The Pipes Are Calling at Wheeling Celtic Celebration

Kilmaine Saints

WHEELING — From bagpipes to bodhrans, Scotch eggs to Welsh dragons, honey mead to Irish stout: Wheeling Heritage is inviting the Ohio Valley to celebrate all things Celtic Saturday at the Wheeling Artisan Center.

The 22nd annual Wheeling Celtic Celebration kicks off at 11 a.m. with opening remarks and features continuous entertainment on the third floor stage until the Celtic-punk group Kilmaine Saints brings the festival to a raucous close at 11 p.m. Perennial favorites the Macdonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh, Burke Irish Dancers, Terry Griffith and Brigid’s Cross punctuate the lineup.

The festival bill of fare includes Scotch eggs, cabbage and noodles, scones, and many more Celtic-inspired delicacies prepared by River City Restaurant, which also will be open on the first floor throughout the day.

A Celtic marketplace will feature a selection of eclectic merchandise including clothing; pub shirts, glasses and signs; jewelry; photography; honey mead wines, gourmet popcorn and much more.

“The Wheeling Celtic Celebration has become an annual tradition enjoyed by many in and around the Ohio Valley,” said Chris Villamagna, Wheeling Heritage program manager. “It’s a time to celebrate Celtic culture and heritage and a time to gather with family and friends.” More than 2,000 festival-goers are expected.

The event takes place the first weekend of March every year, kicking off the St. Patrick’s Day “season.” Having it early in the month ensures the entertainers aren’t booked, Villamagna said, plus it sets the festival apart from the commercially conspicuous Irish-themed holiday.

“I remind everyone, it is not only an Irish celebration, but the seven Celtic Nations. That’s why we don’t overdecorate in shamrocks and leprechauns,” she said.

The European countries or regions that encompass the Celtic nations (pronounced “keltic” or “seltic” — both are acceptable, although “keltic” is preferred by scholars and historians) are: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, the Isle of Man and Galicia.

While Ireland is a sovereign nation, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man are part of the United Kingdom, Brittany is in France and Galicia is in Spain. All seven still have people descended from the Celts, some of whom still speak Celtic languages.

A West Virginia History article on dialect notes that the first white settlers of Appalachia in the 18th century were Scots-Irish (commonly referred to as Scotch-Irish), meaning they were mostly lowland Scots who were transplanted into Ulster (now Northern Ireland) by King James 1. After a few generations, they became dissatisfied with lack of jobs and abundance of religious rancor and emigrated to America. Some also came directly from Scotland after the disastrous rebellion by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.

Local historian Margaret Brennan wrote in the West Virginia Encyclopedia that the Irish came to West Virginia in the early and mid-19th century and were instrumental in building railroads, canals and roads. According to the Division of Culture and History, at least 17 percent of the Northern Panhandle population claims Irish ancestry, with Zip Atlas reporting upwards of 20 percent in Hundred and 19 percent in Newell, McMechen and New Manchester.

Whether one has Irish, Scottish or Welsh ancestry, the Wheeling Celtic Celebration has something for everyone, including the little ones. The Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley will be set up from noon to 4 p.m. to provide children’s crafts and activities. Members of Gallowglass have a couple tables with Celtic instruments for young and old to discover. Vendors sell everything from coats of arms to football (a.k.a. soccer) jerseys to pretty ribbon “crowns.” Celtic jewelry, handmade soaps, pottery and more will be for sale.

On stage, the first few hours feature Scottish country dancing, the skirl of the Highland pipes and drums, and the pomp and pageantry of Irish step dancing.

Wheeling’s own Gallowglass will offer traditional Celtic music mid-afternoon, followed by festival newcomer Rich Patrick and returning local group Gypsy Cowboys, which founder Carl Besece describes as “new age Celtic music” played on mandolin, guitar and banjo. Besece said he leaves his cowboy hat at home and dons his kilt for the Celtic celebration.

“We sure do enjoy the Celtic festival. It’s a good deal,” he said, adding when he hears the bagpipes, it stirs his Celtic blood and the hair stands up on the back of his neck.

Brigid’s Cross comes down from Cleveland each year and gets the crowd going with their Irish songs featuring feverish fiddling accompanied by keyboard and bodhran. Their version of “Wipeout” is always a crowd pleaser. Terry Griffith, a Wheeling native and Pittsburgh resident, is next up with his Irish ballads and rebel tunes, accompanying himself on guitar.

Headlining this year’s Celtic Celebration for the first time is Kilmaine Saints, a Celtic-punk band from Harrisburg, Pa., whose high-energy style flows right into the nighttime crowd’s party vibe, Villamagna said.

Influenced by Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, their original songs have a “raw energy” and a “fast and harder edge,” said lead singer and co-writer Brendan Power, who was born in County Mayo, Ireland, and still has a family farm there. They do all the traditional Irish pub songs, such as “Wild Rover” and “Whiskey in the Jar,” as well as “Scotland the Brave” and even a cover of “Jump Around” with the bagpipes.

Guitar player Rich Lipski is a Wheeling Jesuit University alum looking forward to his first return trip since graduating in 1999. Asked if there’s anything he wants to do while here, he said he definitely plans to hit DiCarlo’s before leaving town.

There is an admission fee, although admission for children 12 and under is free. The first-floor restaurant and bar are open for business as usual.

The event is sponsored by the Wheeling Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Ohio County Commission, the WALS Foundation, Altmeyer Funeral Homes and Felton CPA.

For more information, visit wheeling or call the Wheeling Artisan Center at 304-232-1810 or the Visitors Center at 800-828-3097.