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A Celtic Celebration

You won’t want to miss the ­Southern Maryland Celtic Festival

     Like the village that rises out of the mists in Scotland every hundred years in the 1954 movie Brigadoon, a park in St. Leonard comes alive with the sounds, smells and sights of the oldest Celtic celebration in Maryland. 
      But for just one day.
      On that single day, Saturday, April 27, the annual Southern Maryland Celtic Festival at Jefferson Patterson Park resounds with bagpipes, drums, fiddles and celebration.
     The smells of haggis, barbecue, pies and shortbread scent the air.
Fiddlers, pipers, highland dancers, drummers and athletes thrill in daylong competitions.
     Three stages offer day-long music and dance performances. An old-world Celtic marketplace invites browsing and learning about the culture and costuming of more than 50 clans and societies. Storytellers weave tales and invite festivalgoers to take a turn at the end of the day.
     “We have hundreds of participants performing, competing and demonstrating,” says Jackie Waymire, chair of the festival steering committee.
      As the sun sets, you’ll want to stick around for the ceilidh — an evening dance party with live music and food and beverages.
     There’s so much to do at this festival that you’ll want to pick up your program as you enter. Here are some highlights.
 
Dancing and Music Abound 
      A celebration following a victorious battle must have been quite a sight.
     The Highland Dance stage hosts performers and competitions. The Highland Fling, likely the oldest of the traditional dances of Scotland was originally performed to celebrate victory after a battle.
     Other dances include the sword dance and Sean Triubhas — or old trousers — which originated as a political protest in 1745 when the wearing of the kilt was an act of treason. 
     “We already have 50 dancers registered,” says Victoria Major, the festival’s Highland dance steward. 
     At the Breton workshop, traditional dancers do Breton spirals and explain the history of their art, inviting you on stage for Celtic aerobics. 
 
History Comes Alive Before Your Eyes
     On a rare truce day in the year 1596, you stumble into the Debatable Lands on the Scottish-English border. Jamie’s Bairns, a bunch of border ruffians, well-armed and spoiling for a fight, encounter an English March Warden, angry that a prisoner has escaped his custody. Don’t worry: An itinerant surgeon happens to be there, too.
     Recreating other scenes from the past are living history groups such as Norse traders, members of the Welsh court and Officers of the British Crown.
     At 4pm, the annual Celtic Battle resumes with living historians simulating combat in the loudest of the day’s demonstrations, full of musket volleys and combat.
     The 16th and 17th centuries weren’t all battles and swordplay. Lowland Scots seamstress Lady Aimee is on hand, marketing clothing to the armies of Charles I.
 
Bagpipes — and Competition
      Bagpipe bands compete in the 26th annual bagpipe competition, sanctioned by the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association. 
      “The bands compete for cash prizes,” says Art Fournier, organizer of piping and drumming. “This year we have six bands signed up to compete.”
      The Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band travels from Pennsylvania to compete. Other groups come from as far away as Richmond.
 
Athletes Try Traditional Skills Challenges
      Strength athletes compete in Heavy Athletics contests including open/Braemar stones, the ancient ancestors of modern-day shot-put. Other competitions are Scottish hammers, caber toss (where a trunk of a tree is flipped) and the sheaf toss (using a pitch fork).
      Rugby teams, including the local Patuxent River Rugby Club, compete in a round-robin. The team with the best record at the end of the day is declared the winner.
      Through all this, kids don’t have to sit on the sidelines. Kids can join junior Highland games, try their hand at hammer and sheath tosses, play rugby and enjoy gentler pastimes including Celtic coloring pages, stickers, face painting and more.
 
 
Southern Maryland Celtic Festival: April 27, 10am-6pm, plus a ceilidh — evening dance party with live music and food and beverages available for sale — until about 10pm. Jefferson Patterson Park, 10515 Mackall Rd., St. Leonard, $25 w/advance discounts; ages 12 and under free with adult ticket-holder: www.cssm.org