August 21, 2008


Heavyweights bring flair to Celtic Fest

The eighth annual festival will be held this weekend at Courthouse Park in city


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer     
Will Barron of Syracuse uses a spin technique to get a metal weight over a height bar during the Scottish Heavy Athletics games, also known as the Highland Games, during the 2007 Cortland Celtic Festival at Courthouse Park. The festival is Saturday.

Contributing Writer

Stones and logs being hurled through Courthouse Park will become a common sight Saturday as the eighth annual Cortland Celtic Festival returns with its Heavy Athletics Competition, offering spectators a chance to see some of heavy athletics’ elite professionals.
“These are guys that are among the top throwers in the world in the sport,” said Will Barron, a professional in Scottish Heavy Athletics and director of the Celtic Fest athletic events. Barron noted two of the competitors are world record holders.
Barron said heavy athletics is a sport that was designed in the highlands of Scotland and would be held between clans during political meetings.
The number of top professionals has remained at around 50, but over the past half-century the popularity of heavy athletics has expanded and the number of amateurs participating has gone from hundreds to thousands.
The heavy athletics event will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday and include the caber toss, a caber being a large log with no standard measurements; Braemar Stone throw, a shot-put event with no run-up to the release line; 56-pound weight throw, 28-pound weight throw; sheaf toss, where a bundle of straw in a sack is tossed over a bar with a pitchfork; and the 56-pound weight for height categories. The overall winner will be awarded the Ferguson Cup.
Barron explained that the events originate from the historical way of life in Scotland. He noted the caber toss is derived from tossing logs across rivers in an attempt to cross them.
The cup is in memory of James Ferguson, an avid Celtic supporter, and is sponsored by his family. Barron was winner of the inaugural Ferguson Cup four years ago.
Among the competitors will be four of the top ten heavy athletics professionals ranked in North America, which also makes them among the best in the world, Barron said.
Prize money will be awarded based on victories in individual events and overall success. Barron said the appeal of the competition is often more personal than professional, as there is little money involved in most competitions. A top athlete in heavy athletics makes at most $15,000 a year.
Barron estimated that if a competitor managed to win everything at Cortland’s competition the prize money would amount to $800.
“They get a kick out of it, for cultural reasons, friendship reasons, like to throw with their buddies,” he said. “One of the bigger parts of the sport for people is the camaraderie and friendship. Because it’s such a small sport, you can see the same competitors in every competition.”
New to this year’s festival is a professional heavy athletics competition for women, something proposed by Barron. He said there had only been demonstrations at previous festivals.
“I think Will was trying to bring in another aspect to the games,” said Machell Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council. She added there are not as many events where women can compete. Two women will participate in the events.
Beyond the athletic events, the Celtic Festival provides options for the entire family, said Pam Ross, one of the festival’s organizers, and will feature music throughout the day, crafts, face painting, history and genealogy exhibits, clan tables and animal exhibits. There will also be more than 20 retail vendors scheduled, as well as several food vendors.
Ross said she hopes to take advantage of SUNY Cortland coming back into session and get parents visiting with students to come check out the festival.
“We try to make it a fun event for the family so whether you like the music or not, there’s story telling, there’s things for kids to do, there’s some for families,” Ross said.
Admission is free except for the festival’s evening concert starting at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Celtic Festival will begin 6 p.m. Friday with a concert by Glenravel. Saturday’s events will begin at 10 a.m. with official opening ceremonies for the festival occurring at noon.
Ross said 2,000 to 3,000 people are expected, which is similar to last year.
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Celtic Festival schedule of events

6-9 p.m.: Glen Ravel Concert — Free Pre-opener under the Royal Auto Concert Tent, Courthouse Park
Cortland Free Library (32 Church St.) _10 a.m. to close
Celtic Art Exhibit by Artist Aksel San Pederson. The exhibit “Lost Innocence” features scenes from the artist’s recent trip to the Emerald Isle.
Courthouse Park (Church Street)
10 a.m., Festival opens
10 a.m., Fly ball/Agility demo
Noon, Opening ceremonies
* Activities stationed throughout the park:
* Children’s crafts and face painting
* History and genealogy
* Food vendors
* Gift vendors
* Clan tables
* Animal exhibits
* Bagpiping
Royal Auto Complex Main Concert Tent
10:30 a.m., “Flowers of the Forest” memorial and “Kirk’n of the Tartan”
11:45 p.m.: Mohawk Valley Frasers
Noon, Opening Ceremony
12:20 p.m., Marty Brandon
1:30 p.m., Syracuse Irish Session
2:30 p.m., Traonach
4:00 p.m., Causeway Giants
5:45 p.m., Heavy Athletics awards — The Ferguson Cup
Tent is cleared at 6 p.m. during set up for the Evening Headliner Concert
7 p.m., Hair of the Dog — tickets can be purchased at the door or ticket outlets
9 p.m., The Town Pants — tickets can be purchased at the door or ticket outlets
Celtic Connection Dining Tent
11 a.m., Storytelling with Deirdre McCarthy — An Imaginary Trip to Ireland
1 p.m., Fiddlesticks
2 p.m., Montague School of Irish Dance
3 p.m., Harrington School of Irish Dance
5:30 p.m., Venue closes
Cortland Regional Sports Council Field (rear area of Courthouse Park)
11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Heavy Athletics
Braemar Stone Toss (28 pounds); Heavy Stone Throw (56 pounds); Weight For Distance event; Sheaf Toss and Caber Toss.


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