Annual Festival Highlights Seven Celtic Nations, Cultures

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, people all over the country — especially those with Irish ancestry — are gearing up to celebrate Ireland’s rich culture and history. It’s the one day each year when “everyone is Irish.” But Ireland is only one of seven Celtic nations with fun, interesting cultural traditions to share.

Since 2003, the Fargo Park District and Moorhead Parks and Recreation host the Celtic Festival every March to highlight the rich cultures of all seven Celtic nations: Brittany, Cornwall, Galicia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales.

“Everyone thinks (the Celtic Festival) is an Irish festival, but it’s about more than the Irish,” said Sam Larson-Frobig, program manager at Fargo Park District. “We are very particular about showcasing all Celtic nations and their cultures.”

Photo courtesy of Fargo Park District.

This year the 14th annual Celtic Festival kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 11 at the Hjemkomst Center. Upon entering the festival, attendees will hear the lively sounds of button accordions, iconic Highland bagpipes or rhythmic footwork of traditional Irish dance, as well as the smells of shepherd’s pie, Welsh cakes, Scotch eggs and other authentic Celtic foods.

Children and adults alike will learn about the seven Celtic nations through hands-on arts and crafts, passport activities, clan members, heritage presentations and live performances.

Fargo’s own Heather and Thistle Pipe and Drum Band opens the festivities with its traditional music, and groups Debi Rogers, Dick Hensold and Patsy O’Brien, The Long Nines, Willow Brae, The McDonald School of Irish and International Dance, and Mikko and Friends perform throughout the day.

Photo courtesy of Fargo Park District.

Maureen McDonald-Hins, executive director and dance instructor at The McDonald School of Irish and International Dance, gave the Fargo Park District the idea for the Celtic Festival years ago.

The dance group has performed at the festival since its inception.

“Most of the dances we perform at the festival we try to keep traditional,” she said. “(But) it’s fun for the dancers to do some choreography of their own as well.”

McDonald-Hins, who is of Scots-Irish ancestry, has been teaching Irish and other cultural dances since 1978. She became “hooked” after taking cultural dance classes as a student at MSUM and continued to take community dance courses, eventually traveling to Ireland to learn proper traditional techniques.

She also teaches cultural dances from Russia, the Balkans, Mexico, Israel, Brittany and Scotland at her studio.

“Sharing a dance with someone from another culture is like sitting down to a meal with them,” McDonald-Hins said. “Dance is innate. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It is purely movement to music.”

Mikko and Friends, an Irish ensemble from Minnesota, is another repeat performer this year. The group of five musicians has entertained festival attendees with lively ballads during the last six years, donned with Celtic instruments like guitar, banjo, bouzouki and bodhran.

Group spokesperson and guitarist Mikko Cowdery, who has Irish, Scottish and Welsh roots, said he learned many of the old Celtic standards at his father’s knee. He’s dabbled with different music genres over the years, but presently focuses on Celtic music with Mikko and Friends.

Other group members include accordionist Annie O’Flynn, fiddler Christina Seaborn, penny whistle player Chuck Wencl and banjoist and bouzouki player Doug Tatge.

“It’s a pure joy to be exposed to the high-quality and broad variety of music and dance presented by other performers at the Celtic Festival,” Cowdery said. “What these various cultures contribute to our melting pot are cause for celebration and song!”

If You Go

What: 14th annual Celtic Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 11

Where: Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N., Moorhead

Cost: All exhibits, performances and activities are free with the exception of Activity Passport, which costs $2. The Activity Passport is the key to many of the craft stations and once completed can be turned in for a prize.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, March 6 2016, issue of the paper.

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