts. At “Celtic College” you’ll learn first hand about the Basics of Scottish Country Dance, The History of Buffalo’s First Ward, Tales of Ancient Irish Heroes, History of Folk Music in America.
“Seanachies” are storytellers in Celtic cultures, and Tim Daly will be weaving tales about the Folklore of Ireland. The Buffalo Irish Genealogical Society will present Genealogy and DNA Testing 101, with tips to help you trace your own heritage.
The history and pride of the Scottish people thrives in the descendants of the original Scottish families, known as clans. Nearly 20 clans have signed up to be a part of Clan Row, a road in the middle of the festival where clans show clan tartans and displays and provide a living history that has held families together for generations. Living history is represented in period dress and demonstrations.
The Highland games are a competition of skills in caber-pole toss, sheaf toss and stone throwing, with massive rocks from 28 to 56 pounds. The centuries-old strongman competition is open to men and women, professional and amateurs. Watch them daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the games field. Last year, more than 60 athletes from across the U.S. and Canada competed in six different divisions over two days, to decide the winner of “Athlete of the Day” in each division. They will also be awarding “Athlete of the Year” for each of these divisions.
At Kid’s Corner youngsters can enlist for the mini-Highland games and thrust a wooden dirk in the side of a stuffed British soldier. There are games galore, even sheep-throwing. The kids will find crafts and a puzzle hunt that takes them through the festival grounds. Animals, include breeds direct from the British Isles, are always a big part of the Niagara Celtic experience. Dog agility demonstrations with Judy Gregg find canines of all breeds taking on a maze of contests. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a visiting pooch in a kilt or costume as everyone gets into the spirit.
For period costume authenticity, Metal Lynx will provide several Chainmaille workshops and their tent provides a glimpse into arming for battle. Try on a heavy helmet and you’ll see that getting dressed to protect yourself in historic skirmishes was half the battle in itself.
Music is the heartbeat of the Celt communities, and it resounds through the sprawling lakeside park.
The Saturday night Ceilidh (kay-lee) is the time for everyone to kick back, relax and celebrate while a blazing bonfire burns. Music will run from 5:30 p.m., with Irish dancing at the intermissions. Portions of the west food court and marketplace remain open for the evening so you can enjoy a libation or shop by moonlight.
The whole family will enjoy the bands, pipe-bands, dancers and entertainers gracing the stages throughout the festival.
The wide variety of food and drink at the Celtic Fest provides the usual crowd favorites at two food courts, but also offers an adventure in eating for those who want to sample traditional fare. There will be Welsh cookies, Scottish shortbread, corned beef and cabbage, scones, boiled potatoes, sausage, Scottish eggs (a hardboiled egg wrapped in pork sausage and fried), meat pies and even haggis, the Scottish national dish usually served with a “neeps and tatties” (turnips and squash and potatoes). Haggis is a kind of sausage, or savory pudding cooked in a casing, as many sausages are, and is not for the faint-hearted.
More than 40 tents in the Marketplace will offer jewelry, clothing, crafts, artwork and more, both traditional and eclectic.
This is the first year for the Niagara Celtic 5K Race, to benefit the Newfane Women’s Lacrosse team. The race is at 10 a.m. Sunday (register at 9). Information can be found on the website.
Visitors can purchase a two-day pass for $20. Tickets for Saturday are $15 and Sunday tickets are $10. Children 12 and under are free. Tickets may be purchased online at www.niagara celtic.com. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Wrist bands allow visitors to leave the grounds and return to the festivities. Parking is free and handicapped parking is available. No matter what your heritage, you’ll become a part of the Celtic family as soon as you pass through the gates. “Céad míle fáilte” means a hundred thousand welcomes. You won’t want to say goodbye.IF YOU GO WHAT: Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival WHEN: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. WHERE: Krull Park, lakeside, Olcott Beach COST: Visitors can purchase a two-day pass for $20. Tickets for Saturday are $15 and Sunday tickets are $10. Children 12 and under attend free. Purchase tickets online at www.niagara celtic.com.