April, Pilot Knob becomes a sea of tartans as it hosts the Arcadia
Valley Celtic Festival
Friday night, before the two-day Arcadia Valley Celtic Festival begins,
the “Calling of the Clans” is held on the grounds. This
moving ceremony is open to the public. Are you a member of a clan?
Wear your tartan and join in.
It’s dusk and
the strains of a lone bagpipe cross the valley as clans gather under a
small grove of trees. An opening torchlight ceremony known as the “Calling
of the Clans” is about to begin. Participants, clad in their own
tartan (family plaid), carry a torch and proclaim the arrival of their
Each April, the quiet
burg of Pilot Knob plays host to thousands of visitors who celebrate their
roots at the Arcadia Valley Celtic Festival.
“To think this
all began because I play the pipes and couldn’t find a piping teacher
in this area,” says Dr. Bill Christmas. “I said ‘We
need to give people a reason to come down and do something for the weekend,
not just drive down for a day to play the pipes and drums.’”
Apps, 4, of Essex, England checks out how he looks in his tartan
as his “mum” holds the mirror.
as he’s known to most folks in the Arcadia Valley (Pilot Knob, Arcadia
and Ironton) is an emergency room physician from New Zealand whose career
path led him to Missouri.
“I’m a great believer in the adage, If you build it, they
will come,” Doc says, referring to the five-year-old festival.
According to Cody
Wiles, another festival committee member, the Celtic festival, held at
the Fort Davidson State Historic Site grows by leaps and bounds every
of Natural Resources says 5,000 attended last year,” says Cody.
“The festival is a wonderful opportunity for people who want to
look at their heritage. Someone might say ‘I think I’m Scottish
or Irish’ and I guarantee someone at one of the clan tents will
be able to help them find out whether they’re part of a clan or
This two-day festival,
held rain or shine the second weekend of April, also allows visitors to
experience the music, traditional athletic games and heritage of the Celtic
nations, which include Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Galicia, Brittany
and the Isle of Man.
dancer with the talented Dance Caledonia group of St. Louis displays
the “Irish Washerwoman” jig.
a huge Scottish and Irish community around here but they just don’t
know or they’ve simply forgotten it,” says Doc.
According to Cody,
individual and corporate donations make the event possible. The festival
is free for all who attend.
Held on 13 acres among
the hills in Iron County, this event offers a wide array of activities
to keep everyone occupied, educated and entertained.
Among the choices
are Scottish, Irish and English dancing performances held each day. Traditional
Scottish and Irish musicians and singers perform with everything from
harps to pipes. Bards roam the grounds and tell tales to all who will
listen. Some visitors sit for hours and watch with fascination as border
collies herd sheep at the command of their masters.
For those who desire
more activity, the heavy Scottish athletic competitions allow participants
to fling a sheaf (a burlap bag filled with hay) with a fork, throw an
18 to 20-pound stone or toss a caber (a felled tree) end-over-end.
Storytellers and musicians
entertain guests at one of the festival’s highlights, the ceilidh,
(pronounced “kay-lee”) a Scottish banquet. The dinner, with
traditional Scottish fare, is held under a big tent on the grounds.
Cody, owner of the
local Arcadian Cafe, hosts traditional Celtic cooking demonstrations each
day of the festival. Want to learn how to make Scottish haggis? She’ll
teach you. Haggis is a thrifty Scottish dish made from leftover odds and
ends such as oatmeal, onions and organ meats stuffed into a sheep’s
shows how his border collie herds sheep with hand signals, whistles
and by the body language of the shepherd.
Of course, what would
the event be without a piobaireachd, or piping competition, the original
reason for the festival. Competitors must be able to play from a specific
list of Scottish bagpipe tunes. The contest is open to anyone and prizes
range from $200 to $1,000, not a bad return on a $25 entry fee.
For the people who
perform at the festival, it’s the desire to preserve their heritage
which keeps them coming back. For bard and historian Jeff Campbell, the
Arcadia Valley Celtic Festival is great fun.
“I love tellin’
tales,” Jeff says in his lively Scottish brogue. “Other than
native Americans, there isn’t another ethnic group which travels
to celebrate their heritage.”
Wayne and Pam Davis
of St. Louis call the festival a family affair.
“I man the clan
Davidson tent while Wayne and our eldest, Maggie, perform and teach combat
sword fighting,” says Pam.
with experience can sign up to participate in the heavy athletics
competition held during the festival.
Wayne also plays the
pipes. Last year, he was asked to play at the opening ceremony as well
as the “Kirkin’ of the Tartan,” a Sunday morning ceremony
in which all clans are represented during a blessing prayer.
Even with thousands
attending the festival, Pam says this gathering seems intimate and less
commercial than most they attend. “You have time to talk to folks
and really connect with them. Arcadia feels like a family reunion to us.”
Doc and the festival
committee say “ceud mìle fàilte” (a hundred
thousand welcomes to you) and invite you to the Arcadia Valley Celtic
Festival on April 10 and 11. For more information or tickets to the Saturday
night ceilidh or call Cody Wiles at (573) 546-2432.