Alicia and Adriel Smith dance

Alicia Smith and her daughter, Adriel, dance with the Shamrock Irish Dancers Sept. 11, 2021, at the Celtic Festival at VFW Post 2661 in Washington. The Shamrock Irish Dancers are based out of Rolla.

For people like Jackie Krafft, Washington’s inaugural Celtic Festival was absolutely wonderful. 

“I was a bit surprised to hear that a Celtic festival was coming to Washington,” Krafft said. A self-described lover of Irish folk dance, Krafft said she never imagined that a Celtic festival would be held in Washington, a community with a rich German tradition. 

“I know a lot of people who live in Washington who have Irish roots, though,” Krafft said. Krafft, who has traveled overseas and watched folk dances, said seeing folk dances in Washington retelling the stories of Scottish and Irish kings fighting for independence, warriors battling dragons and Irish love stories was “just incredible.” 

Krafft was one of several hundred people who attended the inaugural one-day festival hosted by the VFW Post 2661 Saturday, Sept. 11. 

The festival featured live music performed by Shilleligans, a Celtic music band from St. Louis; 3 Pints Gone, a Celtic folk band from Wisconsin; and dancers from the Shamrock Irish Dancers of Rolla. 

“We love the dancers,” said Jessica Strahan, a festival attendee from Gerald. 

Strahan and others said they hope the festival will return in 2022 and become a staple of the Washington community. 

That is music to the ears of organizer Jason Stanfield, the VFW’s Junior Vice Commander.

“The feedback we have heard so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” Stanfield said. “I think people really enjoyed the Highland games, learning the history from the clan tents, hearing the music and seeing the dancers.”

He continued, “I assumed that the Celtic Festival might be a little out of place in a community where German culture and heritage is so overwhelming, but this is such a unique event that I think was a perfect fit for Washington.” 

Proceeds from the festival will be used to support the VFW Post and its initiatives to support veterans in need, Stanfield said. 

Among the festival’s activities, spectators could watch athletes compete in a variety of ancient Highland-game traditions, including caber toss, where each competitor lifts a long log, balances it vertically and then tosses it in such a way that it turns so the upper end of the pole hits the ground first. 

Other games include the stone put, a precursor to the shot put; the Scottish hammer throw; and weight over the bar, where athletes attempt to throw a 56-pound weight with an attached handle over their shoulder and over a horizontal bar, which is lifted into the air, using only one hand. Athletes on Saturday were clearing heights of 13-plus feet.  

Among the athletes competing were Glenn Sciscoe and his wife, Anita. They traveled from New Salisbury, Indiana, for the festival and the chance to compete in the games. 

Glenn Sciscoe said midway through the competition that the 330-mile trek to Washington was worth it. He said he and his family typically compete in about a dozen Highland games per year across the country. 

“It is just a lot of fun,” Sciscoe said. “The camaraderie among the athletes is always there — and you don’t see that in other sports. In these games, you’ll see the different athletes talking and encouraging the very same people who are trying to beat them. That’s what makes this so unique.”

Also traveling from out of state was Polly Bruce Tilford, who came from Bloomington, Indiana. 

Tilford is the secretary of Family of Bruce International Inc., a global network of 300-plus people who are descendants of the Bruce family. The most notable member of the family is Robert the Bruce, who reigned as the king of Scotland from 1306 to 1329. 

She said although it is heavily fictionalized, the “Outlander” television show and book series deserves some credit for renewing the public’s interest in Scottish culture and history, which helps organizations like hers survive.

“Anytime you take history and you mix it with Hollywood, you don’t always get the truth,” Tilford said. “Oftentimes, though, it is enough to spark their interest and get them to start asking questions.” 

Tilford was among those to participate in the Call of the Clans, a ceremonial opening of Celtic Festival, which was followed by a parade through the festival grounds. Other clans to participate were Clan Colquhoun, Clan Cameron, Clan Donald, Clan Douglas, Clan Frazer, Clan Gregor, Clan MacDougall, Clan MacEwan and Clan McFarlane. 

Tilford praised the organizers of Washington’s event for having “a little bit of everything.”

“For their first year, they’ve done a really good job,” Tilford said. “I think that every year they will just continue to improve and make it bigger and bigger.”