“Celtic” isn’t just about Ireland

B reak out your kilts, dust off your favorite pint glass, and gather up all the kids, the 17th Annual Dayton Celtic Festival is almost upon us. This festival is downtown Dayton’s largest, and will be in full tilt from July 27–29 at Riverscape Metropark. The celebration will have non-stop music and entertainment, authentic Irish […]

17th Annual Celtic Fest returns to Riverscape


The Dayton Celtic Festival in 2015 experienced a lightning storm that caused all stages to be shutdown for an hour because all electricity had to be turned off at the stages. Scythian took the opportunity to continue their performance acoustically in the middle of the audience.  After performing a few American folk classics with the crowd, they led them in a 1,000 person conga line around the Riverscape Pavilion. It was truly one of the most memorable moments from the Dayton Celtic Festival. —Bill Russell, United Irish of Dayton

By Sarah Monroe

Break out your kilts, dust off your favorite pint glass, and gather up all the kids, the 17th Annual Dayton Celtic Festival is almost upon us. This festival is downtown Dayton’s largest, and will be in full tilt from July 27–29 at Riverscape Metropark.

The celebration will have non-stop music and entertainment, authentic Irish beverages, craft beers, delicious food, cultural workshops and for the first time this year, whisky tasting. Entry into the event itself is free, a commitment that the United Irish of Dayton made a promise to keep no matter how big the festival grew… and grown it certainly has. I caught up with Bill Russell of United Irish of Dayton and he explained that “We started with two small stages of entertainment and a very small cultural area—today we have four stages of continuous entertainment and two culture workshop stages. All of our entertainment stages have continued to grow over the years with larger stages, bigger acts from around the world, and more seating and tent coverage each year.”

According to their website, “The United Irish of Dayton, Inc. was founded in 1973 when ten independent Irish groups in the greater Dayton area came together to represent the country of Ireland at the first annual ‘World A’Fair.'” Since then, they have helped with cultural education in the state of Ohio, helped formed an international club at the University of Dayton and have held many events based on Irish music and dance.

The Dayton Celtic Festival itself was launched back in 2002 to celebrate and share the Irish heritage which Russell says “was not well understood or seen in the Dayton area. An event like our festival focusing on the music, dance, and culture of Ireland and the other Celtic nations would be a way to showcase our heritage to the area.” With over 90,000 people in attendance throughout the 3-day event last year, the celebration has certainly struck a nerve with the city.

There will be so much to experience at the festival, too. The event is meant to be enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and walks of life, because learning about another’s culture can be so much fun! “Our culture area has grown significantly over the years and especially the last couple of years under the leadership of Heather Schieman,” Russell says.“This year the culture area will have Irish language instruction, Celtic music and instrument instruction, genealogy by the Dayton Metro Library, Celtic knot knitting, and many other offerings.”

Throughout the weekend visitors will get the chance to listen to and speak with multiple authors, such as Cindy Thompson, Cathy Jo Smith and Terence O’Leary. Cindy has studied, written, and spoken about her Irish, Scottish and Welsh heritage for over 20 years. She has published many books featuring fictional characters of Irish decent, notably her Ellis Island Series, which “follows the lives of new immigrants as they struggle to find their place in America.”

Cathy Jo Smith will be teaching the traditions and customs associated with the traditional 3-day Irish wake. She is a writer and storyteller, having gotten her start when her daughter was in first grade. Each parent was asked to come in to read a story throughout the school year, and Cathy Jo came dressed as a little old Irish Lady right before Halloween. She read a story “about the real origins of Halloween and overcoming fear.” She was so popular they invited her back again, and the rest is history.

Terence O’Leary is an Irish-American author. “Mr. O’Leary’s five critically acclaimed, realistic coming-of-age novels focus on teenagers facing a family crisis. Aside from sharing his novels during the festival, Mr. O’Leary will also talk about life in Ireland during the time of the Great Hunger. He will discuss how the Potato Famine not only changed the destiny of Ireland, but also America.”

The fun continues with the chance to meet the Irish Wolfhounds. These magnificent creatures are the tallest breed of dogs, some coming in just under 3 feet at the shoulders. This family companion breed known as a gentle giant was originally a war dog, trained to drag men off of their horse or chariot. “It was the dog of royalty in medieval times. During the Celtic Revival, the wolfhound became a symbol of Irish nationalism.” You will be able to pet them, and maybe get a lucky kiss of the Irish too!

You’ll get the chance to learn Gaelic, the old language that spread from Ireland through Scotland. Gaeltacht Midwest will be at the festival teaching introductory Gaelic, with additional information provided to continue learning this old, traditional language.

There will be a blacksmith on hand, Tim Garner, who is a member of the Southern Ohio Forge and Anvil (SOFA). He will be showcasing techniques and the “art of blacksmithing,” while he creates various pieces.

Bill Evans of the beloved Evans Bakery will be there as well, teaching attendees how to make traditional breads, such as the Irish Soda Bread. Evans Bakery is a Dayton family owned business that has been in operation since 1969. It is located in Old North Dayton and serves fresh baked breads, pastries, and various other treats daily.

There is, as always, a children’s area that will help keep the little ones busy. Bill Russell tells me that “Our children’s area also adds new features each year and will have many new games and activities this year under the leadership of Kayla McLaughlin.” There will be a search for the Leprechaun’s gold, putt-putt golf, building a fairy house, Celtic crafts, tattoos and so much more.

Don’t forget the endless music! The four stages will be spread out around the event and shaded from the beating sun. There will be live entertainment at all times and each stage is named after sponsors of the event: United Irish of Dayton Stage, WDTN Traditional Stage, Heidelberg Rock Stage and the Key-Ads Pub Stage. There are 7 headliners this year and 17 regional entertainers. The headliners include bands who have played at the event many times before, and a few who will be making their Celtic Festival debut. Back by popular demand is “Gaelic Storm,” a band that pulls together traditional Celtic music with modern a modern twist that will please fans across the generations.

Popular band “Scythian” returns for their 10th Celtic, with a sound that is as Celtic hardcore and rambunctious as their name sounds.

5-time Celtic Festival performers “Socks in the Frying Pan” is headed back to the stage. They are known for their love of live performances, as they have been “booked for every major Celtic festival in the United States.”

Award-winning quartet “We Banjo 3” is an Irish-meets-American-Bluegrass band, and they are making their 4th appearance at the festival.

Canadian step-dancing family group, “The Fitzgeralds,” will be making a return to the event. Their high energy performance has garnered them three Canadian Grand Master Fiddle and Ontario Open Step Dance Champions.

First-time performers at the Dayton Celtic Festival is “Heron Valley,” a 5-piece lineup, their Scottish influence and dynamic performance will surely make them a hit!

Rory Makem is a world renowned performer and will also be making his Dayton Celtic Festival debut this year. Rory has over 25 years on the road, touring with multiple bands and musicians, including his father the legendary Irish Folk performer, Tommy Makem. An impressive performer and storyteller, Rory Makem will certainly charm the city of Dayton.

Each stage has been scheduled out and you can view the list at the Dayton Celtic Festival website.

After all that entertainment, one might need to cool off with a frosty pint. There will be five booths throughout the festival serving delicious beer refreshments from Heidelberg Distributing Company. Each booth will carry staples, such as Angry Orchard, Boddington’s, Murphy’s Irish Stout, and even Bud Light. Of the booths, there will be one craft beer booth highlighting not only the ones listed above, but a few more that will make your taste buds zing! The additional brews will be Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Shock Top, Rhinegeist Cougar, Rhinegeist Truth, Thirsty Dog Raspberry Ale and Belhaven Scottish Ale, plus an exclusive Celtic Fest Red Ale.

For the first time this year, there will be whisky tasting on Saturday and Sunday. According to Liz Willis of the United Irish of Dayton “The Bushmills Irish Whiskey Tastings are guided flight tastings. These tasting classes are led by a representative from RNDC, the local distributor for Bushmills. Each class will be 45 minutes long and will include information about the history and culture of Bushmills Irish Whiskey. Participants will learn the proper technique to taste whiskey and will be able to compare and contrast the different expressions of Bushmills Irish Whiskey: Bushmills Original, Bushmills Black Bush, Bushmills Red Bush, Bushmills Irish Honey, Bushmills 10 Year, and Bushmills 16 Year. Tickets for the whiskey tasting classes are $25 and can be purchased in advance.” Two tasting will be on Saturday at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Not a bad way to spend your weekend if you ask me.

Religion is a deeply rooted celebration for the Celtic culture and according to Russell, there will be “the largest outdoor Catholic Mass in the area under the Riverscape Pavilion, with an Irish priest and portions of the Mass spoken in Irish Gaelic,” on Sunday at 10 a.m.

Throughout the weekend there will be a feast for the eyes with the Parade of Kilts! If you have a kilt and would like to showcase your pride, feel free to join once, twice or three times throughout the weekend. On Friday and Saturday the procession will start under the Cultural tent at 6:30 p.m., and on Sunday it will start directly following morning mass.

Russell attributes the festival’s success to the over 2,000 volunteers who help with the event and their partnership with Five Rivers MetroParks. He tells me that “Some see the United Irish of Dayton as just a sponsor of the event but in reality the United Irish of Dayton plan and run the entire event with great assistance from Five Rivers MetroParks—without Five Rivers MetroParks this event does not happen.” They also take seriously the feedback attendees  provide every year. “We appreciate the thousands of customer surveys returned each year where everyone gets a chance to put their mark on next year’s festival by telling us improvements they would like, additions to make, things to change, and new bands to invite and which bands to invite back—it truly shows that people feel a part of the event and want to make it better”

The celebration is sure to be fun, will have something for everyone and there is so much more to experience than what has been mentioned. Russell told me that his youngest daughter met her husband at a previous festival while he was here touring the U.S. with his brother’s band, so who knows what the luck of the Irish might bring you!

The Dayton Celtic Festival will be July 27–29, 2018. All of the events and workshops listed above will be at different times on different dates. Visit www.daytoncelticfestival.com and click on the events tab to see who, what and where everything will be.

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Sarah Monroe, a native to the Gem City, is currently writing her first novel. Reach DCP writer Sarah Monroe at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com

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