Celtic Festival flags and kilts flying over the Plains of Abraham

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Photo: Photo by Ruby Pratka

Amateur Highland Games athletes carry the caber with their professional mentors after Sunday's amateur competition.

Scottish, Irish and Breton flags were flying high over the Plains of Abraham this past weekend as the ninth annual Quebec City Celtic Festival brought Celtic music, dance and sport to the Plains and the streets of Old Quebec.

For the first annual Quebec City Kilt Run on the Plains Saturday morning, kilts were de rigeur. Despite threatening skies, the event attracted most of the 95 registered participants who completed the 5-kilometre, fun run wearing a kilt and then got to keep it. "We get shirts all the time when we do fun runs," said one runner, Vincent. "It's much more fun with a kilt."

"I started running in the spring, and I wanted my first official run to be fun, so I decided it should be a kilt run," said Anouck Lamontagne, who had made the 5-hour trip from Baie-Comeau to do the run. She wore a kilt and a top with "McLamontagne" on the back. She completed the run with her stepmother, Marie-Pierre "McBourget."

Kilt runner Brian Carpenter from Perth, Ont., completed the run carrying a sword and shield. Carpenter co-organizes the annual Perth Kilt Run, one of the largest in the world, with over 2,000 runners. "It's a lot of fun running in a kilt," says Carpenter. "When you have 2,000 people standing in the street in kilts yelling and screaming, it's a party atmosphere.

Quebec City Kilt Run volunteers loudly proclaimed before the start of the race that next year's run would set a Guinness record for the most participants, edging out Perth. "Not a chance," says Carpenter with a smile. "But if they did, we would be thrilled that someone was following our lead."

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Highland Games athlete Dirk Bishop, from New Brunswick, gets ready to throw a 56-pound weight over the high bar at Saturday's Highland Games competition. Bishop finished third. 

Kilts are also part of the dress code for the Highland Games, a test of strength making its second annual appearance at the festival. Five athletes from Eastern Canada competed in the open stone throw, weight throw, hammer throw, high weight throw and caber toss, affectionately known as the "telephone pole" throw. "You can't compete unless you have a kilt," says athlete Greg Hadley, a caber toss specialist from Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Hadley won the competition for the second year in a row, edging out Montreal's Jason Baines and New Brunswick's Dirk Bishop.

"The competition is important and fun, but the camaraderie is what keeps us all doing it," Hadley added. Competitors help each other measure throws and haul equipment, and on-field interaction is a mix of cheerleading and gentle razzing. "I'm a high school history teacher, and I spend my summers doing this," says Hadley. "I've been to 25 states, nine provinces, Ireland, England and Iceland. In Quebec City there's already a great Games but the enthusiasm will make it better. People here have so much passion."

Baines and Bishop hosted a Highland Games clinic on Sunday morning which attracted dozens of curious adults and children. Five of the most successful adult men took part in an amateur competition later that day. Montrealer Patrick Burton, on vacation with his family, surprised himself by winning the event. "I do a lot of swimming, but no test-of-strength-type sports," he said. "I don't know if I'll be back next year, but I have a title to defend, I guess."

Kilts were optional but dance-worthy shoes were highly recommended for the dance parties, or ceilidhs, which took place on Rue St-Jean. Quebec folk groups Crépuscule, Les Ruines-Bottines et Les Deux Trèfles took to the stage Thursday and Friday nights, playing traditional Quebec music with a Celtic flair.

"Celtic music is so lively," said Michel Verret, who had come to see a friend play. "It's lively and it's smiling and it brings you in."

The Saturday night ceilidh was a celebration of fiddle music and Irish dance, led by Cape Breton Island fiddler Allie Mombourquette with help from the Tourbillons de Beauport and Marie-Claude Rousseau dance schools. Mombourquette played a three-hour set of lively, intricate reels. During a short break, she introduced Marie-Jeanne Demers, 8, a fiddler from Ste-Foy.

"In Cape Breton culture, fiddlers with more experience have to step aside and make sure younger people get a chance to play," says Mombourquette, only 23 herself. "That's the only way we can keep these traditions moving down the generations."
"Now I want everyone to choose a partner, find a friend or someone you love, and we're going to do a waltz," said Mombourquette toward the end of the night. The street in front of the St-Alexandre Pub filled with dancers, as surprised and delighted tourists stopped in their tracks.

Concerts, children's activities (involving a troll and a giant dragon) and an appearance by the 73rd Fraser Highlanders livened up the Plains of Abraham site. Whiskey tastings and workshops were held at sites on both sides of the Chaussée des Ecossais. Celtic Festival managing director Allison Caughey says plans are already underway for a bigger and better 10th anniversary edition.