Grilled hot dogs and beach days may define the summer for many, but there are tribes of would-be Celts around the country who live for the warmer days of corned beef and cabbage. Celtic festival season is upon us, and the Travel Channel has identified some of the best summer celebrations designed to help release your inner St. Patrick.
Monterey Scottish Games and Celtic Festival
If you like your craic with a dash of haggis, the Monterey Scottish Games and Celtic Festival in Monterey, CA, has your poison. This particular fling features kilted athletes competing in heavy events such as the Braemar Stone, the heavy hammer and the caber toss. As with any self-respecting Celtic fest, regional pipe bands provide the stirring soundtrack (read: it gets very, very loud -- but that's what massed bands are all about.) Clan Galbraith, a troupe portraying a gang of 16th-century Highlander mercenaries, share a little of what it's like to heft a blade in the wild heather of Scotland, while the Society for Creative Anachronisms demonstrate just how to stay alive when there's an armored swordsman coming at you. Come for the Scottish dancing and clan gatherings, but stay for the wavy-haired New Zealander Chris Yates, who portrays “McCloud” -- a 10-foot-tall highlander complete with a 9-yard kilt.
Malad Valley Welsh Festival
The Irish and Scots don't necessarily have the festival season entirely to themselves. The Malad Valley Welsh Festival in Malad City, ID, gives Celts of Welsh ancestry a chance to let loose. Welsh pioneers were among the first to settle in the region, and the valley claims the highest concentration of Welshmen outside of Wales itself. At this celebration -- an eisteddfod, in the tongue-twisting Welsh -- visitors can expect to learn a little of the language, research family history, catch some Welsh theater (“The Belles of Horsefly Gulch,”) attend a special presentation of the film The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain and get the blood flowing with several live concerts, including the Teton Drum and Pipe Band. Admission is free.
Billed as “like Ireland, except smaller,” the Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin, OH, is, in a word, massive. Organizers of this year's 25th annual fest expect more than 100,000 visitors. Set on 29 acres just north of Columbus, the weekend-long fest will feature cultural exhibits, activities geared toward families and the much-celebrated beer tent. It's the impressive entertainment lineup that makes this late-summer celebration so notable. Some of the biggest names in Irish entertainment are on board, from the lilting vocals of the Ladies of Longford and T with the Maggies, to the driving rock of Black 47, the Young Dubliners and the Makem and Spain Brothers (yes, those Makem brothers.) Nearly 80 other groups, dance troupes and singers will perform across 7 stages.
The nation's largest free celebration of all things Irish, the Irish Fair of Minnesota in St. Paul has the best of all Irish festivals -- bands, beer and boiled beef -- plus its own unique events: Irish Got Talent and Best Legs in a Kilt. Wrap up in your own bolt of tartan and enter to win the “best chicken legs” or “hairiest legs” divisions. Visitors with a thirst for a drop of the pure can park themselves in the Jameson Whiskey Experience tent to learn about the distillation process and sample different varieties in whiskey flights. Vendors selling everything from Jaffa cakes to Celtic crosses will inhabit the marketplace tents. Throughout the games, held on Harriet Island on the banks of the Mississippi River, athletes will test their strength and speed against one another in games of hurling -- give the sloither a whack with the hurley yourself -- and Gaelic football. Special hotel rates are available for visitors at the Holiday Inn St. Paul downtown.
New Hampshire Highland Games
The festival season is unofficially wrapped up with this long-running, popular festival at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH. The largest gathering of Scottish musicians, athletes, pipers and dancers in the Northeast, the 37th annual New Hampshire Highland Games will see more than 30 pipe bands from across Canada and the US mass at its opening ceremonies. Many of the world's top heavyweight athletes travel to Loon to compete in the annual Scottish heavy athletics. A clan village with representatives of more than 70 Scottish clans dominates the landscape at the foot of the lower mountain, as food vendors and sheep dog demonstrations are run nearby.
The festival starts on Friday with whisky tasting, live music and living history displays. The pipe, drum, fiddle, drum major and highland dance competitions take place on Saturday and Sunday. This year, children under 15 can attend for free when accompanied by an adult. For the wee ones, the games this year will include a scavenger hunt, storytelling, face painting, juggling and crafts. Parking is in nearby Lincoln, with shuttle buses taking attendees to the grounds at Loon.