Garrett County Celtic Festival Continues a 28-Year Highland Festival Tradition

Last Updated on May 20, 2016 at 2:32pm | Tourism & Recreation

"What's Happening" is a regular feature of The Lake-Front magazine and is being reprinted here in its entirety with permission. This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue.
It is June 3, it is June 4, it is spring. Close your eyes and see the green hills of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Brittany and Cornwall. Transport yourself to another time where scenic rivers form valleys in the lush, cool mountains. Hear the distant sounds of the Highland pipes and drums. Imagine the village where you watch the children dance, and haven’t you come join in the country dancing? Oh, and your distant relatives are here for the annual gathering and want to trade stories of auld with you. Marvel at the skills of the work dogs minding the sheep on the town green. The harpist is here to share traditional Celtic tunes, and the player of small pipes can also play the bouzouki. Find the story teller; she has magical tales to share about faeries. It is the day for the great games in your village, where strong Highland men compete for your admiration, and the lads and lassies imitate them, of course. There are many things for the wee ones to do. They do look forward to this, don’t they? Are you thinking back to last night’s ceilidh where the village enjoyed the traveling Celtic band and rejoiced in the wonder of spring? The market is in town too; be sure to shop for Celtic wares. And enjoy the sounds and gaiety of the Irish pub. Everywhere there is music and fun. So eat, drink, and be transported to another place…another time. Fàilte!
-- WHEN: June 3 (6 -9 p.m.) and June 4 (9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
-- WHERE: Friendsville, MD Community Park
-- WHO: Celtic musicians, Irish and Scottish dancers, food vendors, craft vendors, village musicians, pipers and drummers, clans, sheep
   herders, living history units, local dignitaries and YOU. Bring the family and come as a Celtic character. Contest for kids and adults.
   Learn to Ceili and Scottish country dance. Visit the Glen of Clans to find your Celtic heritage.
On Friday evening, June 3, come for the Ceilidh (CAY-lee) concert by the Pan-Celtic band from metropolitan D.C., IONA (7:00 p.m. concert with options for purchasing a picnic dinner offered by local vendors in the Park at 6). Bring a chair if you like, but seating will be available. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or online at
On Saturday, events start at 9:30 a.m. with a parade through Friendsville featuring Highland Pipe bands, Scottish Clans, Irish dancers, living history reenactors, and local participants. Then enjoy a day of Irish and Scottish dance presentations (and lessons!), great Highland athletic games, sheep herding, crowd watching (come in Celtic garb inspired by your favorite TV show or movie about the Isles). Great Celtic music will be provided all day by Aurora Celtic, the Shanty Irish, piper and multi-instrumentalist Greg Latta, and Celtic Harpist Lynne Dale. Explore your Celtic roots in the Glen of Clans and visit the Living History Units. Shop in the Celtic marketplace offering a variety of local and international merchandise. Eat great Scottish and Irish food, or enjoy our local BBQ, fries, and other festival fare. Plan to walk along the Youghiogheny River path in peaceful contemplation of the beautiful scenic moments offered to you by western Maryland. 
It is a day for kids!! In addition to the opportunity to watch the dogs herd sheep, to view the great athletes toss the caber and throw the shot, and inspect Highland pipes and drums in military procession, kids can enter their own games, enjoy the dancers and learn the Irish Ceili and Scottish country dance. A special tent for kids will provide a variety of activities to involve them in Celtic culture and fun. Encourage them to wear costumes (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, faeries, etc.) and enter the judging contest. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or online at
The year was 1988. The Garrett Highlanders marked their eighth year as a military pipes and drums unit under founder and Pipe Major Fred Thayer. The Association of Scottish Games and Festivals was enjoying a seven year growth in member organizations and athlete Dave McKenzie recognized the merit of bringing the Highland Games to this beautiful place. And, the county was evolving a tourism strategy for Deep Creek Lake. This convergence of interests sparked the flame that began the county’s celebration of its citizens’ Scottish heritage. Local Scots and their friends built, over time, the foundation of an annual visit to our many Celtic roots. The festival changed hands a few times: developed originally by the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, it was then assumed by the Deep Creek Lake Lions Club for a few years with Jeff Nelson’s help. Then a private Board of Directors led by Jerry McGee and most recently, Rosie Versteegen, received substantial support from a local businessman, Jerry Humberson, to whom this year’s Festival is posthumously dedicated. Now with new leadership, the Festival has moved and adopted its new name. Throughout, many local businesses have made donations to support the Festival. Individuals and the Garrett County and Maryland Arts Councils have also contributed substantially to promote the annual celebration of the history and culture of many of our citizens. The festival welcomes anyone interested in supporting through donations or volunteer help to contact the Board at
In 2015, the Friendsville Town Council invited the (former) McHenry Highland Festival to its beautiful community park. Surrounded by the quaint town, the scenic and wild Youghiogheny River (take a walk) and Bear Creek, it is a stunning setting for the transformation of the festival to a new place. The Friendsville community park is just minutes from I-68 and 15 minutes from beautiful Deep Creek Lake/Wisp Resort.
More event details and ticket information can be found at and on Facebook: search The Garrett County Celtic Festival. For more information, call (301) 501-0304.