Tonawanda News

September 15, 2013

Celtic Camaraderie on display in Olcott Beach

BY BILL WOLCOTT bill.wolcott@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — OLCOTT BEACH — In Scotland, field workers turned work into games. Those old-time highlander games evolved into fun and are on display this weekend at the 13th annual Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival at Krull Park.

Men and women, wearing kilts and representing clans, showed off their muscles as they tossed cabers (trees) and sheaves (bundles in burlap) in front of family and fans.

The Highlander Games resume at 10 a.m. today at the festival which is the host of 30 different Celtic Clans.

Men and women throw stones, poles and bags of straw. It became sport for workers in the field who would heave stones and timber out off the way. At harvest, they would use pitchforks to lift straw, sheaves, into the hayloft.

”It didn’t look that hard, then you try it and you realize how horribly difficult it is and how horribly uncoordinated you are,” said Jennifer Paterson of Mississauga, Ontario. “It takes a lot of work to be a decent thrower, a lot of work.”

Paterson, 36, is an outstanding athlete and played volleyball and baseball for the Ontario teams before turning to highlander games three years ago.

She attended the Nationals in Calgary two weeks ago and holds Canadian women’s sheaf record with a heave of 26-feet. Paterson has the best sheaf toss in New York state. Women’s sheaves weigh 10 pounds while the men heave 18-pounders.

”You can get banged up a little bit,” said Paterson who throws the sheaf high enough to get out of the way.

Paterson was adopted by the Clan Claus Society during her visit here. “We’re all pretty friendly, that’s part of the whole attraction,” Paterson said.

Tammy Armeni of Niagara Falls, Ontario has competed three years and was exuberant when her sheaf cleared the pole. Her daughter, Jessica, watched her technique, encouraged and took picture.

”It’s fun,” Tammy said.

Frank Klimjack, a Batavia police officer, found freindship to be the case at Krull Park. He was attracted to Clan Grant relaxing at the gate and introduced himself. 

”They gave me a shortbread cookie, stamped my arm and said you’re good to go,” Klimjack said. “I like topick up heavy things and throw them around. It’s a lot of fun. I like to go out with guys have a good time.”

Klimjack had the best sheaf toss in the morning round. His wife, Kelly, and friends from Batavia relaxed and enjoyed watching men picking up cabers and flip them in the air. 

”You have to flip it over end to end, that’s all you want to do,” official Matt Hand said of the granddaddy of the highland games. Getting the tree to fall straight at 12 o’clock is the goal.

Meanwhile, music music wafts throughout the park with entertainment at eight stages. While dancers performed on one stage, dancing lessons were taking place on the lawn. 

Today’s activities include Lakeview Animal Sanctuary pony rides until 5 p.m. The festival closing ceremonies and parade are scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

"Go-and-Do" • What: Niagara Heritage Celtic Festival • Where: Krull Park, Olcott Beach • Continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. • Admission: $10 • Details: Free parking. Kids 12-and-under free.