Celtic fest a first for Holland

Ever toss the caber or the sheaf? Those words sound a little foreign? 

For the first time ever, Holland will be able to watch Highland Games like these Saturday, June 25, at the inaugural Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival. 

Celtic music and food will also be a part of the all-day family-friendly fun.

Co-director Craig Rich has dabbled with other festivals, volunteering for Tulip Time or the Downtown Holland St. Patrick’s Day parade, and he helps head up Michigan Shipwreck Associates, which has an annual history presentation, but this is his first time attempting an entire full-day festival. And he started planning it in the middle of a pandemic. 

“Judging by ticket sales and the excitement in the community, I’d say we struck a nerve,” Rich says.
A map shows the layout of the Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival and Highland Games, Saturday, June 25.
A strange start

Designing the festival layout, hiring bands and vendors, reaching out to Scottish clans — most of that occurred while still under partial COVID restrictions. As the year went on and restrictions waned, more people came on board to help.

Site manager Mark DeJong has been busily getting Window on the Waterfront (at the corner of Sixth Street and Columbia Avenue) ready for the festival. 

Rich jokingly describes himself and his co-director Peter Grimm as “mutts.”

“He's like me. He’s a mutt. We’re Irish, we're German, we’re Scottish, we’re Swedish. We have lots to celebrate in our ancestry,” Rich says. “A lot of people go to festivals that don’t represent them. They want to honor that or celebrate that or just have fun. We’re good with all of that.”

The sheaf toss is one of many Highland Games that will be a part of Saturday's Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival at Window on the Waterfront.
What's a caber?

For the record, the caber toss is a traditional Scottish athletic event in which competitors toss a large, tapered pole called a caber and the sheaf toss is an athletic contest born on the fields of Scotland where competitors use a pitchfork to hurl a heavy burlap sack stuffed with straw over a horizontal bar.

More than 50 athletes — men and women — will compete Saturday, tossing heavy weights for height and distance.

Music and dance and more

Acoustic Vagabondi, Selkie, Ironwood, The Mona Shores Fiddlers, Uneven Ground, Crossbow, and The Conklin Ceili Band will perform in the festival’s Irish Pub Tent.

Four Michigan Irish and Scottish dance schools will perform on the dance stage — McClintic School of Highland Dance, Ardan Academy of Irish Dance, Scoil Rince Ni Bhraonain, and The Michigan Irish Dance Academy.

The Muskegon Regional Police Pipe and Drum Band as well as Hugh Irwin, the Kilted Magician will also perform. 

Irish and Scottish food, plus Irish beers, whiskey and scotch and other alcohol will be available for purchase as well.

A kids’ area will offer entertainment for the “wee bairns” — or small children.

All activities will take place rain or shine (barring severe weather).

At the Scottish clan village, attendees can discover their Celtic roots or learn about 18 different Scottish clans.

Cèilidh

The Friday cèilidh (pronounced Kay’-Lee) is an Irish music and dance party. Rich expects the strictly-21-and-older event to sell out. Tickets are $20 per person and include entrance to the Saturday activities as well. All tickets are available in advance on the Holland Celtic Festival website as well as at the gate (though Rich recommends attendees buy in advance).

Friday night will kick off at 7 p.m. with The Leprecons and Crossbow taking the stage. There will be a cash bar.

Tickets to the Saturday festival include an entire day of Celtic bands and are $10 for those 13 years old and older. Those 12 and younger are free. 

“Holland is very good at celebrating,” Rich says. “We celebrate all ethnicities. Holland is very good at getting together and having fun. If you’re bored this summer in Holland, you’re just not trying.”

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.