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Maine Celtic Celebration: An Authentic Irish Experience on Maine's Stunning Coast

Few locations embody the quintessential Maine experience like the beautiful city of Belfast. Located on Maine's Midcoast and home to miles of scenic coastline and a unique collection of activities, Belfast is truly a one-of-a-kind destination.


Rich in culture, activities, history and scenery, Belfast is a can't-miss coastal community. Whether you're coming for an extended stay or a day trip to the coast, this city will deliver. Perhaps the biggest draw to this friendly community is the postcard-like scenery. The rocky coastline, lush vegetation and diverse wildlife combine to create numerous outdoor adventures in Belfast. Maine has long since been considered a haven for foodies, and Belfast is no exception. Without leaving the confines of the city, you’ll find spectacular seafood restaurants and almost every other type of dining establishment you can imagine from Italian to Thai. A perfect way to experience all Belfast has to offer is to visit during one of the big community events, like the Maine Celtic Celebration.


Now crossing the decade mark of existence, Maine Celtic Celebration has grown into one of the premier events celebrating Celtic heritage on the East Coast. This is a family friendly event, with something fun for all ages. The atmosphere is exciting and vibrant with traditionally themed Celtic music filling the air and great live entertainment. Some of the other activities you’ll find include a 5K run/walk, dog show, three legged race, Highland Heavy Games and a kids area filled with games and things to do. The majestic local scenery adds the celebration making for a unique event. Ensure your next summer adventure is one you won't forget and head to the Maine Celtic Celebration. We got the chance to interview Chris Brinn and Bob MacGregor, from the Maine Celtic Celebration, to talk about the event.


RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.

CB: This will be the tenth year holding the Maine Celtic Celebration. It was originally started in 2007 as a replacement for the Belfast Bay Festival, which ended its run the previous year. The event was not serving the community, and an alternative was needed. The city council liked our idea and a group of local residents held several brainstorming sessions to settle on the idea of a Celtic festival.


RAL: What is the typical demographic makeup of the event?

CB: It's fairly diverse with families, couples and singles. Many of our attendees identify with the music through family heritage. The U.S. has nearly the largest population of Irish descendants outside of Ireland. Many people grew up listening to The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, Planxty and many other bands during the folk revival of the sixties and seventies. More recently, bands such as The Pogues, Flogging Molly, and artists like Sharon Shannon have drawn in younger listeners. The music appeals to a huge cross section of age groups.


RAL: What makes this event unique?

CB: We've stayed fairly small, but have managed to keep high quality acts on stage. Some of the best musicians in the genre have taken part over the last decade, and we've received high praise from the artists for not caving to the more PBS image of Celtic music. Many festivals focus on heavier Celtic Rock and skip the traditional music. Because we are a smaller venue and have a smaller budget, we've had to focus on duos and trios rather than big groups. This has helped us remain true to the music and culture. Our largest budget item each year is our performers, by design.


RAL: What can attendees expect at the event?

CB: We have lots of things to do over the course of the weekend, and both days have different events. In the past, we've had a Celtic breeds dog show to start the morning and a pipe band to open the Celebration. The music schedule starts at 10:30 am on the Main stage, and at 11:00 am on Steamboat Landing. We have music workshops during the day (another one of our more unique aspects), that are geared towards musicians of all abilities. We also have had dance workshops for both dancers and public participation. We moved the Cheese Roll contest to Sunday, and added The Isle of Mann Uphill Three Legged Race about three years ago. There are kid’s games and activities all day. Music will carry on until 9:15 pm or so, and then there are the fireworks and a grand session in the boat house.


BM: Sunday offers the Highland Games taking place throughout the day with more music and workshops. Sunday also features our most popular non-musical spectator event: The New World National Cheese Rolling Championship. Held each year of the celebration, the Cheese Roll has people of all ages (separated by sex and age into ten groups) chasing a wheel of State of Maine Cheese Company’s finest cheese down the hill on Belfast Common. The point? To capture the wheel of cheese (which is then yours to enjoy!). It sounds simple and harmless, but it’s really quite something to see. It’s sort of like a version of downhill rugby, with a scrum wherever the first person tries to capture the cheese. The State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport proudly sponsors this event and donates ten wheels of cheese each year!


RAL: Any guest appearances this year?

CB: Matt Murphy from WERU will be our MC on the Main Stage again this year. He does a great job for us. Musicians include Liz Knowles, Kieran O'Hare, Pat Broaders, Jimmy Keane, Hanz Araki, Colleens Raney, All The Press Gang, The Galley Rats, and The Napper Tandies to name a few.


RAL: What will there be for dining options?

CB: Normally, there has been fish n' chips, BBQ, and wood-fired pizza. And of course there’s our Beer Tent, hosted by Front Street Pub. There have been lots of other vendors for food, but to be honest I never get to eat until later in the evening. I'm making sure the stages are running.


RAL: Tell me about the overall environment of the event.

CB: I think we have one of the most amazing backdrops for this kind of event (probably another unique feature). Our main stage is set at the bottom of the Belfast Common, blocking off Front Street, with the beautiful view of Belfast bay as a backdrop. It really doesn't get any better.


RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?

CB: There are B&B's abound in the area. There are five places that are helping us with our house musicians this year: The Belfast Harbor Inn, Yankee Clipper, Fireside Inn, the Belfast Breeze Inn and the Belhaven Inn. They have all donated accommodations or discounted them for us.


RAL: What does the event mean to the community?

CB: I think we've managed to establish ourselves as a bit of an institution. I hear from folks who are looking forward to the event and ask about the bands on a daily basis.


RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?

BM: Yes, one thing I noticed as a merchant downtown was the tremendous increase in activity during the celebration. It didn’t always translate into more sales in my own store, but I have heard from several downtown eateries and pubs who definitely see the positive effect of all these people in town during the celebration weekend. Many of our attendees are first time visitors to Belfast, and this is a terrific introduction to the spirit and beauty of our little city on the bay.


RAL: Why should people come to your event?

CB: I think we have something for everyone. The location alone is beautiful enough to warrant a visit to the area. Add to that some of the greatest Celtic musicians in the world, and I think anyone visiting the Maine Celtic Celebration will come away feeling that they've been a part of something special.


To coin a term in Irish, Beidh ceol, caint agus craic! (We'll have music, chat, and fun!)

For more information about the Maine Celtic Celebration, please visit their website.