Brogue Ops/Festival Fosters Celtic Pride
by Nathan Oravec
Kilts, tartans, bagpipes, haggis, heavy athletics and Sean Connery.
Ok, probably not that last one, but for those searching high and lowlands for all things Scottish, holding out for a little luck of the Irish, or wondering about Wales, the rest can most definitely be found at the Fifth Annual Frederick Celtic Festival on Saturday, May 8, 2004.
According to Paul Spoffard, Secretary for The St. Andrews Society of Mid-Maryland, host organization for the fest, this will be the fifth year for the event, but its first in a new location.
Having outgrown its previous home at Frederick’s Beatty-Cramer Architectural Museum where it was held for the last five years, the Celtic Festival found a new venue in the Urbana Volunteer Fire Department. A one-day event, held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Paul says St. Andrews anticipates nearly thirty vendors, dealing in a number of different crafts and wares, and - if previous years are an indication - a turnout of approximately two thousand or more.
The event, Paul explains, is a celebration of Celtic culture - comprised of food, fun and sport from what are known as the Seven Nations: Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, the Isle of Man, Brittany (France) and Galicia (Spain).” Traditional early settlers,” he notes, the number of whom living throughout the US today is - an understatement - “surprisingly high.”
Here, merriment will abound. According to Paul’s wife, Dorothy, returning this year will be a dancing and entertainment tent, where couples can try their footing in Scottish country dancing while those fancying themselves armchair Lord of the Dances can kick their heels in bouts of Irish Step Dancing, widely known as Riverdance.
Festival regulars, The Frederick Scottish Pipes and Drums, led by Pipe Major David Throne, will perform throughout the day, and, for the second year, storyteller Andrew “The British Bard” Steed will thrill audiences of all ages with tales of yore.
Celtic musicians Christina Harrison, Alexander Mitchell and Neo-Celtic Show Band, Birnam Wood, will take to stage with melodies of pipes, percussion, string and wind, setting an atmospheric soundtrack for the Festival and carrying listeners on currents of sound to faraway lands.
New to the festival this year, historical re-enactors, both professional and amateur, will take part in Scottish Highland Games, or Heavy Athletics. Derived from agricultural events of the Scottish Highlands over two hundred years ago, these sporting events provided a primary opportunity for “all of the young lads to show off their abilities,” Paul explains.
A far cry from college football, these events - such as the tossing of the caber - in which a “big, long pole, maybe 70 to 130 pounds depending upon the tree” is launched for distance - were tests of physical endurance and raw strength.
Five professionals in the sport, says Paul, are scheduled to attend, ready, willing and astoundingly able to toss cabers, stones and sheaves of wheat (pitchfork style for height). “These guys are big,” he exclaims. “Two-hundred to two-hundred and fifty pounds a piece, strong as an ox, and competing in kilts.”
“We’re hoping that it will be interesting and will bring a lot of people in. [Many of these] guys have their own following.”
Tossing, and even its viewing, can work up an appetite. Luckily, Randy Bartlett of Highland Catering will provide delectable Scottish and Irish dishes at the fest, while afternoon tea and scones will serve as a sweet reprieve from a full day of activity.
Paul and Dorothy have been involved with the Celtic Fest for three years and are members of the St. Andrews Society of Mid-Maryland, which has hosted the event for five years running. Named for Andrew, the Patron Saint of Scotland (“kind of the St. Patrick of Scotland,” says Paul), the St. Andrew’s Society was founded in July of 1999 for the purpose of promoting Scottish cultural entertainment and events.
“Early on, societies like ours originated for people of a certain heritage to remember the old days and to speak the old language,” says Paul. “This is a modern day continuation of that ideal. Also, it gives us a reason to buy expensive outfits and go out.”
St. Andrew’s Societies, he notes, are actually widespread throughout the country, but maintain no real connection, other than a common goal of “passing on Scottish heritage.” While some maintain precise rules, including “Scottish” and “Men Only” restrictions, the St. Andrew’s Society of Mid-Maryland is open to anyone interested.
For the Spoffards, Dorothy - with Irish and Scottish grandfathers - is “a little bit more Celtic” than her husband, at least, by blood. Paul, of English heritage, says his is a “more mental connection,” and cites the monumental influence of British involvement in Scottish history as a link. “From this, you see a lot of people at Celtic Games who don’t seem to have any ties to the heritage.”
“It’s not uncommon to go to a dance, and see people of all ethnic origins,” he continues. “It’s one of those things that people can get an affinity for without any blood background.”
Nearly one hundred volunteers are expected to lend a hand at the event, not to mention the ten to fifteen, notes Paul, who work on its planning throughout the year. “On the day of, we’ll scavenge up friends and family. Both the Boy and Girl Scouts are coming to help.”
A lot of work, for sure. Effort, St. Andrew’s hopes, is met with sunshine.
Last year, rain nearly ruined the event. A second bout could mark the end for future Frederick Celtic Festivals. (A Gaithersburg-based Irish fest - backed with big-name sponsors, Paul says, folded for that exact reason.)
Hopefully, Irish and Scottish eyes will smile on decent weather.
After all, The Frederick Celtic Festival, says Paul, “is quite an enjoyable thing, really.”
The Frederick Celtic Festival will be held Saturday, May 8, 2004 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Urbana Volunteer Fire Department Grounds. Admission is $10 for adults; $2 ages 6-12; and free for children under 6. For more information, including directions, visit http://sasmm.freeservers.com/celtfest.