Now in its eighth year, the Flathead Celtic Festival is set to return this week and bring back its unique mixture of athletic competition, cultural history, food vendors, live music and dancing.
While the festival is a celebration of Celtic culture, which organizers said generally means Irish, Scottish and Welsh, all members of the public are welcome, and the event is intended to be family friendly.
“We’re pretty proud that it’s free and open to the public and always will be,” Director Rob Eberhardy said. “There’s something for everybody, and there’s definitely going to be something people haven’t seen before, particularly with the Highland Games.”
Eberhardy describes himself as the founder or “instigator,” of the festival, which he said was inspired in part by similar festivals he experienced growing up in the Milwaukee area. He has Irish ancestry on his side of the family and Scottish ancestry on his wife’s side.
The aforementioned Highland Games involve competitors participating in a series of strength-based events. There are divisions for men, women and amateurs. The competition is actually sanctioned by the Scottish American Athletic Association, which means athletes can earn points to qualify for national competitions.
The six events are the caber toss, weight over the bar, sheaf toss, Scottish hammer throw, weight throw and stone put, and competitors have to participate in each event. The caber toss involves throwing a log using a specific technique to send it end-over-end. Weight over the bar involves the one-handed throwing of a 56-pound weight attached to a handle over a bar. The height of the bar is increased as athletes advance in the rounds of competition.
For the sheaf toss, competitors will use a pitchfork to throw a 20-pound burlap bundle filled with straw over a horizontal bar. The hammer throw is comparable to hammer throwing in track and field, but the Scottish version of the event involves a weighted metal ball attached to a 4-foot shaft, according to the Celtic festival’s website.
The weight throw is another one-handed throw of a weighted object, but for distance, and the stone put is similar to a shot put throw but it can involve different techniques, and the steel shot is replaced by a large stone.
“When I first did it, I was like ‘Wow, this is super cool.’ People were just as excited for me to beat them doing what we were doing, as they were to win it themselves,” Eberhardy said. “Everybody is just really supportive of each other. It’s a really cool group, and a cool community for sure.”
He added that some competitors are in their 60s, while others, like his 14-year-old daughter, are quite a bit younger.
On top of the camaraderie and fun of the games, Eberhardy said the event is a great opportunity for people to learn some Celtic history, and take in some entertainment.
Live music is on the schedule, as are Irish step dancing and Highland dancing performances. The festival will also have 25 vendors selling art and other wares, lots of food vendors and a beer tent. Performers include An Daire Academy of Irish Dance, the Shamrockers, harpist Katy Meyers, the group Irish Folk and Fun, Missoula Irish Dancers, violinist Max Armstrong and the musical duo Second Wind.
Clan coordinator Chris Martin said that one of the new additions to this year’s festival is a tea tent where they’ll be serving hot and cold tea, with funds going towards the Flathead Celtic Festival scholarship fund. Martin said that he especially enjoys the way the festival gives him a chance to reconnect with his family’s history and teach his kids about their family in the process.
“The event just continues to grow. More and more people continue to come and check it out,” Martin said.
The Flathead Celtic Festival is scheduled to begin at Centennial Farm at 563 McMannamy Draw on Friday, Sept. 9. The first day of the festival runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The festival concludes Saturday, Sept. 10 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information go to flatheadcelticfestival.com or check out facebook.com/flatheadcelticfestival.
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