12th Annual Dayton Celtic Festival
By Benjamin Smith
What springs to mind when you see the word “Celtic”?
Ireland. Scotland, possibly. Red hair. Ancient warriors. Mandolins and bagpipes. Maybe even a certain basketball team with a mispronounced name.
How about the Miami Valley?
Local resident Bill Russell was more than happy to clarify the connection, which spans centuries and continents.
“Although a significant part of Europe used to be Celtic,” explained Russell, “Today the remaining Celtic ‘nations’ are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany (in France) and Galacia (in Spain). During the late 1700s and early 1880s, people of Irish heritage migrated from Pennsylvania and settled in Ohio. They were among the earliest European settlers of our present-day state. Others came later in the 1820s and 1830s, with many of them serving as laborers on canals like the Miami and Erie Canal. During the 1840s and 1850s, more Irish immigrants came to Ohio as a direct result of the potato famine. Once railroads arrived in the state, Irish workers helped lay the track. They improved Ohio’s economic standing by helping to establish a transportation infrastructure.”
Since 2002, Russell has helped promote this unique history as the artistic director for the annual Dayton Celtic Festival, presented by United Irish of Dayton in partnership with Five Rivers MetroParks. This year’s event will be held at the RiverScape MetroPark from Friday, July 26, through Sunday, July 28.
To be clear, this is not an “Irish Only” party.
“Our festival is meant to bring together all of the Celtic nations who share a common culture, ancestry, language and art – and to share this with the larger Dayton community,” explained Russell.
One of the easiest and most exciting ways to explore a culture is to listen to its music. This year’s festival boasts four headliner bands, including the ever-popular five-piece Gaelic Storm, who return once again to wow attendees with traditional and original Celtic tunes.
“The band started coming to the Dayton area to perform at events put on by the Celtic Academy of Irish Dance,” said Russell. “Gaelic Storm now makes it a point to save this weekend for us and has released its last three albums at the festival.”
Gaelic Storm will share the stage with Scythian (a festival favorite that plays an eclectic blend of Celtic and Eastern European music), Téada and FullSet. The latter two are both traditional Irish music bands flying in from Ireland to start their summer U.S. tours in the Gem City.
Of course, the curious often attend cultural fairs to watch historical demonstrations. Enter the Highland Scots, as portrayed by the Clan Desdin reenactment group.
“During the 18th century, Highland Scots came to the American colonies,” said Russell. “They had difficulties paying the increasing land rents in Scotland and had been defeated by the English at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. People can see Clan Desdin reenacting early colonial life in America for the recently immigrated Highland Scots, from their living accommodations to their cooking.”
For those who like the bizarre or slightly macabre, make sure to visit the Irish Wake Tent, where you’ll be transported back to the 1890s to witness a gentleman’s wake.
“This exhibit is popular because people are curious,” explained Russell. “Many have heard that wakes were parties, but don’t know why death would be treated in such a way. The presenters, Steve and Cathy Jo Smith, explain that a wake was a celebration of life as well as a mourning of death and that the customs practiced were actually respectful of both the deceased and the survivors. The Smiths teach this with historical accuracy and humor.”
Departing the dearly departed, attendees are free to observe linen and wool worker demonstrations, visit workshops featuring Celtic art, and bring their “wee ones” to the Rainbow’s End Children’s Area.
Other festival events include:
5K Run/Walk, sponsored by Kettering Sports Medicine, which will be held Saturday, July 27, with a 10:01 a.m. starting time. (Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Riverscape Pavilion Stage.)
Celtic Bike Ride will be held Sunday, July 28, at 8:30 a.m. at Don Crawford Plaza in front of Fifth Third Field. (Enthusiasts of all ages should meet near the Culture Tent and Children’s Area of the festival.)
Yet, no festival worth its salt would be complete without food and adult beverages. This year’s event boasts traditional and ethnic food vendors: various beers by Guinness, Strongbow cider, whiskey tastings hosted by Bushmills Irish Whiskey and a Celtic Breakfast on Sunday presented by Dayton caterer Brock Masterson’s.
Honestly, if you find none of the above interesting or enticing, you’re probably in need of a wake yourself.
The 2013 Dayton Celtic Festival takes place Friday, July 26, through Sunday, July 28, at RiverScape MetroPark, 111 E. Monument Ave. Admission is free. Hours: Friday, July 26, 6-11 p.m.; Saturday, July 27, Noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, July 28, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, including a complete listing of all events, call 937.372.9788 or visit unitedirishofdayton.org.