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McLain Celtic Festival celebrates 2 decades of heritage, music, food. BY DON HELIN

F On Aug.

áilte! In Irish Gaelic, that means “welcome,” and you’re sure to feel welcomed this month at the McLain Celtic Festival. 30, the festival celebrates its 20th

anniversary at the Two Mile House in Carlisle. Tis family-oriented festival is an opportunity to immerse oneself in traditional Celtic music and food and learn more about the heritage of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I had something of a personal introduction to the

festival. I met the director, Joan McBride and her husband, Jay, on a trip to Ireland a few years ago. “Everybody thinks the Germans were here in Cumberland County first, but as a matter of fact, 90 percent of Cumberland County residents were Scotch-Irish in the early 18th century,” Joan said. “Trough this festival, I wanted to share the exciting things I’ve learned about my Irish heritage during the 11 trips I’ve taken to Ireland over the past 15 years.” At the festival, you’ll see authentic Highland athletics, border collie demonstrations, Scottish clans, vendors with Celtic goods and musical entertainment, including folk singers, bands and dancers. Come prepared to enjoy toe-tapping music, tasty food and plenty of craic (Irish word for fun).


Te festival has always been at the Two Mile House. “At first,” Joan explained, “part of the festival was held on land borrowed from the phone company, but, as the festival grew, we cleared land, so now we use all five acres of the property. Eight years ago, we built a permanent stage to replace the rented stage we had to bolt together every year.” Te Two Mile House, named for its distance from the Carlisle town square, was built in 1820 and, from 1826 to 1857, housed the James Given Tavern. Given hailed from Colerain in Northern Ireland and saw to it that travelers could stop to quench their thirst, spend the night and enjoy the tavern’s simple fare. Mary Wheeler King bequeathed the property to the Cumberland County Historical Society in 1992, and the society has been the steward of the mansion, preserving and maintaining it, since.


For Joan, the festival revolves around the music, a form that has become widely known and admired throughout the world. “I love traditional Celtic music,” she said, “and that’s what we bring to our two stages.” Performing this year will be Across the Pond, Fire

in the Glen, Iona, Mark Maurer, Celtic Martins and Charlie Zahm. Te Coyle School of Irish Dance and the Scottish Country Dancers will be on the Glen Stage, and the Quittapahilla Highlanders Pipes and Drums will provide traditional bagpipe music. Joan told me she has watched the Celtic Martins

perform over the years, and it’s been fun to see the kids grow into top-flight performers. “Te family consists of mom and dad, three girls,

three boys and a son-in-law playing a wide range of instruments, including fiddles, bagpipes and tin whistles,” she said. “And the girls do Irish step dancing while playing their fiddles.” Joan’s husband, Jay, particularly loves the food. “You’ll find a full assortment of traditional Celtic

food,” he explained, “including fish and chips, bangers and mash, Scotch eggs and tasty meat pies. For the more American flavor, try the BBQ, burgers or hot dogs.”

CABERS AND SHIRES In addition to the music and food, two perennial

attractions are the athletic competitions and the historical re-enactors. Highland athletics features several events, including

throwing 16- to 22-pound stones for strength (similar to shot put) and distance (similar to discus), a sheaf toss for height and the caber toss. A caber is a 15- to 20-foot tapered pole weighing 90 to 140 pounds. Te object is to flip it end over end. Usually, there are 8 to 10 men in kilts participating. Tere is a full selection of mini-Highland athletics for the younger generation. Children can learn how to toss a “mini-caber” using a cardboard tube. For the sheaf toss, kids can demonstrate their strength and skill with a hay-filled burlap bag. Both of these events are quite a challenge for youngsters—exciting for them and fun for adults to watch. “I also enjoy the re-enactors who join us at the festival,” Joan remarked.

For example, the Shire of Blak Rose group of the

Society for Creative Anachronism is an international living history group with the aim of studying and recreating medieval European cultures and their histories before the 17th century. Te group will display different projects depicting the various aspects of life in the Dark Ages through the Middle Ages in the Celtic world. Te ladies in the Shire will bring a variety of crafts, including needlework and tailoring of period clothing. Te Scottish Society of Central Pennsylvania promotes an interest in the history, culture and traditions of Scotland and Scottish Americans. Te group will be on hand with a display of different clan tartans. Te motto of the Welsh Society of the Greater Harrisburg Area is, “to be born Welsh is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with music in your heart and poetry in your soul.” Teir display will include photos of Wales, along with the symbols of Wales—the dragon and the daffodil. Another group, Muskets of the Crown, is dedicated to preserving and demonstrating the life of the 18th- century British Soldier in North America. During the festival, they will portray the grenadier companies of two Scottish Highland Regiments, including the Black Watch. Tey also will demonstrate how to take nine yards of tartan and fold it into the “great” kilt. I attended the festival last year, and it was great fun.

I learned about Celtic heritage and enjoyed the music and dance. And I must agree with Jay about one very important thing. Te fish and chips? Outstanding.

GOING THERE Te McLain Celtic Festival is Saturday, Aug. 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Two Mile House, 1189 Walnut Bottom Rd., Carlisle, just two miles west of the town center. Tickets are $10 and children under 10 are free. No pets allowed. For more information, call 717-243-3437 or visit

Don Helin published his first thriller, “Ty Kingdom Come,” in 2009. His second, “Devil’s Den,” has been selected as a finalist in the Indie Book Awards. He lives in central Pennsylvania and his latest thriller, “Secret Assault,” was published in June. Contact Don on his website,

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