By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANDERSON TOWNSHIP - Cincinnati might be far from the castles of Scotland or the rugged coastline of Ireland, but those attending the Cincinnati Celtic Music and Cultural Festival on Saturday hardly noticed.
About 25,000 are expected to attend the two-day event, put on by Cincinnati Folk Life, at Coney Island. Now in its 12th year, the festival offers a variety of ways to learn about the multifaceted Celtic tradition.
"There's a cultural factor here that's better than most festivals," said Patrick Gallagher, 49.
IF YOU GO
What: Cincinnati Folk Life's Celtic Music and Cultural Festival.
When: Noon-7 p.m. today.
Where: Coney Island.
Admission: $8, $2 children 5-12, free to children under 4.
The Wharton, N.J., resident travels the country selling Celtic carvings and jewelry. "I want the culture to survive on an intellectual level. That's the only reason I come here."
Authentic food, like Irish stew, Scottish meat pies and Irish sausages, are available in abundance. More than 700 actors, dancers, musicians and storytellers offer traditional performances.
And there are plenty of men in kilts - some are vying for the Bonniest Knees award, while others toss around colossal weights in the Scottish Heavy Athletics competition.
The festival also showcases ethnic influences from other parts of the globe where some nomadic Celts were thought to have traveled. And if you're simply curious, a family heritage center can assist anyone hoping to find his Celtic roots.
Cynthia Matyi, 55, came up with the idea for the festival in 1992, when it began. The Columbia Tusculum musician wanted to create a performance opportunity for herself and other Celtic entertainers. But she also wanted a way to observe Celtic traditions with others.
"There really wasn't anything to bring all of us together to celebrate this heritage," she said. "There was nothing for those of us who don't have German roots."
The first festival was held at Ault Park. About 300 people were expected. More than 3,000 showed up.
That's not surprising, considering the history of Greater Cincinnati. The area is saturated with Celtic connections, caused by waves of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. It continues to be the second most common ethnicity in Cincinnati, after German.
Most say the music is the main draw.
"Celtic music is tough to listen to without forming an opinion," said Patti Walker, 47, of Northside. "You either hate it or really love it."
But there's also that Celtic spirit that lures people in, too.
"People come because their feet dance when they're here," Walker said. "Things Celtic just communicate joy."
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