August 27, 2007


New venue gives lift to Celtic Festival


celtic fest

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 Saturday at Courthouse Park. TOP: John Mahoney, right, vice president of the Central New York Chapter of the Irish American Cultural Institute sets up a display banner for the Cortland Celtic Festival Saturday morning. The logo for the IACI, which is dedicated to the preservation of Irish culture, is a symbol of the interconnection between Ireland and the U.S., Mahoney said.

Staff Reporter

With temperatures reaching a sticky 90-plus degrees Saturday at the seventh annual Cortland Celtic Festival, the countless proud Celts walking around in kilts, such as David Saroka, had an added level of comfort.
“Oh, absolutely; it’s a great advantage,” laughed Saroka, who noted he has Scottish heritage dating back to the Scott and Wilson clans.
Saroka said he had traveled to Scotland last summer on a Boy Scout trip, and had developed a heightened awareness of his heritage.
“I hope next year they try and get even more ethnic people out, maybe let them try out some of the Scottish games, maybe even a bit o’ rugby,” he said, his voice slipping into a Scottish brogue. “I love the Celtic Festival, it’s a great time.”
This year’s event marked the first time the festival has been held in Courthouse Park, as opposed to the previous site, the county fairgrounds. This was also the first festival where admission was free, aside from a Saturday night concert.
Danny Ross, who is president of the Cortland Celtic Cultural Association, which puts on the event, said that he’d heard mostly positive feedback, although a few visitors said they preferred the fairgrounds site.
“I think most people liked it, it’s compact, we had lots of people downtown, the venders really liked it,” Ross said. “We could’ve used a little better weather, a little cooler, but overall I think it went well.”
Ross estimated that a total of 4,000 to 5,000 people attended the event up from the roughly 3,500 that typically attended the event at the fairground.
Volunteers from the senior group RSVP collected zip codes from visitors, and while Ross said he hadn’t yet broken down the data, he said it appeared that a number of visitors were families in town to move a child into college.
“I talked to one parent who said they were glad we had something here for them to do,” Ross said. “You drop the kids off and then what?”
Mark Comerford, who, with his family, has displayed their collection of 1600s and Revolutionary-era weapons, armor and medical equipment for a number of years at the festival, said he liked the new location.
“I’d say we like it better here,” Comerford said. “It’s a lot more compact, so you seem to get more people coming by.”
Kathy Romanowski, her daughter Ashley and Ashley’s friend Kim Hahn had never been to the festival before — they had traveled from Buffalo to see Ashley’s favorite band, Enter the Haggis, Saturday night — but as the three watched the Highland Heavy Athletics, they were impressed by the Scottish games, held on the western end of Courthouse Park.
“I’d seen it before on TV, I think, but up-close in person like this, you really appreciate how hard it is,” Kathy Romanowski said.
On the other hand, Saroka said he preferred the former site at the fairgrounds to Courthouse Park.
“I just think there was more space, more people,” he said. “Last year I think it just felt a lot bigger with the Scottish games and all that.”
Vincent O’Brien, who was born in Dublin and has come to Cortland from his home in England to work at SUNY Cortland for a half-semester in his field of international health, laughed that he was surprised to see a Celtic Festival with “so many weapons.” He was referring to a number of tents with old-fashioned armor and weaponry.
Still, O’Brien, who is staying in Cortland with his wife, Catherine Loftus, and their daughter, Kate, said he was enjoying the event.
“You might expect to see something like this in New York City or somewhere, but not Cortland, so it’s really quite nice,” O’Brien said. “The people here are so friendly, and it’s nice to hear the music and all.”
As if on cue, Loftus began to break into Irish dance to the delight of Paul and Lisa Gugerty and their family, with whom the Loftus-O’Briens are staying.
“I just can’t wait to get over there,” Loftus said, motioning toward the music tent where musician Kimberly Fraser was playing a classic Celtic tune.
Lisa Gugerty, who will be working with O’Brien at SUNY Cortland, became friends with him when she traveled to England to do research.
“She definitely met some strange Irish people over there,” O’Brien said.
“These two included,” Gugerty replied.





County cleans up after storm

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland County 911 Communications Center was knocked out Friday night for several hours as two storms rolled through the area, downing trees and power lines in the northwestern part of the county.
Undersheriff Herb Barnhart said the outage at the center on Greenbush Street in Cortland was due to a possible lightning strike.
Homer Fire Chief Phil Hess said there was a lot of storm damage from the two storms in Homer.
Hess said firefighters were out for more than three hours taking care of trees, down from the first storm at approximately 5 p.m., on Cold Brook Road.
The second storm at approximately 10:30 p.m. knocked out the 911 call center’s communications for the entire county, Hess said. All fire chiefs were called and told to man their stations, receiving calls directly at the stations.
“(The call center) was able to receive calls but not able to transfer them,” Hess said.
Hess said the call center’s communications were fixed by 4:30 a.m. Saturday.
During the second storm, Homer Fire Department handled about 15 calls for downed trees and wires. Hess said firefighters were also directing traffic because primary power lines were down.
Cindy Christopher, 49, of 5918 West Little York Road, said the damage on her property was extensive.
“The wind was just unbelievable. I had a huge tree limb down in my lawn, the top of my neighbor’s willow tree was in my lawn, my neighbor’s shed was wrapped around a pine tree, their trampoline was up against my garage,” Christopher said. “My lawn was literally littered. That gives you an idea of the extent of the damage. All of Little York is a mess.”
Christopher said she lost power on and off Friday night.
National Grid reported no power outages in Cortland County as of this morning.



Eight sides of learning in historic Dryden schoolhouse

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — It’s one of those stories that is embedded in a family’s unique mythology, the type where the line between fact and fanciful embellishments added over time becomes unclear.
But according to family legend, a century ago in the early 1900s Jackie Warner’s grandmother was a student at the historic octagonal Eight Square Schoolhouse in Dryden.
“The story goes that she was running around one side of the school, and this Whipple boy was running around the other … they crashed into each other and one of them, I’m not even sure which one, wound up with a bad bloody nose,” Warner said.
On Saturday, Warner, who lives in Freeville, got to see the inside of her grandmother’s school for the first time, courtesy of the annual open house at the school, held by The History Center in Tompkins County.
“I’ve always wanted to take a look at it, so this year I said, ‘I’m going, no matter how hot it is,’” Warner said, referring to the hot, humid weather Saturday. “It’s so interesting to think about this place, how it must have been for them.”
Saturday’s event was a chance for the general public to get an up-close look at the schoolhouse, which was built in 1827 and is the only remaining brick octagonal schoolhouse in the state. The schoolhouse is located on Hanshaw Road in Dryden.
Teacher and historian Jane Morse led a handful of children through an historic flag-raising ceremony — including a pledge of allegiance with hands raised toward the flag instead of over their hearts — and then gave a brief lesson on a typical school day.
“In the spring, kids would have had to help with planting, and in the fall it was harvesting time, so it was being used during the two worst times of the year for weather,” said Carol West, who runs the educational programs for the History Center.
West noted that, because of the seasons during which the school was used, the octagonal design allowed for more efficient heating, with a stove positioned in the center of the schoolhouse, and better ventilation during warm months, with eight walls and eight windows available to catch crosswinds.
“The Quakers (who built the schoolhouse) also had a superstition where they believed spirits could hide in square corners, so this eight-sided school made sense,” West said.
Throughout spring and fall, the schoolhouse is used for full-immersion field trips for all fourth-graders in the city of Ithaca.
“They do all the subjects they would have covered at the time, they dress in period clothes and have a period lunch,” West said.
Gary Reinbolt, executive director of the History Center, said that the program is very popular among fourth-graders.
“When they do a survey of Ithaca schools, this is their most memorable field trip by far,” Reinbolt said. “And we have it anecdotally that this is the only trip kids actually go home and talk about.”
Reinbolt said the History Center is hoping to offer the immersion field trip to all Tompkins County schools, but first it must secure a working, period stove to allow for field trips during winter months.
The History Center is also hoping to start a fundraising campaign soon to raise the $150,000 to $250,000 needed to restore aspects of the building, which it owns and operates.
The Eight Square Schoolhouse is full of history, West said, noting that the fathers of Ezra Cornell and Cornell’s future wife, Mary Ann Wood, were behind the building of the school.
“Ezra Cornell’s children went here as well, including his oldest, Alonzo, who would eventually become governor,” West said. “It really is a wonderfully important part of our local history.”