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St. Augustine Celtic Music & Heritage Festival: Celebrating the City's Ancestry

By Rebecca Gaunt

St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He became Florida's first governor and St. Augustine spent the next 200 years as the capital of Spanish Florida, and later of East Florida, until Tallahassee became the capital in 1824. But while the city's Spanish history is often foremost in people's minds, it also has Celtic roots. The non-profit organization Romanza, which promotes and produces cultural events, launched the St. Augustine Celtic Music & Heritage Festival in 2011 to commemorate that history.

Much of St. Augustine's population can claim Scottish, Irish, Welsh or other Celtic ancestry. Six colonial governors had such a family history. Irish soldiers were stationed there in the 1700s, Irish priests oversaw construction of the cathedral, and even Menéndez and his original colonists came from a northern Celtic region of Spain.

"People love an authentic, well-produced, fun, comfortable-yet-stimulating family experience. Everybody wears green. A great percent of the audience wears kilts. The audience is as much fun to look at as the entertainment! The music is really top-notch. The shopping is first class. The food is delicious. A lot of folks stay all day and come back the next." says President Albert Syeles.

The St. Patrick's Day Parade is the only one in northeast Florida and one of the three largest parades in St. Augustine. Participants proudly don their green and the shamrocks that were banned in 18th century England for being a sign of rebellion. It passes through the downtown area and ends at Francis Field to kick off the two-day festival. Eight Celtic bands perform as attendees enjoy appropriately themed food, merchandise, crafts and children's activities, and while clans educate attendees on Celtic history.

"We look for diversity in performers. The main stage features both traditional Celtic and Celtic rock performers. We like to bring back crowd favorites like Albannach, Dublin City Ramblers and Rathkeltair, as well as bring in new talent not commonly seen on the Southern Celtic music circuit," says Syeles. "The second stage will feature a mix of music, dance, magic and storytelling with Jig to a Milestone, Finn & Fiona, David McDonnell and Captain Mayhem, the Pirate Magician."

In addition, the Highland Games are a big draw for experienced and novice athletes with events such as the hammer throw and the open stone put, and advance tickets can be purchased for a whiskey tasting. Jameson Irish Whiskey is sponsoring the 2016 tasting event.

"It is already recognized locally as one of the two Best of St. Augustine top festivals," says Syeles. "And it is quickly becoming recognized nationally and even internationally as one of the finest and fastest-growing Celtic event in the United States."

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About The Author

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a...

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