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Celtic Festival will march on Furnace Town

(Oct. 5, 2017) The 28th annual Chesapeake Celtic Festival at Furnace Town Living Heritage Village will revive, at least for the weekend, numerous ancient cultures.

The event is scheduled to return this Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

This year’s gathering is dedicated to the memory of Cheryl Blackman, who played “Lucky Leprechaun” during previous festivals, according to event founder Jeanne du Nord. Blackman died in December.

“She was a wonderful inspiration to all of us and the jolliest person you could possibly meet,” du Nord said.

For the past decade, Blackman graced the event with her indomitable spirit, du Nord said.

“She took all the obstacles life threw her, being born a dwarf, being born with a speech impediment, and she became an actress,” she said. “The fact that people made fun of her, she turned into an asset.”

In lieu of the previous ambassador, du Nord said Marshall Muskrat, played by young thespian Geoffrey Lenda of the Lower Shore Performing Arts Company, would be on hand to meet and greet attendees. Du Nord featured the fictional character in her book, “Marshall Muskrat and the Chesapeake Pirates.”

“The Lower Shore Performing Arts Company is also going to be doing snippets from their upcoming production of ‘Oliver,’” she said. “We’re so blessed to have such an acting company.”

More than quarter century ago, du Nord was inspired to organize the long-running festival in response to a common misconception the shore was settled largely by natives of England.

“They came from Celtic lands, particularly at Furnace Town, because the work they were doing was exactly the kind of work they had done in Wales [and] Cornwall,” she said. “So many of the people who came to the shore came from Celtic countries.”

In fact, du Nord said during past travels to Cornwall, the connection became obvious.

“You always hear that on Smith Island they speak Elizabethan English, which is far from the truth. They speak [a] Cornish dialect to this day,” she said. “In Cornwall we thought we were in Crisfield – that’s just how they talk.”

At noon, both days, the Ocean City Pipes and Drums will take part in an opening ceremony and parade that will fly flags from Celtic countries including Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Normandy, and Brittany in France, and Asturias and Galicia in Spain.

To more fully submerge in the medieval experience, there will also be four encampments operated by re-enactors.

The Mid-Atlantic Scottish Athletics will feature a caber (Gaelic for tree) toss competition, and also will add a junior caber-toss, along with numerous historical games for children behind the visitors’ center.

The Society for Creative Anachronism, produced by local group the Shire of Spiaggia Leuantina, will provide entertainment including arts, crafts, armor-laden fights, music and humor.
The Swords of Chivalry are operated by a tri-generational group of medieval re-enactors who provide family oriented entertainment.

The Medieval European Martial Arts Guild will offer demonstrations, and free lessons, of combative arts developed during that era.

The two-day event provides entertainment for all ages, du Nord said, including music, dancing, storytelling, sheep herding by border collies, genealogy, culturally relevant food selections, and drinks, as well as Celtic wares.

“This probably will be the biggest festival we’ve ever had,” she said. “The things are just rolling in.”

There will also be a costumed dog parade at 1:30 p.m., both days.

“In the food court were going to have all the Celtic food,” she said.

Highlights will include shepherd’s pie, haggis, fish and chips, pasties, bridies, colcannon and highland beef. More modern culinary offerings will include crab cakes, pizza and burgers.

Additionally, the Tempting Tap will serve a steady stream of imported brews, Black and Tans, exotic ales, hard cider and mead. The Snow Hill Rotary Club will dispense adult beverages.

The Celtic Marketplace will be open with lots of potential gift ideas for the upcoming holidays, du Nord said.

“We have a kilt maker coming,” she said. “There will be many Celtic items for sale.”

On Sunday at 11 a.m. du Nord, an ordained minister of the Celtic Church, will lead a religious service, Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan, which celebrates Scotland and Scottish heritage. The service will feature the ancient Scottish folk tune, “Flowers of the Forest,” as well as other period music featuring bagpipes.

Based on feedback from past events, du Nord said a Celtic Book Nook has been added this year.

“We have a writer coming with books on Celtic lure,” she said.

There will also be a pair of works written by du Nord concerning the Celtic world.

“I had a grand time doing research on them,” she said. “Then I have five books with an Eastern Shore setting about early settlements here.”

Another new wrinkle this year will be the Pickin’ & Grinnin’ children’s show on Saturday and Sunday.

Reflecting on the festival’s founding, du Nord said although the event was held in Princess Anne for three years, it relocated a quarter century ago because of the involvement of former Furnace Town Director Kathy Fisher.

“It was a working relationship we all dream of,” she said. “Kathy and I worked together for 25 years and all that time we never had a harsh word. We learned how to read each others minds.”

Although retired, Fisher will be on hand to assist with the whiskey tasting at 1:30 p.m. each day.

As in years past, actor Graham Caldwell will reprise the Seamus O’Reilly character to serve as master of ceremonies.

Over the history of the Celtic-themed gathering, du Nord said one of the most rewarding sights is the number of friendships that have developed.
“When the vendors start coming in you’d swear it was a family reunion,” she said.

“Then when Sunday night comes and everybody’s packing up they go, ‘we’ll keep in touch.’”

Daily admission to the festival is $15 for adults 19 and over. The cost is $5 for those from ages of 4-18, or with military ID. Furnace Town and Nature Conservancy members will be charged $7 for adults and $3 for children.

For more information, visit or call 410-632-2032.