BELFAST - The Celtic people were never known to be a dour bunch and this weekend's Annual Maine Celtic Celebration is making the most of its free-flung, crazy wild heritage with a host of music, games, celebrations, food and contests. We checked in with Claudia Luchetti, the celebration's publicity director, on three of its well-known (not-to-miss) wacky events.
Highland Heavy Games
Sunday July 21, 8:30 a.m. Steamboat Landing
The traditional Highland Heavy Games go all the way back to the 11th-Century and possibly even before that in the Scottish Highlands. Each game or competition tests the strength and coordination of each competitor to their maximum capability. It is like watching the Olympic Games firsthand, but in Celtic cultural form and tradition. First, here's a rundown on what they actually are:
Scottish Hammer Throw — A heavy metal ball (12/16 pounds for women, 16/22 pounds for men) is attached to a four-foot wooden shaft. With both feet in fixed position, the athlete whirls the hammer overhead and then tosses it forward in an attempt to reach a longer distance than any hammers thrown by competitors.
The Caber Toss — The athlete holds up and balances a long tapered pine pole (basically a tree that has been cut and trimmed down!), then runs forward and launches the caber and tries to flip it end over end the longest distance of any caber toss by competitors, relative to a straight "12 o'clock" path.
An Open Stone Put — Similar to a shot put, yet with a heavy stone as the object (8-12 pounds for women, 16-22 pounds for men), the stone can be thrown by any method as long as the toss begins with the stone in one hand cradled in the athlete's neck before being tossed the longest possible distance.
Heavy Weight Throw — Weights are metal with handles attached, thrown with one hand by the athlete, some putting a spin on their toss (28 lbs. for women, 42 pounds for "masters men") and a similar throw with weights not quite so heavy (14 pounds for women, 28 pounds for men). The athelete who can execute longest throw is the winner.
The Weight Over the Bar—The athlete heaves a very heavy weight (56 pounds, or 4 stones) over a horizontal bar. Each competitor gets three attempts, and those who are successful move to the next level in raising the bar until only one is left.
"I didn't see all of them last year, but the one that stands out for me is The Caber Toss," said Luchetti. "To do The Caber Toss, the contestants have to first pick up this long wooden pole, which looks like it weighs somewhere between 100 - 200 pounds, and balance it vertically, then has to throw it so that it tumbles end over end and whoever throws it the longest distance in that way wins."
Luchetti said that these Highland Heavy Games attract professionals who train for these games year-round and travel all over the country to compete, so that it will definitely be a thrilling show. Amateurs may also try their hands in certain categories.
The New World Cheese Rolling Championships
Sunday, July 21, 1:30 p.m. Belfast Common
Little known fact: cheese rolling dates back to the 1800s in the U.K. The Cheese Roll Championships will consist of 10 races this year, based on age and gender of contestants.
"This competition is limited to 10 people and nobody can pre-register for it. They have to start at the bottom of the hill and run up (not with the cheese). The first 10 people to get up the hill first can gain a place to paticipate," said Luchetti.
Each race begins with a three-pound wheel of cheese being rolled down the slope on Belfast Common toward the bay. The whole point is that the wheel stays upright and in each category (five categories of men and boys and five categories of women and girls) the contestents line up at the top of the hill and race one another to catch up with and grab the cheese wheel. The first to grab it wins The Grand Prize - the cheese wheel itself. The cheese wheelmaker, Cathe Morrill, sponsoring owner of the State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport, notes that "each wheel is composed of three full pounds of our customers' favorite kind of cheese, Katahdin Cheddar Cheese. All you can eat, just for chasing it down the slippery slope.” Also according to Morrill, "We did something a little different with the cheese this year. Instead of naturally aging the cheese to create a rind, we used the 'clothbound' method. There are two advantages to this method. First, there will be more edible cheese for the winner. They won’t have to carve off the hard, natural rind to get to the great cheese inside. All they need to do is remove the cloth and enjoy the delicious unwrapped cheese. Secondly, as the cheese ages, we develop a beautiful green color on the outside of the cloth. It just seemed so fitting to have a Celtic colored cheese to roll down the hill."
Celtic Dog Show
Saturday, July 20, 9:00 - 11:00 a.m. Parade and following show, Steamboat Stage
Anyone who owns a Celtic breed of dog can participate in this fun event, in which short little wee dogs have been known to strut around kitted up and in Scottish uniforms behind a Scottish bagpiper. The opening parade around the Celebration site starts at 9:00 AM. Following the parade, dog owners will gather at the Steamboat Stage and do a little show and tell about their dogs including the breed's history and characteristics, along with any other interesting facts or human interest stories. A list on this website shows what breeds are eligible. "It's really a chance for people who love Celtic stuff and dogs to talk about the dogs and meet other people," said Luchetti.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com