Bitterroot Scottish Irish Festival

Hamilton, Montana is the place to be this weekend, as the 4th annual Bitterroot Scottish Irish Festival brings Celts of all shapes and styles together to celebrate local heritage and history. Festival Vice-President Tanya Borkholder gives us the details.

What is your own ethnicity?
I am Irish, Scottish and Croatian.

When and why did you get involved with this event?
I have been involved since 2009. Ken Schultz (P) and Eric Campbell (previous president) began the idea of the festival in the fall of 2009. They had already settled on a place and a plan for the festival. Their main objective, to have a family friendly event combined with education about the history in the valley. They brought together family fun and education with a mixture of Clans, Highland Games, Dance and pipe and drums.  In late 2009 I was asked to create the website and Facebook page for the event.  I was also asked to attend meetings and help plan. 2010-2011 I served as secretary and in 2012 I became VP.

What are the rewards?
The rewards are seeing the community get excited each year to see all the events return, seeing those that have never been here come and awe at how great this event is and get excited about their heritage or just a few events, and to see a year of planning come together and become a greater success than the last. I get calls each year about certain bands or dancers, just making sure that they will return. That excitement is enough to keep us together and working on this festival.  Community awareness is one of our largest priorities. Above all, our individual history is something we keep forever when we share that with the community , that is our greatest reward.

Why is it an important event for the community there?
It teaches the community about its founding Father Marcus Daly. The event is held on his Mansion grounds. Marcus Daly brought many Irish and Scottish Immigrants with him and Hamilton is where he and they settled. The town was named for  J.W. Hamilton, a Scottish man who provided the right-of-way to the railroad. This is why Hamilton is here. Many people come to the festival and can remember their grandparents or parents talking about Marcus Daly and what he did here. They also talk about their heritage or they find out more about it thru the National Tartan Society and the numerous clans that attend. Attendees also find a passion they might not of known they had. In 2010 We had only 24 Athletes compete in our Highland games, this year we have over 50 from all over the Northwest coming to our SAAA Sanctioned games.  The Highland Dance is becoming more popular and classes will begin this fall in Hamilton, a first.

What can attendees expect this year?
This year they can expect Great Irish and Scottish entertainment all day and into the Ceilidh on Saturday. Highland Game and Dance competitions many Irish and Scottish Vendors and local wares as well. Our Clan area will host 17 clans that can provide history on a majority of surnames from this great valley.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
Throughout the year we provide entertainment and historical events on many Scottish and Irish Holidays.  St. Patrick’s day of course we try to host a breakfast for the community that includes Scottish and Irish entertainment.  On National Tartan day we try to make the community aware of why the Tartan is so important and we encourage everyone to wear their family tartan. Throughout the year we make appearances in parades, events and farmers markets to gain awareness to the festival and culture.

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
Recounting history is an ongoing challenge and reward. I meet with many people that have lived here their whole lives and don’t know the history of the streets they drive down each day. To see their excitement and wonder as I share is inspiring and I get excited. Sharing stories with others lets me know that History will live on and be told by many others that have the same passion. With the continuation of this festival and events thru the year we hope to preserve a heritage that is so important to many here in Hamilton and its surrounding communities. We would like to start celebrating Samhain with the community and other holidays that mean so much to the Celtic population..

What can we be doing better?
We are working to advertise globally. Awareness is our largest hurdle. Second only to that is Fire season. For 2 years it was calm and little smoke was smelled or seen. Last year was our worst fire year in 50 years keeping our attendance down. This year things are looking great!

What does the future look like for the event?
The future is very bright. We have a dedicated Board that have experience with each aspect of this festival. Keeping them is key. We have been at this for 4 years we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can build off of that.