National Celtic Festival 2019

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National Celtic Festival 2019

The Guinness will flow like wine when thousands descend on the township of Portarlington over the wintery long weekend next month for the 17th annual National Celtic Festival.

Attracting thousands of visitors every year, the festival transforms the foreshore and surrounding haunts into a bustling winter-wonderland of talented musicians and performers, presenting concerts across 14 stages over four days, with showcases, dance, theatre, literature readings, masterclasses and more celebrating all things Celtic and Craic.

For those well-versed with the Irish and Scottish traditions, the National Celtic Festival is compulsory. Meanwhile, for those not initiated, it is a wonderful surprise to find such amazing music and dedicated musicians in our midst.

Showcasing some of the world’s most culturally rich performers and introducing fresh up and coming acts each year, it’s the diversity of this festival that gives the National Celtic Festival a distinct edge, attracting audiences from all walks of life.

“This year’s lineup is quite contemporary, but each year we go from one extreme to the other so we ensure that we have something that pleases everyone. Whether that be the young bands or the masters of tradition, the acts will all bring a twist of blues, classical, jazz, indie, rock and much more to the festival, catering to a range of different musical tastes,” says event’s director Una McAlinden.

“This year we’ve got The Young Folk, who are contemporary Irish indie folk band; we’ve got a female band from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada called The Lumber Jills, who honour the tradition of fiddling and step-dancing, and we’ve even got a band called INYAL, who are a massively contemporary Scottish band who create music that belongs to both Glasgow’s underground scene, so dance club music, and its folk tradition. These bands have all come from a traditional background and they have broken away into different extensions of the traditional music.”


These bands join an already exciting and eclectic line-up of musical showcases, including international acts like Duncan Chisholm (Scotland), Maggie Carty and Mairtin Staunton (Ireland), Angela Usher (Ireland), Air Iomall (Scotland) and Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach (Scotland). Representing the Australian Celtic circuit this year include ‘Gypsy Scotsman’ Colin Lillie, Fiona Ross and Shane O’Mara, The McKinnon Sisters, Melbourne folk outfit Rich Davies and the Low Road, Celtic Ska Collective, indie Irish folksters Zeon, Melbourne contemporary folk outfit The Maes, and Tim Scanlan Trio, among many other high-class acts.

“We try to break a lot of bands into the Australian market in wintertime,” she continues. “We bring a lot of surprise acts. There’s not much on offer for a lot of these cultures so we often take a risk on unknown bands, and quite often, they end up becoming festival favourites.”

Along with the focus in diverse genres of music, the festival delves deep into the culture to include countless comedy, singing sessions, dance, literature, medieval sports and theatre troupes for festival-goers at a range of venues throughout the town. Punters will even be treated to an atmosphere that takes you to another place with an exhilarating vibe, with displays of Celtic martial arts and the resident Vikings who settle in for the weekend to present traditional Vikings practices of wrestling, animal hide curing and iron mongering.

As purveyors of delivering a culturally rich festival program, this year the team will welcome the Australian Highland Cattle show in a National Celtic Festival first. Yes, actual cows! These highland cattle – affectionately known as “Koos” – were imported into Australia by Scottish migrants in the middle of the Nineteenth Century and this will be your chance to see 60 of the best of the breed, with cattle appraised by an international host judge.

“Every year we seem to connect with people that are aligned and then they come to us with these wild ideas. So this year, we’ve partnered with the Australian Highland Cattle Society who are bringing their annual highland Australian show to the festival,” McAlinden reveals. “They only have it in Victoria every three years and it falls on the same weekend as the National Celtic Festival.

“Every year we have something different which is the exciting part of it, but also the challenge to make it work from our end.”

Photographer Melissa Smith (8) (1)

Other special projects this year include Theatre C21 (Ireland) – a one-woman black comedy set in contemporary Belfast that is an energetic, funny and compelling tale of how easy it is, with the right (or wrong) combination of events, to slip into homelessness. It’s highly topical in its unflinching look at credit card debt, the benefits system, addiction to prescription drugs, and living on the streets.

“We’ve never brought a whole show from Ireland before so that is really exciting for the festival,” McAlinden says. “We’ve also got Kin and the Community which is a project where Scottish musicians and Australian musicians collaborate. Musicians from Fèis Rois have spent several months working alongside acclaimed fiddler and composer Duncan Chisholm to research a local story, create a film, and an original soundtrack for it.”

With all the music, art and entertainment, you can’t forget about The Folk Market, bursting with fine food and fresh produce from a wide range of food trucks, along with delicious local wines, craft brews, and spirits from Victoria’s bespoke distilleries. Here you’ll find all the regular delicious festival food, along with a range of delicious cultural tastings. This market is adjacent to the festival and free to the public so non-ticket holders can get amongst it.

“Last year we introduced the free area and it was really successful so now we are taking it a step further from last year and making it bigger so we appeal to the day trippers who don’t have a ticket, but they want to see what we are all about,” McAlinden explains. “There will be free music, there will be dancing, there will be buskers, there will be markets, there will be the cattle – you can just poke your nose in for a few hours and get a taste of it. We want to be inclusive of everyone, and we don’t want people to miss out just because they can’t afford it.”

If all that isn’t enough for you to start digging out your warmest tartan attire, this year the festival is also making the bold move toward zero waste. Partnering with Caring for our Bays, Geelong Sustainability, B-Alternative, Geelong Intrepid Landcare and Bellarine Bayside, the festival has a major focus on implementing a range of sustainable and environmental strategies to combat the growing problem of plastic polluting the environment.

“We’re probably going to be leading the way with sustainability, joining the very few festivals who are completely plastic-free,” McAlinden says.

Punters can do their part by bringing along their own refillable water bottles, utilise the washable plates and cutlery provided, return washable items to the wash station and recycle correctly in the bins provided and, of course, avoid littering.

This event truly transforms Portarlington’s foreshore and surrounding haunts into a bustling winter-wonderland. With an easy 90-minute drive out of Melbourne to the stunning Bellarine Peninsula, a 40-minute ferry ride from Sorrento to Queenscliff, or a 90-minute ferry ride from Melbourne’s Docklands that goes direct to Portarlington, there’s no excuse to miss experiencing Australia’s premier Celtic Folk Festival.

Pull out your kilts, put your winter woollies on and rug up to dive head first into this Celtic affair.

When & Where:
WG Little Reserve, Newcombe St, Portarlington – Friday June 7 – Monday June 10 2019.

A full range of tickets are available – covering all festival venues from Friday evening until Monday afternoon. Head to for further information and to book tickets.

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Photo by Melissa Smith