Celtic Classic, an annual festival dedicated to the Celtic heritage, took place September 22-24, 2017, in downtown Bethlehem. This year marks the 30th Celtic Classic celebration.

30th annual Celtic Fest celebrates culture and history


The 30th annual Celtic Classic Highland Games and Festival in Bethlehem attracted residents and Lehigh students to a celebration of Celtic culture and history.

The three-day event involved live music, sports and food. Bethlehem’s Celtic Fest is run by the Celtic Cultural Alliance, a non-profit organization with the goal of encouraging Celtic spirit and maintaining values.

The Haggis Bowl 2017 on Sept. 24 was a favorite feature at the festival. Zachary Sokol, ’20, participated for the first time in the haggis-eating competition.

“(Haggis) is basically sheep pluck, which is lung, heart, stomach and brain, but they don’t do brain in the United States,” Sokol said. “It’s in oatmeal, and it’s sealed in either sheep stomach or in beef intestines. There were 16 competitors and whoever could eat a pound of it the fastest won.”

Sokol came in fourth place. His friends and philosophy professor Gordon Bearn came to watch and support him. He signed up for the competition on a whim after seeing it on the Celtic Fest website.

“I was there a few years ago, and I know it’s one of the bigger Celtic festivals in this area, but I think it’s one of the biggest in the United States so I just wanted to see what was going on there,” Sokol said.

Approximately 40 percent of the festival’s visitors were residents of the Lehigh Valley, according the festival’s website. Sixty percent of visitors traveled to Bethlehem from regions throughout the United States and other countries. In total, 260,000 people attended the festival for a weekend of entertainment.

Students from Lehigh volunteered at the Celtic Fest to assist in setting up, keeping score for competitions and delivering supplies.

Riley LaRiviere, ’21, was at the U.S. National Highland Games Championship on Sept. 23. The competition involved throwing events to test strength and skill similar to the medieval times.

“We helped volunteer (by) retrieving the implements that the guys were throwing, so the open weights, the Braemar stones and the heavy hammer,” he said.

LaRiviere said he enjoyed the atmosphere of the festival because everyone was relaxed and having a good time. The upcoming 4 o’clock exams did not affect his decision to attend the Celtic Fest. He volunteered for three hours, but the festival hours were flexible for students to work around their schedules.

Zachary Fisher, ’19, attended the Celtic Classic with friends on Friday evening. He went to see the caber toss at the Highland Games, the haggis-eating competition and sheep herding.

“My favorite event was the caber toss because I got to see large burly men dressed in kilts hurl telephone pole-shaped objects,” Fisher said.

He also said he liked the food, especially the “grease-oozing turkey legs.”

The most popular snack for festival-goers was the Celtic corn on the cob, which is dipped in butter and coated with seasoning. Those over 21 years old participated in the popular whiskey tasting of Irish whiskey or single malt Scotch. People throughout the festival were also dressed in kilts to embrace the Celtic culture.

Music and dance groups including Blackwater, Seamus Kennedy, O’Grady Quinlan Academy of Irish Dance, Calan, Burning Bridget Cleary and Syr performed. Dance competitions, song-writing contests and a poetry writing competition filled the weekend. A children activity area was available for families at the event, as well as wool spinning, wood carving and bagpipe demonstrations.

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