Friends of the Celts, A Brief Overview

By Martin Link

In the community of Gallup there has traditionally been given attention and recognition to the various Native American cultures, primarily through the annual Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, and a number of local Tribal Fairs, pow-wows and Native arts and crafts events. The Hispanic population usually celebrates Cinco de Mayo as well as a number of seasonal, religious-related activities. There is also a Tri-Slavic organization for local people who can trace their origins to Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia or Bosnia, and a Principe Luggi Club for the Italians.

Celtic Festival Gallup Journey

The Gallup High School Flute Ensemble performs at a past Celtic Festival (top). Allison Dollar, in traditional dress, staffs one of the Celtic gift displays (bottom).

So, in the late 1990s, a small group of locals who had some Celtic backgrounds decided to “come out of the closet” and share some of their family traditions, experiences and distinctive cultural traits. Membership was composed mainly of people who had some affiliation with Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall or Brittany.

At that time, Betsy Windisch was the director of education for the First United Methodist Church. She became the “organizer” of the group and provided a meeting room for what became known as The Friends of the Celts. Some of the early members included, besides Betsy, Patrick and Michelle Moore, Lynn Anner-Bolieu, Allison Dollar, Greg and Gillian Collison, Sally Carter, Sid Gillson, Martin Link, Michele Forlines, Richard Wilkie and Paula Lewis-Rucker. One of the first things the group decided to do was to share their perspectives of Celtic cultures and spirituality among other members of the community.

The patron saint of Wales is St. David, and his Feast Day is celebrated on March 1. The patron saint of Ireland is St. Patrick, and his Feast Day is celebrated on March 17. The group thought one of the weekends between those two would be an appropriate time to conduct a Celtic Festival of the Arts and Spirituality. They held their first one on March 5-6, 1999, and have pretty well stuck to that time period for the past 14 years.

The highlight of that first Celtic Festival was a presentation on Celts in Antiquity by Dr. Eric van Hartesveldt, and a Celtic Spirituality Workshop conducted by Jim and Margaia Forcier-Call.

Beginning with the second Celtic Festival, a new concoction, called the Celtic Taco, was featured. It consisted of a base of fry-bread (which is fairly universal) with layers of a mixture of boiled potatoes and corned beef, cooked cabbage, shredded Scottish cheese and topped with a slice of Welsh leek. It proved to be very popular with all who attended the festival.

The theme of the third Celtic Festival centered around the role the labyrinth played in Celtic spirituality. The fourth year had an emphasis on Irish, Scottish and Welsh music and songs. This theme carried through the following year when the musical emphasis centered on Celtic saints and heroes.

The sixth Celtic Festival featured a unique presentation by John L. Taylor on Native American Celts, wherein he described a number of case histories where Celtic immigrants, primarily Scots-Irish, inter-married with Native American women (or vice-versa) and produced children of mixed heritage. Several people of Navajo/Irish descent were in the audience.

The theme, Hearth & Home, was celebrated at the seventh Celtic Festival in many artistic expressions: song, dance, music, poetry and storytelling. Our own Gallup Celtic ensemble, The Desert Highlanders, made their premier performance.

One of the more spectacular dramatic performances took place at the eighth Celtic Festival. Replete with costumes, stage settings and special lighting effects, a dozen members of the FOC staged a play centered around Artorius Rex, The Once and Future King – The Legend and Culture of King Arthur. It was absolutely awesome!

The following year a cross-cultural approach was used to address a central theme – Water. Both the Lady of the Lake (Celtic) and White Shell Woman (Navajo) expressed the importance, and sacredness of Water in their respective cultures.

A look at family relationships posed the theme for the tenth Celtic Festival. Most of the activities centered around genealogy workshops and the importance of family traditions and the inter-connections of clan systems. The eleventh Celtic Festival focused on the Secrets of Stone and Wood, and a dramatization reflected the ancient belief that stone was the symbol of perpetual, or everlasting, life (for example, Stonehenge), while trees such as oak and birch came to symbolize a more finite life, one that has a beginning and end (such as a sacred oak grove).

Bards and Ballads came into focus at the twelfth Celtic Festival and the Octavia Fellin Library assisted in a series of projects relating to Ivanhoe, written by Sir Walter Scott, and Treasure Island, a classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Three well-known ballads were also highlighted: Danny Boy (Ireland), Loch Lomond (Scotland) and Men of Harlech (Wales).

In 2011, the facilities at the First United Methodist Church were no longer available, so the thirteenth Celtic Festival was held at the Knights of Columbus Hall. The theme centered around The Invisible Realm of the Celtic Peoples and young people got most of the attention through their costume contests, songs and dances depicting faeries, pixies, brownies, elves, trolls, banshees and leprechauns.

Last year’s Celtic Festival, the fourteenth, was held in the gym at Gallup Catholic High School. The theme emphasized Celtic Heroes and Villains of the Southwest in recognition of the Centennial of both New Mexico and Arizona statehood. Re-enactors depicted the lives of Christopher “Kit” Carson, James Addison Reavis, Nellie Cashman, Henry McCarty (Billy the Kid), John Wesley Powell, Carlotta “Lottie” Thompkins, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, John Martin Feeney (John Ford), Georgia O’Keefe and Dennis Donovan (Daniel Dubois).

This year, the fifteenth Celtic Festival, is scheduled for March 8-9, and will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Sadly, but realistically, it will be the last one. The theme is The Parting Glass, a reference to the verse, “We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for Auld Lang Syne.” Friday night will be an informal gathering of the Friends of the Celts to reminisce, watch the DVD of the 2012 La Grande Parade Du Festival Interceltic De Lorient (in Brittany), and have that parting glass (or two) for old-times sake. The public is invited to attend.

Saturday, starting at noon, will probably be the last time to enjoy a Celtic Taco. The hall will be filled with vendors and there is plenty of singing and entertainment on the schedule. The traditional dinner of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes will be served from 5 to 7 pm. A 44-page souvenir edition of the history and background of The Friends of the Celts will also be available for purchase.

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