THE NEWPORT CELTIC FESTIVAL
Organized by the Celtic Heritage Alliance, the Newport Celtic Festival & Highland Games is one of many year-round events which support its ongoing mission to promote and preserve Celtic culture on the Oregon coast. The event’s Executive Director Belinda Goody gives us the details on this weekend’s festivities.
What are your own roots?
As recently validated through my DNA results through Ancestry.com, I am 39% Irish.
When and why did you get involved with the Festival?
I got involved at the onset by hosting the first planning meeting at my home in April 2010. I felt our community was missing some Celtic culture and cultural diversity in general, so I wanted to be a catalyst for change.
What are your roles and responsibilities there?
Numerous! I am the President of the Celtic Heritage Alliance; the non-profit organization which holds the Newport Celtic Festival & Highland Games and I am the Executive Director of the festival and games itself. I also handle all of the administrative functions including processing mail, logistics, operations, compliance, graphic design, marketing, public relations, garnering sponsorships, recruiting volunteers, coordinating with vendors, athletes, performers, service providers and collaborating with dozens of local agencies.
Why is it an important event for the community?
Events like this introduce traditional forms of culture and heritage to others, it helps connect families to their roots, it raises awareness about different cultures and how we all fit together – how similar and different each of the cultures of the seven Celtic nations can be. Overall, it connects people.
Who traditionally attends the Festival?
Our demographics show that our supporters are mostly women aged 45-65; but we have mostly children, families and dogs who attend.
What can they expect this year?
This year is our 5th Anniversary Celebration and we are leading the charge with a “Concert by the Sea” event featuring “The Fire Inside” – “Cleghorn” – and “BROTHER” who are fresh from their recent tour through Scotland. We have sheepdog herding, Scottish Highland Games, a 1k and 5k Kilted Run on the beach, Bonnie Knees and Haggis Eating competitions, Welsh Skillet Toss, authentic food, drink, merriment, and live Celtic music and dance.
How has the event evolved through the years?
We have added more interactive events for family to engage in, more children’s activities and we have tried to engage our own community to bring their Celtic connections to the fore. As an example, we challenged our local historical society to research which of the founders of our county were Celtic (from any of the seven Celtic nations) and they have created a story board about each person they found. It makes for a very real connection to the Celtic roots in our own community. We also challenged our Master Gardeners to offer a presentation on area flora which are native to Celtic countries and our 4-H to bring their Celtic critters to show. We also encourage our residents to bring their Celtic canines to join us in our Celtic Heritage Parade which happens on Saturday. We want to encourage local and active participation from the community. We have also become closer with the larger Celtic community in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. It feels like a giant reunion when we hold the festival.
Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
I will likely remain a part of this organization in some capacity for as long as it continues. My hope is that this event will continue on for years to come as does the Estes Park, Colorado games which inspired me.
How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
We work in concert with Nana’s Irish Pub – our “local” and we support the budding “Shamrock Run” which raises funds and awareness for children’s issues. We also host annual Robert Burns Suppers and Shamrock Suppers as fundraisers of our own. Our Burns Suppers have grown from 50 to 100 attendees in just four years with attendees from surrounding cities, states and even Canada.
Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
I think the more diverse our world becomes, the more we need to promote specific cultures of all kinds or they will be lost. Even now we have languages and traditions fading into the past because they are not being carried forward to our future generations. I believe it is imperative we do this, not just for Celtic cultures, but for all cultures. It seems to me that it is only when politics make the news that we hear about what is happening in some of the Celtic nations, but I wonder whether these nations see the value in what groups like the Association of Scottish Games and Festivals (ASGF) are doing to promote Scottish culture (as an example) and how they could leverage that into tourism dollars for their country. Our event does not charge anything for the Clans to attend because we feel that the educational value of their participation is extremely important. We do the same for societies as well. But I feel that they could use support from across the pond to help fund and facilitate their outreach efforts on behalf of these family organizations at their source. These folks are so passionate and proud of their heritage, they often times spend their own time and money to do this important work as volunteers. I would like to see more collaboration and support from the seven Celtic nations so that these dedicated people can continue to bring invaluable resources to events like ours.
What can we be doing better?
The most challenging thing I face as an Executive Director is to help people understand the importance of what we are doing. It is much easier to raise funding, support and awareness for human causes – and rightly so. However, I believe culture is the basis for who we are and who we become. Your personal experience in life comes from the culture or cultures you have been exposed to and then they are expressed through the medium you choose as an adult. Whether that is your values, beliefs and fears or expressions of your culture though art, food, language, storytelling, music, trade, craft, dance or other action or activity – I firmly believe your culture is the basis of who you are and will have an impact on how you express yourself in the world at large. How boring would the world be if we were all the same? We should keep cultural difference alive by passing them on through these forms and helping to support events like these.