Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — OLCOTT — The annual festival celebrating Irish, Scottish and Welsh culture and history continues to draw in larger crowds of those with Celtic heritages and others who come to enjoy two days of music, games and food.
The 12th Annual Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival brought thousands of attendees to the shores of Lake Ontario Saturday and Sunday for a festival that stretched across Krull Park.
Sounds of bagpiges and Celtic music filled the air and a wide mix of events filled the grounds, with festival goers experiencing an expanded reenactment area, four stages of music and a row featuring representatives of many Scottish familial clans.
The event was started in 2001 by Beth and Phil Banks. Daughter Jacki Minchen was busy backing up the organizers this weekend, she managed the event in the early years and has seen it grow in prestige and popularity.
”At the time, it was unusual to incorporate Irish, Scottish and Welsh all together,” Minchen said. “We started a trend.”
Margie DeMeis, who came up from Buffalo with her family to visit friends who live in Olcott.
”I like the music and the dancing,” DeMeis said. “We went to Ireland this spring, and we’re immersing ourselves into the culture.”
More than 70 athletes took part in the festival’s Highland Games. They competed in six events, but the atmosphere was one of strong camaraderie.
”They’re very welcoming,” said first-time competitor Mike Ring, a member of a Guelph, Ont. highland games club. “This is the only sport where people will tell you what you’re doing, how to beat them.”
The events included a stone throw, sheaf toss, which involves throwing a heavy bag over a bar with a pitchfork; the caber pole toss, wherein a toss is scored by the landing, and not the distance, of the tossed pole; and a trio of throwing events — 28 lb. and 56. weight for distance and 56. weight for height.
”We have professionals and amateurs, youths and college students,” said Paul Krest, who runs the Niagara Highland Athletic Club. “This is one of the most diverse events around.”
There was certainly a diverse collection of food available at the festival. A medieval feast was on the menu Saturday night, but a two-pronged food court offered local restaurants and tastes of the island kingdoms.
Tammy Kish, who owns Tammy Jo’s Cafe in Newfane, served up shepherd’s pies and scotch eggs — hardboiled eggs that are wrapped in sausage, egg washed and topped with bread crumbs, then fried. There was regular festival fare all around, but the be-kilted crowdmembers seemed to flock to the real stuff.
There were plenty of people in traditional dress at an event that has grown into one of the biggest Celtic festivals around. The change could be seen both on the grounds and on stage.
Minchen said that one of her early goals was to get Glengarry Bhoys, a popular Canadian Celtic band to play the festival. It wasn’t feasible at first, but last year, the Bhoys gave Olcott a trial run. Saturday, they headlined the Ceilidh concert.