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Big changes & more fun ahead at Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival

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Thu, Sep 5th 2019 07:00 am
The Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival's haggis-eating competition. (Submitted photos)
The Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival's haggis-eating competition. (Submitted photos)

Excitement has been building for those looking forward to the 19th Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival & Highland Games, held this year on Sept. 14-15. For the first time, it will be held at the Niagara County Fairgrounds, which is a major change for the popular local event.

Previously held in Olcott, festival volunteers have been thrilled at the strong attendance growth seen in recent years. Unfortunately, this has also meant increasing challenges to accommodate the growing crowds. Niagara Celtic’s board of directors recognized more space and amenities were needed to avoid becoming overcrowded, and began researching many possible solutions.

The final decision was announced earlier this year: The festival’s new home would be the Niagara County Fairgrounds, thanks in part to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County. According to Associate Director Vicki Banks, the property offers their event more bathrooms, improved security, paved walking paths, many permanent shelters, and room to expand.

“The fairgrounds allow us to grow in ways we hadn’t imagined before,” Banks said. “We have many teams of volunteers working hard to ensure what we all love about Niagara Celtic continues, while also letting it flourish in new ways.”

Volunteers expect guests to be pleasantly surprised by the unique ways they will use the fairgrounds, blending the property’s trees and buildings with the former layout of the festival. This led to a new design, which splits the festival into six regions that help guests navigate through the grounds.

At “Highland Park,” one will find Clan Village and the popular Highland Games, while “Madoc Yard” offers free kid’s activities, Irish dance groups, weapons demos, and various Celtic ceremonies. Nearly all the regions will host their 80-plus vendors (a record total), allowing easy access to the many foods and products on display.

One of the more intriguing regions may be “The Dagda Faire,” named after the Celtic god Dagda. Called a “festival-within-a-festival,” it’s a Celtic-infused Renaissance Faire designed to showcase fantasy alongside history. Current plans include music, swordfighters, acting troupes, a puppet wagon, food and hands-on fun.

Banks said, “Our guests love dressing up and being a part of the atmosphere. We also know how many people are drawn to fantasy and folklore, and decided a new mini-faire was the perfect way to give this popular part of Celtic culture a huge spotlight. We’re excited to see ‘The Dagda Faire’ grow in the coming years and find its own identity as a standout part of Niagara Celtic.”

The McMahon School of Irish Dance.

Event highlights include:

•The festival now offers four music stages hosting over 40 bands/artists. This includes fan favorites The Screaming Orphans, Glengarry Bhoys, Tuatha Dea, McCarthyizm, The LeftOvers and Penny Whiskey.

•The Celtic College increased to two classrooms and is indoors, greatly enhancing the series of classes.

•The featured Highland Games have their own private field for the first time, allowing an improved experience for athletes and spectators. Also new this year is the special events field for parades, ceremonies and various demonstrations, including on-site rugby scrimmages and clinics.

•The popular Saturday evening ceilidh (kay-lee) also continues, featuring concerts at the aptly named Fireside Stage.

A press release said, “Located beside their intimate ceremonial fires, it’s a wonderful evening that guests and participants enjoy together. The ceilidh is a great spot to meet new people and worth attending into the evening.

“It’s important to note that guests do not need to be Celtic to enjoy what the Heritage Festival brings to the area. It can be a wonderful destination for anyone, and a great family-friendly activity for all ages.”

The festival also offers free admission and food tickets to anyone willing to volunteer for four or more hours, allowing participants to support the community and join in the fun without adversely affecting a budget. Visit www.NiagaraCeltic.com to sign-up.

Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival tickets range from $14-28, while children ages 12 and under are admitted free. Parking also is free.

Visit the website to see the daily event schedules, and learn more about the festival.

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