You’re more Celtic than you think

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Photo: Photo by Ruby Pratka

Allison Caughey and Guy Morisset welcome Quebecers to the upcoming Celtic Festival, outside the festival's nerve centre at St. Andrew's Kirk Hall.

It's time to dust off your tartans, Quebec. The Quebec City Celtic Festival is fast approaching. The festival, billed as the largest French-language Celtic festival in North America, is back for a ninth consecutive year. However, fans who go looking for the festival in its habitual home on the Chaussée des Écossais, will be disappointed - the main music and sports events will be on the Plains of Abraham this year.

The festival "is not a baby anymore," explains Guy Morisset, festival co-founder and president of the board of directors. "It's fun to see it take on a life of its own."

This year's Celtic Festival offers a long list of concerts, workshops, sports, and parties. Morisset says several hits from last year will be back, including the outdoor street dances or ceilidhs on Rue Saint-Jean near the Pub St-Alexandre. The dances, with live music, are scheduled every evening from September 4 to 6.

"Last year, the ceilidhs were really a last-minute thing," Morisset explains. "We had Allie Mombourquette, our fiddler from Cape Breton [...] who said, ‘That's it, you have to get up and dance.' And people did, and it was amazing. To make sure people dance this time, we'll have two Irish dance schools performing and giving lessons. Saturday night, we'll have the same fiddler, Allie Mombourquette with eight of her friends."

Saturday and Sunday, September 6 and 7, will see a long program of sports events, bilingual storytelling and music on the Plains of Abraham. Quebec City's first ever Kilt Run will take place on Saturday morning.

"It's a five-kilometre fun run," Morisset explained. "Usually people who do fun runs get a shirt - our participants will get a kilt. They will all run wearing kilts and keep them afterward. We've already had 120 kilts made. In the next few years, we want the Quebec City Kilt Run to be one of the biggest kilt runs in the world, along with the three Perths - Australia, Ontario and Scotland - who are always competing to have the world's biggest kilt run."

Fans will be able to sit back and watch on Saturday afternoon as five athletes from Ontario and the Maritimes face off in the Quebec Highland Games. The caber toss, known affectionately as the "telephone pole throw," and its sister events, the hammer throw and the stone toss, are back for another year.

"We have the same five men from last year doing the heavy competitions," says festival general manager Allison Caughey. Fans will be able to try the sports for themselves in a Highland Games clinic on Sunday morning. "We have room for 25 people for training, and a maximum of ten people who show they can do the events properly without hurting themselves will be accepted into our amateur competition on Sunday afternoon."

One of the goals of the amateur competition is to recruit Quebec athletes for the professional division. "In Quebec, we have this culture of (competitive) strongmen," says Morisset. "Eventually, we'd like to have one of them as a competitor."

Gaelic football and hurling teams will also show their skills over the weekend on the Plains. The Montreal Shamrocks and the Patriotes de Québec will face off for the provincial Gaelic football championship, and some of the same athletes will play in exhibition hurling games. Hurling, a mix of lacrosse, field hockey and soccer popular in Ireland, is "the fastest game on grass," Caughey says. Concerts on the plains, including Irish music and a performance by the 78th Fraser Highlanders, round out the outdoor program.

Musicians and whisky enthusiasts should keep an eye on the Morrin Centre, which will host several music workshops and whisky and food tastings. A whisky tasting within a murder mystery game will be a highlight of the indoor activities. Fiddler Allie Mombourquette and singer Jordan Jack will lead workshops for musicians.

"Ours is an urban festival, and we want people to be in contact with the artists and athletes," says Morisset. "Now we want it to grow and become important. People are not coming from out of town by the busloads, but it is the beginning of a movement."
Morisset hopes the festival will lead Quebecers to embrace their Celtic heritage. "Within a seven-hour-drive radius around Quebec City, there are more people of Celtic ancestry than there are in Ireland," he says. "Fifty per cent of Quebecers have Irish heritage, whether or not they know it. Before France was France, it was Gaul, and Gaul was Celtic."

"Many Quebecers believe they come from Latin roots. Well, sorry, you're much more Celtic, and you're not losing anything by admitting it." In other words, as the Celtic Festival banners say, you're more Celtic than you think.

Admission as a spectator to sports events and outdoor concerts is free. Registration for Saturday's kilt run ($55) is open to runners aged 12 and older and includes a kilt. Participation in the Highland Games amateur clinic costs $27.50 and places are limited. There is also a participation fee for the whisky tastings and some music workshops. Volunteers are still needed as well. Visit festivalceltique.com for more information.