The sixth annual Maine Celtic Celebration is coming up fast, set for Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22 on the Belfast Common and Steamboat Landing by the bay with a kick-off dinner Friday evening, July 20 at the Belfast Boathouse. The Maine Celtic Celebration is a family-oriented celebration of the rich Celtic heritage, culture and hospitality found along the coast of Maine and includes music, dancing, athletic competitions and games, as well as food and craft vendors.

Friday kickoff dinner

The Celebration commences with a gala opening dinner featuring musical entertainment by members of the Belfast Maskers, who will perform music from “Brigadoon” and “Finian’s Rainbow,” as well as other Celtic favorites and, rumor has it, a sing-a-long. The Friday event will start at 5:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Dinner of fish (or chicken) and chips will be served at 6:30 p.m., followed by dessert, coffee and entertainment. Advance tickets, $25, are available at Out of the Woods on Main Street, or make reservations by calling 338-2692. Admission will be $28 at the door. All proceeds will benefit the Maine Celtic Celebration and help fund the rest of this fantastic weekend.

Music, music, music

This year’s musical lineup combines international and local performers, presenting both traditional and modern Celtic music and dancing. Some are new to the Celebration, such as Vishten, a trio comprising the twin sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc from Prince Edward Island and Pascal Miousse from the Magdelen Islands. Vishten performs new and traditional Acadian music; its sound is essentially Celtic, but with a difference, according to the group’s website. Another new voice is Michael Black, of Ireland’s famous Black family. Black presents a fusion of contemporary and traditional material ranging from beautiful ballads to boisterous shanties. Ryan McGiver and Padraig Rynne are described as a powerhouse duo of vivacious musical energy, mixing traditional Irish and Breton music with American folk songs. Chrissy Crowley is a young Cape Breton fiddler rapidly gaining a fearsome reputation among the cognoscenti of Celtic fiddling

Returning friends from previous Celebrations include Hans Araki and the Mighty Few. Araki is a master of the Irish flute who was named Male Newcomer of the Year 2005 by liveireland.com. The Press Gang, a Portland-based trio, is bringing back their new music in the Irish tradition.

In addition to performing, several of the musicians will offer workshops at the Boat House including Irish whistle and flute with Araki; traditional songs with Black; and Irish concertina with Rynne. Jam sessions will open and close each day of workshops, so attendees can show off their new musical skills. For complete information about the musical schedule, visit mainecelticcelebration.com.

Fun and games

For those more interested in testing their physical skills, the Maine Celtic Celebration offers a variety of fun and games in the Celtic tradition. The games begin with the Celtic 5K Road Race/Walk through historic Belfast neighborhoods Saturday at 8:15 a.m. (walk) and 8:30 a.m. (run), departing from Belfast Area High School. There are race categories for all ages with prizes donated by generous sponsors. Advance registration is $15 through the website Active.com or one may register for $18 before the race, at 7:30 a.m. Saturday also offers Men in Kilts a chance to compete for best in show on the Steamboat Stage at 3 p.m.

Children can participate in a series of “Not So Heavy Games” including the Wellington Boot Toss, the Molly Malone Wheelbarrow Race and Isle of Mann Three-Legged Race throughout the two days of the festival. Prizes will be awarded thanks to generous donations from local businesses and Celebration vendors.

Even dogs can get into the act with an opening parade through the Celebration site on Saturday at 9 a.m., immediately followed by a show and tell about Celtic dog breeds on the Steamboat Stage until 11 a.m. To join the dog show, contact Steve Seekins at 975-5435.

On Sunday the games get heavy – literally. The official Highland Heavy Games commence at 8:30 a.m. at Steamboat Landing. Still being held throughout each year in Scotland and in many other countries, the traditional Highland Heavy Games go all the way back to the 11th century and possibly even before that in the Scottish Highlands. The same games, under the same rules, will be played once again by a number of athletes, both local and from points beyond.

Anyone is welcome to join the Highland Heavy Games competition for a $10 entry fee. Registration will begin at 7 a.m. Events include the Maine Championship Scottish Hammer Throw, Caber Toss, Open Stone Put, Heavy Weight Throw and Weight Over the Bar. Different weight classes are offered for men and women in each event.

Of food and fireworks

Those not quite up to the Heavy games might consider entering the New World Cheese Roll Championships at 1 p.m. Sunday. Cheese rolling enjoys a disputed history going back to at least the 1800s in the United Kingdom. Today, the annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake is held in the county of Gloucestershire in southwest England. The Celebration’s cheese roll begins with a three-pound wheel of cheese being rolled down the slope on Belfast Common toward the bay. Eight groups will race to catch up with and grab the cheese wheel.

The one winner in each group who finally grabs the cheese wheel gets to keep the cheese. Cathe Morrill, sponsoring owner of State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport, notes that “each wheel is composed of three full pounds of our customers’ favorite kind of cheese, creamy cheddar.” Cheese roll contestants are asked to register at the Celebration store before 1 p.m. Sunday.

Food vendors will provide traditional treats like BBQ, fish & chips, subs and sandwiches, beer, smoothies, and ice cream (sorry, no haggis). Craft vendors will offer items such as clothing, jewelry, books, toys, and (of course) kilts. Belfast’s only fireworks display of the summer will commence over the harbor at about 9:20 p.m. Saturday

Doing your part

The entire weekend of music, games, food, and fun is brought to the community by the all-volunteer work of the Maine Celtic Celebration Committee. It takes all year and about $40,000 to present the Celebration. It could not be done without the generous support of sponsors and donors. It also takes attendees’ participation to pull it. This year, donation tables will be set up at the major entrance points to the Celebration site. The public is being asked for a suggested donation of $10 per day to help make sure this premier summer event in Belfast will continue for many years to come.

To see the complete schedule, visit the event website or see the link below.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.