The National Celtic Folk Festival was good craic this long-weekend with singing and dancing in Portarlington

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The National Celtic Folk Festival was good craic this long-weekend with singing and dancing in Portarlington

Words by Chloe Waddell

Portarlington’s Celtic Festival was the place to be this long weekend.

For the 19th time, the small beachside town of Portarlington hosted the National Celtic Folk Festival over the June long weekend. With two full days and two half days of entertainment, the festival provided a lineup of singers, dancers, games, and workshops, to interest near-everyone, from the tiny tots through to those in their golden years. 

Graced with a dry weekend (a stark contrast from last year!), those from near and far travelled to Portarlington to make the most of the Celtic Festival. The setting of the family-friendly festival is beautiful, allowing spectators to walk around the grounds while taking in the surrounding picturesque seascape.

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Money is tight for most of us at the moment, but you don’t need to buy a ticket to get a taste of the Celtic Festival, with free roving entertainment, a market, children’s craft, and outdoor demonstrations happening around the town. For those with children, there is a playground in the festival area which proved a popular and free way to burn off some energy!

A roving entertainer that drew my attention this weekend was Irishman Mick Gribben, who had market-goers stopped in their tracks to listen to his strong vocal-only rendition of Grace (an Irish song popularised by Jim McCann and The Dubliners).

Similarly, the Geelong RSL Pipes and Drums drew a hefty crowd with traditional tunes and the much-loved Amazing Grace. An advertised schedule of the free entertainment would be a very welcome addition for next year’s festival, to give spectators the best chance to catch a pop-up set or activity.

Those who purchased a ticket had 10 venues to explore, from local churches to the festival marquees. The weekend’s schedule this year had workshops for beginners, and performances from well-established and emerging talent. The Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers was a great example of successfully amalgamating experienced and newer performers. Fiddle player Jen McKay has been going to the Celtic Festival as a ticket holder for over 10 years, and made her on-stage debut this year.

“It’s lovely to think that you’re part of it, after so long going to see it”, Jen said. “When I came off after the performance my heart was pounding – it was surreal and exciting. It’s not something I thought I would be able to do, but you’ve got to put yourself out there and try. You’re never too old for some things like that!”.

In contrast, Claymore are festival-veterans, and had the crowd up on their feet throughout their multiple sets across the weekend. Claymore gave the young children an opportunity to get up and dance on stage, and closed the festival with upbeat tunes and a bagpipe to boot. Scottish front man, Willy, had also popped up on stages around the event to support his festival friends, including a well-received rendition of The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond with the charismatic Bo’Ness brothers. 

Claddagh too are staples of the festival, bringing a mix of guitar, bass, fiddle and keyboard to their popular sing-along style performances. Their versions of Whisky in the Jar and Caledonia were crowd favourites, and could be heard ringing out throughout the grounds.  

Scottish harpist Rachel Hair proved to be a personal highlight for me, offering diverse performances over the weekend. Her ability to play demanding pieces with seeming ease was superb, and her skills extended to teaching, as demonstrated through her popular beginner workshop.

If you’re interested in Celtic music, dance, and culture, or perhaps are just looking to try some authentic Haggis, the National Celtic Folk Festival is a one-stop-shop right here on the Bellarine.