August 24, 2009


Celtic Fest reaches into past

Sights, sounds of medieval life draw thousands to 9th annual festival


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bernadette Travis of Homer gives a medieval-style heavy fighting demonstration at the Cortland Celtic Festival with other members of the Society for Creative Anachronism’s local chapter.

Staff Reporter

Cameron MacTavish of Homer grew up loving video games with medieval settings and characters.
But he wanted more, and found it with the Society for Creative Anachronism.
On Saturday, MacTavish and Bernadette Travis, also from Homer, fought with swords made of metal and plastic along the edge of Courthouse Park at the 9th annual Cortland Celtic Festival.
The festival featured crafts, food, Scottish Highland Games, a bagpipe band from Binghamton, storyteller Deirdre McCarthy, Irish and Scottish singers and dancers.
It attracted about 1,500 to 2,000 people, according to festival co-chair Danny Ross.
Off to one side stood a tent where MacTavish and Travis demonstrated their love of medieval history and arts — including the sword fight.
They wore helmets made of steel, with five bars across the face, weighing about 20 pounds. Breast plates called plackarts, made of shoe leather with plastic beneath, covered their upper bodies. Leg padding called a cuisse protected their calves.
The two staged a sword fight, hitting hard enough that their swords bounced off each other.
MacTavish said he just returned from a national convention of anachronists, where he studied silversmithing and siege warfare engineering among about 11,000 other people who immerse themselves in medieval arts and history.
“You can re-enact Civil War, World War I, World War II, all kinds of eras of history,” said the 18-year-old. “I grew up playing medieval games. I always thought gunpowder was cheating.”
Now he makes chain-mail shirts for medieval performers, made of thousands of metal rings.
Travis, whose three young sons also try sword fighting in their age group, loved the fantasy fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien as a child. Her fascination with anything medieval has led her to study for a master’s degree in medieval literature at SUNY Cortland.
The youngest division of SCA, ages 6 through 10, fights with swords made of the tubing for golf clubs, with heavy padding. The children do not hit each other, they just touch.
Older children in the other two divisions use light helmets and protection against stronger swords with less padding.
The local SCA chapter, which has 23 members, meets monthly at St. Mary’s Parish Center in Cortland to learn medieval arts.
Elsewhere at the festival, the Binghamton-based Edward P. Mahoney Memorial Pipe Band played bagpipes and drums.
Ed O’Hanlon, the band’s drum major, said the band was named after a New York City police officer who helped found the New York Police Department’s bagpipe band. Mahoney’s son Rick and granddaughter Erin are members, O’Hanlon said.
Gordon McCann, a drum sergeant, said the band has 52 to 55 members and performs frequently, at parades, weddings and festivals. McCann, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, said the pipers and drummers come from all sorts of professions and practice once a week.
The Scottish Highland Games drew about 100 spectators. The athletes competed in the caber toss, 56-pound vertical weight throw, sheaf toss, 22-pound hammer throw and 34-pound weight throw.
Harrison Bailey of Easton, Pa., repeated as overall champion, followed by Mike Zolkewicz and Will Barron.
Ross said a 4-year-old child was injured during the hammer throw and was taken by his parents to be checked at Cortland Regional Medical Center. Ross said spectators were cleared from the bleachers next to the competition field, but the child somehow remained in the bleachers and the chain attached to a 22-pound hammer struck his legs.
The hammer throw was not held at previous Celtic Festivals because of concern about injuries.
The games are staged by the Cortland Regional Sports Council.
The festival sponsors included Royal Auto Group and Red Jug Pub.


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