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Posted April 23, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Celtic celebration: First festival will mark area's cultural heritage

Front Royal Celtic Festival performers
Karen and Chris Shannon of Front Royal will be performing at the first Front Royal Celtic Festival and Highland Games on Saturday in Front Royal. Mrs. Shannon plays the autoharp and Shannon plays the button accordion. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shannon plays his accordion
Shannon strikes the keys on his button accordion. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- With everything from traditional Irish music and bagpipes to caber tossing, local residents will get the full Celtic cultural experience this weekend.

The town will host its first Front Royal Celtic Festival and Highland Games from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Rivendell Commons at 1190 Progress Drive. Tickets to the event are $7 per person or $25 per family. Proceeds from beverages sold at the event will benefit the Front Royal Pregnancy Center. In case of inclement weather, the event will be moved inside a gymnasium at the commons, event coordinator Michael Turner said.

The event will feature activities similar to those held at traditional Scottish highland games, such as fire juggling, hammer throwing, a tall man contest, and caber tossing. Authentic Celtic music and dancing also will be among the festivities. With some local residents feeling the effects of a tough economy, the Celtic festival may be just what people need to boost their spirits, Turner said.

"It's a depressed economy. We want to do something that cheers people up. This music and this culture is a very positive influence. A lot of folks in this area are from the Celtic [culture]. This is something that basically [celebrates the] joy of the Celtic tradition. And, we need it," Turner said.

The event, Turner said, will naturally appeal to people with Irish or Scottish ancestry, but the goal is to get people from all ethnic backgrounds to participate.

"At a festival like this, everybody's Irish. Everybody's Scottish," Turner said. "We're celebrating a distinct cultural aspect. ... We're celebrating that root. We're trying to bring into the program some of those stories of the Irish and Scottish history that are meaningful and apply to all human beings. Of course, there's going to be fun and games. But, there's a message here."

Highland games are held each year in Scotland and other countries as a way of honoring the Scottish and Celtic heritage. The events have competitions and entertainment that are also symbolic of the Gaelic culture. The Cowal Games in Dunoon, which draws more than 3,000 competitors annually, is believed to be the largest Highland games gathering in Scotland.

Jessica Inzeo, 17, and other members of the local O'Kielty Irish Dancers group will be among performers at the Front Royal Celtic festival. Inzeo said she hopes the event will leave a lasting impression.

"I think this Celtic festival is going to be fantastic. I think it's going to be a great day of just wholesome fun, lots and lots of fun for the entire family," Inzeo said. "I hope this can keep happening every single year. I think it's going to get bigger and better. And, I think everyone is going to have so much fun in the process."

Bernardine Clark, 46, a Boston native who moved to Front Royal a few years ago, is looking forward to attending the Celtic festival with her family. Clark, who has grandparents with Irish ancestry, says the event will also provide a much needed showcase for local talent.

"I am super excited about it because there's so much talent around here and people travel to Manassas and D.C. and all these far away places to hear it, and just there's so much [talent] right here in our neighborhoods. So, we can celebrate that," Clark said. "And, then there's a lot of talent coming in from other places [to perform]. ... It's great to have something like this in our own backyard."

Clark said she hopes the Celtic festival will help people learn more about the Irish and Scottish heritage, and disprove some cultural stereotypes in the process.

"Being a person of Irish descent, it's easy to kind of laugh at a lot of the cheesy aspects of Irish culture that gets played up at St. Patrick's Day. So, this is a really nice opportunity to see some of the more authentic, interesting and meaningful aspects of Irish culture," Clark said. "The green beer can be fun. But, there's not much to it after a one-time joke. ... Ideally, maybe this will be a forum for exchange."

Nevertheless, Turner says, the event will provide residents with a few hours of good-natured fun.

"Lots of good music. Lots of good cultural experience. Lots of fun for the families. ... The idea is family fun," Turner said. "Times are hard enough. Why not get together and do something positive?"

For more information on the Celtic festival or to purchase tickets, call the Front Royal Visitors Center at 635-5788 or visit www.frontroyalcelticfestival.com. Tickets can also purchased at the gate.

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