August 20, 2012
Change of scene benefits Celtic Fest
Annual festival moves to new venue at Dwyer Memorial Park
LITTLE YORK — The 12th annual Cortland Celtic Festival was held Saturday and Sunday at Dwyer Memorial Park, and it was apparent by the kilts, leprechauns and Irish music that the festival was true to tradition.
It is the first year at the sprawling, hilly park, after five years in Courthouse Park in downtown Cortland. Organizers said the park provided a much bigger space, which allowed for more activities to be planned. The event was held at the Cortland County Fairgrounds in Cortlandville for its first six years.
About 1,000 people attended this year’s festival, organizers said.
Though last year’s festival was deemed a success, Dwyer Park opens up a new world of opportunity to improve the event, organizers said.
An admission fee was added this year; none was charged in Courthouse Park.
There was also a fee when the event was held at the fairgrounds.
Vendors, athletes, musicians, other acts and fans all said the new venue provides a better setup for the festival.
“This location has so much promise,” said Ryan Sweeney, part-owner of Paddy’s Pub. “This is the trial run, and I’m sure there will be bumps in the road, but come on and just look. It’s perfect for August. It has shade and enough room for just about anything.”
Sweeney had a tent set up and was selling all kinds of traditional Irish food and drink, such as meat and potatoes and Guiness beer.
In total, 42 vendors from Central New York to Rochester and beyond made the stop for the weekend to revel, promote and simply enjoy.
A group of four women — Lindsay Stevens of Freeville, Sue Quick of Utica, Audrey Lowes of Freeville and one who simply went by Grandma Bunny — were there representing the Black Sheep Hand Spinners Guild.
Sitting under a tent, the women were taking raw wool, cleaning it on a special grater, then spinning it into yarn. Stevens was the impromptu spokeswoman.
In front of a retired couple who call Cortland home in the summer and Orlando, Fla., home in the winter, Stevens explained the origins of spinning wool into yarn, and also demonstrated how it was done in the old days.
After it is cleaned, the wool is wrapped around a spindle, which is attached to a foot pump. The women push the foot pedal down, which turns the spindle and allows them to tighten the wool into yarn.
“I have a friend who has sheep, so I get the wool from her,” Stevens said. “That’s not the expensive part. The labor is intensive, so that’s where I spend my money, per se.”
Just down the patch from the yarn-makers were two young ladies promoting their women’s rugby team in an attempt to raise some money.
The team is called Uticuse, and it mixes players from Cortland, Utica and Syracuse because the areas don’t have enough interest to each have their own teams.
Chantel Marquis, a rugby player from Cortland, had nothing but good things to say about the new location.
“This seems to be incredibly well-organized,” she said. “The vendors are eclectic, and this reminds me of a traditional Irish lifestyle with the food, the fun and the music.”
Just down the hill under a small awning came the danceable sounds of Celtic music group Doolin’ O’Dey, a band hailing from Ithaca that plays throughout Central New York. The second song the three-piece performed was aptly titled “The Drunkard,” and was about a man and his alcohol.
Nora Starr, a claims auditor from Ithaca, played acoustic guitar, while Leili Murphy rotated between keys and flute and Jerry Drumheller played the fiddle.
Manning the band’s mixer and soundboard, was 16-year-old Nick Simpson, a junior at Cortland High School. He was working for Cortland-based Sound on Sound Productions.
“I went last year and it was cool, but this place is just so much better,” he said. “You can see the tradition here and it’s a great place to explore.”
At the entrance, on the baseball field, were the athletic events known as the Scottish Highland Games. Paul Rose, a 36-year-old from Hamlin, is built like a middle linebacker and was participating in a stone-throwing competition.
Rose, who says he’s lost 85 pounds in his training, was absolutely thrilled with the event and said he plans to come back every year he can.
“This place is big and open,” he said. “I’d say there’s a lot of potential, but it looks like the organizers have already used that potential. They managed to have a huge crowd here and the gates opened just a half-hour ago.”
Greeting people on the way in and out was a man dressed as a leprechaun.
George Davis, a Cortland native, played the part, impressing toddlers to the elderly. He says he’s going to come back every year and play the same role.
“The adults think it’s a riot,” he said, “and the kids love to ask if I’m real and take pictures with me. It’s really nice.”
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