August 26, 2013
Celtic Fest grows at new home
14th annual festival expands in its second year at Dwyer Park
LITTLE YORK — In its second year at Dwyer Park, the 14th Annual Cortland Celtic Festival continues to grow into its expanded surroundings. New vendors and entertainment greeted visitors attending the festival on Saturday and Sunday.
What has been especially encouraging is the geographic diversity of vendors, entertainers and athletes in the Highland Games, according to festival President Brenda McIntosh-Clark.
“We’re pulling people into the county,” McIntosh-Clark said.
An example of the wide-flung interest in the festival can be found at The Scottish Cottage, a first-time food vendor at the event. Specializing in authentic Scottish cuisine, owner Mark Ferguson traveled all the way from his home base in Asheville, N.C., to provide Scottish barbecue, haggis and shepherd’s pie.
“We only work Scottish and Celtic festivals,” said Ferguson, who says his crew travels to about 24 in a year.
The food is cooked over peat, imported from Scotland, to give it a unique and earthy flavor. It’s the kind of authenticity that Ferguson says resonates with those attending Celtic festivals.
“In the United States, Scottish and Irish heritage is very important and prominent,” Ferguson said. “People are trying to reach back and get in touch with their ancestors and this is one way to do that.”
Athletes in the Highland Games, a nine-event competition that includes events like the caber toss and stone put, were also widely distributed. Of the nine competitors in the field, one was from Florida, another from Philadelphia and another from Canada.
The games were coordinated by Matt Hand, of Belmont, Allegany County, who competed as well. A former All-American at Brockport in throwing events, Hand is ranked 15th overall in North America.
“I used to go as a kid and fell in love with it (Highland Games),” Hand said. “It’s a very interesting sport.”
Hand said he always encourages athletes at the events he coordinates to interact with the audience and answer their questions about the unique sport.
One spectator who traveled a considerable distance to attend the Highland Games was Jeffrey Swinson, Hand’s uncle, who lives near Tampa Bay, Fla.
“I’ve been to another festival like this,” Swinson said. “It’s good they have such a good turnout today.”
While there were spectators from all over, there was still a strong presence from upstate New York. Norma Jean Albright, from Fairport in Monroe County, is a licensed falconer and brought a falcon with her.
“How we train them hasn’t changed in over 4,000 years,” Albright said.
While they were important for hunting and sport in Medieval times, falcons and other birds of prey still find uses today, keeping flocks of birds away from airports and landfills.
It was Albright’s first time at the festival, which was moved back a weekend from last year.
“We moved it to get those from the Renaissance Fair to come here,” McIntosh-Clark said. “With the college opening, we’re hoping for parents.”
One change since moving to Dwyer Park has been the inclusion of an entrance fee, of $10. While it hasn’t been popular, McIntosh-Clark says that it’s necessary as the festival continues to grow.
It costs nearly $12,000 to put on the two-day festival.
The festival remains ambitious, however, with plans to add a Friday concert with a major Celtic band in future editions.
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