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East Tennessee Celtic Festival honors culture, traditions

Amy Millhorn Leonard • Sep 12, 2019 at 10:32 AM



It is widely believed that the ancient Celts originated in central Europe in the Hallstatt region in what is now Austria at the end of the Bronze Era around 1200 B.C. A migratory people, the Celts spread throughout Europe into not only the central Europe’s coastal areas and islands, but also Poland, Spain, Italy and Turkey. Celtic people were known for their expert craftsmanship with metals and beautiful artistry. Examples of their work have been discovered throughout Europe. By 500 A.D. Celtic culture and languages were mainly found in Ireland and in the northern regions of Britain including Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. Derivative languages of Welsh, Gaelic, Irish, Breton and Scottish are still spoken in those regions today.

Fast forward a few hundred years: Many Scots, Irish and Northern Brits fled to America for various reasons as early as the 1600s. Our own region here in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina was settled by many of those Celtic descendants in the late 1700s.

To honor the Celts and their nations, the Upper East Tennessee Celtic Society (UETCS) was founded in Jonesborough in 1992. For 27 years, the society has presented many events and educational opportunities to share Celtic cultural contributions including art, literature, music, traditions and customs.

UETCS will present its 27th Annual East Tennessee Celtic Festival & Highland Games, Sept. 13-14, at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site located at 2620 S. Roan St. in Johnson City. Festivities begin Friday evening with a traditional “Calling of The Clans” and light refreshments.

Mike Jones was recently elected UETCS president and says, “We are excited to educate people about the Celtic culture year after year. Many of us like me have Irish and Scottish ancestors who settled this area. My clan, the McNabbs, fought with the Overmountain Men in the Revolutionary War. The Tiptons replenished their horses and supplies here at this farm back then.”

The main festival begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday with an opening ceremony, and runs through 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for individuals ages 12 and older. Children under 12 will be admitted free with a paying adult.

Headlining entertainment will be Brynmor, a band from Asheville, North Carolina, specializing in not only traditional Celtic music but also “Celtic Rock for the masses.” Inside the education center, Martha Egan will be teaching visitors how to play the penny whistle. Amy Vining will feature her “Harp Petting Zoo” and explain and perform harp music. There will be demonstrations in sheep herding by Border Collies with Blackface sheep and a Highland cow.

Ravens of Woden, a Viking-era group, and Scots-Irish Warrior Acts will demonstrate and hold a tournament in broadsword and spear and shield fighting. Contests in axe, tomahawk and spear throwing, as well as archery — along with learning clinics about caber, stone and hammer throwing, and a trebuchet — will highlight the Highland Games activities in the lower field.

Clan leaders will be on hand at their booths to answer questions about their clans, and the Scottish Tartan Museum booth will teach about kilts and tartans. Some UETCS members will be dressed in Celtic attire.

Several traditional Celtic vendors and food vendors will also be on site.

Other upcoming events for the UETCS include the Second Annual Halloween Spooktacular with a Haunted Hayride to be held Oct. 26 at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site where kids will be gently scared while learning about the history of the site by Civil War Soldiers and historical figures, and a visit to the Wolf Cave. There will be a Celtic Christmas party on Dec. 15, and a traditional “Burns Dinner” in February which will include the “Cutting of the Haggis,” poetry by Robert Burns and music. The society also has ceremony events for May Day, Tartan Day and Summer Solstice where they are visited by the “Green Man” and fairies.

The society has recently started doing onsite demonstrations of highland athletics at college campuses and has an annual Kids’ Highland Games. Next year, they will hold their first ever scored Highland Games where competitors’ scores will be counted on the North American Scottish Games Athletics (NASGA) database.

The UETCS has recently elected new board members and officers and is looking for more active members.

“Our group is like a family and has over 100 members of all ages with different interests and we welcome anyone interested in joining,” Jones said. “We have individual, couple and family memberships.”

The society meets each Thursday at 6 p.m. at Monte Vista Funeral Home on Oakland Avenue in Johnson City. For more information about the Upper East Tennessee Celtic Society, membership and events, visit their website at uetcs.org or find them on Facebook.

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