Festival Pipes in Celtic Culture

Festival Pipes in Celtic Culture

Wanting to promote their crafts was reason enough for two friends to start the Potomac Celtic Festival.

The event that attracted 10,000 guests the first year in 1993 was more than a craft show and a simple festival. Burke resident Barbara Ryan and her friend had aimed to coordinate the Celtic festival with a Scottish sheep dog trial, but were turned away, so they settled on the Oatlands Plantation near Leesburg. By 1998, the event became too large and was moved to Morven Park Equestrian Center near Leesburg, where it has stayed since. This year’s event is June 8-9.

"Of all the festivals we go to, it’s comprehensive," said Ryan, president of Barnaby Productions, Inc., a company organized in 1993 to manage the festival. "You can’t do everything in one day."

The ninth annual Celtic festival focuses on Scotland in 2002, combining crafts, entertainment and cultural activities on a one-third by one-fourth mile field. The festival displays the cultures and customs of the Celtic nations, including Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Brittany or France, Asturies and Galicia or Spain, as well as their transplants to the New World.

TO DEMONSTRATE Celtic culture, nine to 10 family encampments guarded by decorated warriors will reenact village life from 50 BC to the 20th century. One of the family encampments will present Arthurian-era Celtic village life.

"We attempt to show many of the day-to-day commonplaces, including textiles, cooking, arms and armor, religion and some history, so the whole may be appreciated in its own pattern," said Lee Bibb, founding member and an Alexandria resident who will portray Geriant of Cornwall, a saint of the Celtic Christian Church. "We try to give them a little bit of interest, so they will go out and find out more."

Another nine stages will be used for musicians, Highland dancers, storytellers and poets to perform and hold workshops. Performers on five of the stages will provide continuous live music, while another stage will be reserved for interactive dance to encourage audiences to participate. Two stages will be designated for poetry and workshops on Celtic culture, and in a separate area will be sporting competitions of Scottish athletics.

"For anyone who loves Celtic music or loves great music, they must go to this Celtic festival, because it is the best production ... all in one place in one weekend," said Elise Kress, member of MoonFire, a Celtic band based in the Washington, D.C. area that has been performing at the festival since the band formed in 1996. "The spirit of the festival is enthusiastic, charming and exciting."

Celtic dancing adds to the music, according to Susan Walmsley, director of the Something Scottish Highland Dancers in Alexandria. "Dancing is really important because it adds a visual to any music that is played," said Walmsley, also a dancer for IONA, adding, "There's no competition, which is nice. The kids get to perform instead of compete."

SIXTY-FIVE juried craft exhibitors and import vendors will display their wares at booths, while clans and societies will be at other booths to provide genealogical research.

A tea garden set up near the crafts booths is new this year with tea, scones and pastries, while those interested in heavier drinks can head next door to the pub tent for ales, wines and cider. Food also will be served.

A separate Children’s Program will provide a hands-on craft tent, juggling lessons, face painting and other entertainment, including storytelling, music and dance lessons.

"It’s basically a Celtic heritage festival," said Ryan, who is of Celtic descent. "It’s a very fine family-oriented heritage festival, and I think we cover our roots pretty well. ... They [the festival participants] don’t have to be of Celtic descent, but what they are doing has to be."

Ryan's company Barnaby Productions took over management of the band IONA, which formed in 1986, and a traditional Celtic concert series held every winter in Great Falls. Ryan and Bernard Argent, who both started the company, are members of the pan Celtic band, which will be performing at the Celtic Festival. "We have a lot of connections out there [in Loudoun County]. It’s an easy fit," she said. "Because of the direction of IONA, the festival took the direction it took. Few festivals celebrate all the cultures."

Last year, 22,000 guests attended the festival. As many as 25,000 guests are expected to turn out this year as long as the weather holds.