Celtic Festival returns June 21-22

A celebration of Irish and Scottish culture returns to West Michigan this month at the annual Celtic Festival in Holland. 

Sponsored by Guinness, this year’s festival begins the evening of Friday, June 21, and continues all day Saturday, June 22, at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds on Ottawa Beach Road in Holland. Organizers are still looking for volunteers.

Last year, the Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival and Highland Games drew more than 7,000 visitors, and organizers expect an even bigger crowd for the third annual festival.

“We started in a small park in downtown Holland, but outgrew that venue after the first year,” says co-director Pete Grimm, of Holland. “The County Fairgrounds work well for us now and give us room to grow in the future as well. Our Highland Games already are among the largest in Michigan.” 

“The idea for this festival was hatched during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Craig Rich, Holland Celtic Society president and event co-director. “A group of us who regularly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and other ethnic festivals and events in Holland thought that we could get together and start something great for the community. This festival was born then.”

Music from two stages

The event features 17 performances by Irish and Celtic bands on two stages over two days. Scheduled to appear are Acoustic Vagabondi, Toby Bresnahan, Selkie, Uneven Ground, Belfast Gin, Enda Reilly, The Barley Saints, The Chelsea House Orchestra, Kennedy’s Kitchen, The Conklin Ceili Band, Whorled, The Leprecons, Ironwood, and CrossBow.

Courtesy Holland Celtic Festival The Leprecons perform during the 2023 Holland Celtic Festival

“We're expanding this year. We're adding a second music stage. I thought that was going to be a five- to 10-year thing, but we decided to go for it and see what happens,” Rich says. 

Headlining Friday night’s 21-and-older “Ceilidh” (music and dance party) will be Canadian favorites The Mudmen. Saturday evening’s grand finale features The Devil’s Brigade (formerly The American Rogues), who have toured extensively across the country and have played for U.S. troops at bases around the world.

The Kalamazoo Pipe and Drum band will perform throughout the event, and five area dance companies will perform Irish and Highland dance demonstrations on the Dance Stage.

The kids’ area will have games, coloring, temporary tattoos, and more.

A full schedule of Highland athletic games will begin at 9:30 a.m. on June 22, featuring 70 men and women competing in nine events including caber-tossing, hammer-throwing, and other feats of strength.

A dozen ethnic food tents/trucks will ensure no one goes hungry, while shoppers can browse nearly 20 vendors of Celtic clothing and other merchandise. Kilts, Aran sweaters and other Irish and Scottish clothing, art, and goods will be available.

“We certainly have vendors coming from all over the U.S. We've got a vendor from Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” Rich says.

A cash bar will be available Friday and Saturday featuring beers, wines, seltzers and more, including a fully stocked whiskey bar.

Friday tickets are $22.50 and include free return admission on Saturday. Saturday tickets are $12 per person, with those 15 and younger admitted free that day. 

Courtesy Holland Celtic Festival Scottish Dancers await their turn to dance during the 2023 Holland Celtic Festival.

Celtic culture finds a home

The Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival & Highland Games is produced by the Holland Celtic Society, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization.

Rich thinks Holland, a community known for his Dutch heritage, has a big heart for a lot of cultures, including Celtic traditions. 

“We've kind of ignited a spark that was always glowing here, because St. Patrick's Day is just a crazy, wonderful celebration, and has been for about 20 years now, since the Curragh Irish Pub came to town.”

The former Holland city councilman says the idea was birthed in his garage at the end of the pandemic, in an effort to find something to bring the community together. 

“It just seemed like this was the next natural step to have an annual celebration of all things Irish and Scottish and Welsh, all the other Celtic nations,” says Rich. “I think people are drawn to the ancient history of the Celts and the Irish and the Scots. A lot of us have that as part of our ancestry. It may be 5% or it may be 95%, but if it's there and you've done a DNA test, or you've got family stories or whatever, or your name is a purely Irish or Celtic Scottish name, you want to embrace that as much as you can.

“I've lived in Holland all my life, and I embrace Dutch culture, even though I don't have any Dutch ancestry,” Rich says. “People are looking to celebrate things, and they're looking at their own history to see if there's something there that they can kind of latch on to, and to be able to claim a piece of that history.”
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