Donegal Square gift shop transports Bethlehem visitors to the British Isles with handmade products and clothing. The store returned to sell its merchandise at the annual Celtic Classic this year, having attended every year since the festival was created 36 years ago.
Opened in 1985 by Northern Ireland native Neville Gardner, Donegal Square is a gift shop that brings traditional Celtic items such as sweaters, kilts, hats, bags and other authentic imports to Bethlehem.
The shop is located on the North Side at 534 Main St., connected to McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub.
Gardner came to the United States in 1978 as part of a touring men’s field hockey team and decided to move a year later, in 1979, after meeting his wife Linda Shay Gardner who was also a field hockey player on a different women’s team.
Now 69 years old, Gardner said growing up outside of Belfast, Ireland, makes educating people about Celtic culture very important to him.
He said he was especially passionate about it at the time he opened Donegal Square because Northern Ireland was experiencing severe religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics.
Theresa Cantley, chief operating officer for both Donegal Square and McCarthy’s Red Stag, has been working with Gardner for eight years.
“When (Gardner) first started Donegal Square, he wanted to create a place where people could gather and he could educate the community and customers on the Celtic culture,” Cantley said. “We wanted customers to feel like they were in Ireland.”
She said everything sold in the store is from one of the Celtic nations.
A few years after opening Donegal Square, Gardner had the idea to create a festival to expand Celtic culture in America.
“The idea of (the Celtic Classic was) starting a festival that would connect all of the cultures: different Celtic cultures, the Scottish, the Irish, Gardner said. “(It) would transcend the idea of religion. It would teach people there are seven Celtic nations and we were all from the same bloodline.”
The first year of the festival occurred in 1988, although Gardner said it was almost canceled due to snow. Gardner said the poor weather caused the festival to lose a lot of money, but he was later able to get assistance from the city government in his second attempt a year later.
Now, the Celtic Classic is an annual tradition. According to the festival’s website, the event typically attracts over 200,000 attendees each year.
Ran by the Celtic Cultural Alliance, a group dedicated to promoting and preserving Celtic Culture through arts, music, literature and history programs, the festival includes a variety of musical, athletic and culinary events that celebrate Celtic culture.
According to the website, some activities include bagpipe performances, haggis-eating competitions, sporting events such as “lifting of heavy stone,” hammer throwing, and shopping.
Along with many merchants each year, Donegal Square has a tent at the festival where they sell their imported items. Cantley said they try to mimic the main shop in the downsized tent.
“Promoting Donegal Square at the Celtic Classic really brings everything together,” she said. “It brings the products, and it helps us give more awareness to the artisans that we sell.”
This year, the Donegal Square tent made a three-day appearance at the festival.
“Donegal Square is a staple of Celtic (Classic),” three-time attendee Liam Lovering, ‘25, said. “Whether it’s a pause in the action for purchasing an Irish flat cap to tie together a true festive (outfit) or just meandering around during the day, the hand-made quality items are always fun to take a look at.”
In addition to promoting their goods, Gardner said the Celtic Classic festival is a good opportunity to bring people together and educate them about what Celtic people have in common, instead of focusing on the differences.
“People think it’s an Irish shop, but we are not just Irish,” Gardner said. “My DNA is actually 67% Scottish. It was always my goal to keep it cultural and not political between the Celtic nations.”