By Bellamy Crawford
In 2023, the Asheville Celtic Fest attracted more than 4,000 attendees eager to dine on haggis, drink scotch and listen to the skirl of bagpipes. These lovers of kilts, Border Collies and sword fights will be pleased to know that this year’s festival has been expanded to a two-day event taking place on Saturday, February 17, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, February 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher.
This will mark the fourth year of Asheville’s Celtic Fest, which is proudly organized by members of the nonprofit Asheville Celtic Group. “Our 501c3 organization was founded for the primary purpose of creating educational opportunities around the cultural influences of settlers from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany and Breton,” says festival co-founder Dave Donnell.
Donnell and his business partner Mark Ferguson began discussing the idea of putting on a Celtic festival in 2018. “Mark had been operating a successful Scottish food business, hauling his Scottish Cottage food trailer to festivals near and far. And, with my experience hosting large events, we decided to join forces,” says Donnell. Eventually, the duo decided on a festival date, chose a venue and began investigating vendors.
The first festival took place in February of 2020, and it had everything from traditional Celtic athletic battles to a 40-foot replica of the Edinburgh Castle, which Donnell built by hand. “It was a huge success,” Donnell says. “Tickets sold out in the first few hours of opening.”
After that wildly successful year, the Asheville Celtic Fest was canceled in 2021 because of COVID. “We were determined not to let it die, though, so we decided to hold the festival again in 2022,” says Donnell. “The second festival was also a huge success, so we held a third last year.”
For the third annual Celtic Festival, Donnell and Ferguson were able to increase special features, including a working trebuchet (giant catapult, also hand-built by Donnell). There were Border Collie demonstrations; family research opportunities; Celtic dance troupes; a royal court; an entire village of artisans and crafters; countless plates of haggis, shepherd’s pie and Welsh miner cakes; mead, whiskey and Highland Brewing stouts and ales; hundreds of people decked out in their finest kilts and Celtic costumes; and the Knoxville Pipes and Drums band’s ceremonious festival opening performance.
Artist Jim McClain, owner of McClain & Company Wood Works, is excited about the festival’s growth. “My wife is a potter, and we are both returning to the festival for our third year as vendors,” says McClain, whose family immigrated to the US from Scotland and Wales during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Celtic culture enthusiasts will be pleased to know that 2024’s festival will include all of the previous years’ features extended across two full days.
“Twice the vendors, twice the costumes, twice the fun,” says Donnell.
To purchase tickets or see a complete schedule of events, visit AshevilleCelticFest.com.