By Kari Condel
Irish music filled the street and walkways of downtown Bethlehem, Pa., from Friday, Sept. 22 to Sunday, Sept. 24 and could be heard from blocks away. Irish whiskey tasting, bagpipe battles and the Highland Games have returned to the eccentric city of Bethlehem since its conception in 1988. Its host, the Celtic Cultural Alliance, has been building this event to encompass both traditional and non-traditional Irish happenings. The goal of such gathering remains dedicated to symbolizing the Celtic spirit and history, and being able to present it in a fun and playful, yet informative, manner to all who attend. The preservation of the culture has been shown through the use of arts, music, literature, dance and history programs to continually inform and entertain.
The sounds of the festival started what would be three days of free music featuring classic, traditional, folk and rock. Irish singers, songwriters and step dancers shared their talent with the lasting and passing crowds, highlighting their love for their ancestors and culture.
The Celtic Classic battle between the various bagpipe groups was a main attraction, drawing a large crowd. Five bagpipe bands from both near and far traveled to Bethlehem to showcase their talents. Each band’s performance consisted of a walk-out to lure in spectators and a few minutes of their best music. Judges circled around each performance, paying careful attention and taking notes to assist in the decision-making process that was soon to come.
Whiskey has been a longstanding feature of the Irish culture, among many others, and continues to hold true. At the Celtic Festival, attendees could participate in whiskey tasting and informational sessions. Aside from tasting sessions, those individuals were educated with the history of whiskey or scotch, the distillery process and much more. The distillery is a key feature of any whiskey or beer making process and it is no different with the Irish.
Food is another item that brings people together. Vendors lined the pathway of the festival, allowing people to navigate through the Celtic Classic with an item of food or a drink in hand. This festival is known to offer the largest selection of quality Celtic food, as one of the rules for food vendor inquiries is to provide the people with traditional Celtic menu items.
Nothing is more certain to capture an attendee’s wandering eye than a kilted man throwing heavy-weighted medieval stones over a continually raised bar. The Celtic Classic has hosted the Highland Games for thirteen years, and continues to be a main attraction for the people in attendance. Professional Highland Athletes from across the country travel to compete with the hopes of solidifying a spot in the Celtic Classic for the U.S. Champion title. These athletes are the top in the world, accumulating points through a variety of events. Such include the lifting of heavy stones, throwing the hammer and tossing the caber. All date back to medieval times, as it is likely the highland games originated from the contest of speed, strength, agility and skill, which were commonplace in medieval Scotland.
Those both of Irish culture and a non-Irish background alike banded together in the celebration of Celtic traditions and will continue to do so for the years to come, bringing Bethlehem and its people along for the journey. This internationally known celebration of all Celtic things is an attraction to people of all ages and backgrounds, proving to be a good time to all that attended