St. Augustine hosts a non-stop cycle of family-friendly festivals and events year-round. In fact, every weekend of Fall and Winter is jam-packed with festivities like the Fall Art Festival, holiday bed and breakfast tours, and more. However, come Spring, the Old City packs up the pumpkins and holiday lights, mows the fairgrounds, and dusts off their kilts. This year is no exception. Get out your green shirts and sunglasses and make your way to celebrate the roots of your Nation’s Oldest City during the Celtic Music & Heritage Festival!
St. Augustine’s Celtic History
Over 500 years ago, Pedro Menéndez departed from Spain, embarking on a lengthy voyage across the North Atlantic Ocean. Months later he docked his ship on the pristine sands of Florida and founded St. Augustine. Along with him, he brought his wife, family, 650 settlers, and of course, their ‘Spanish’ heritage.
Although the best known among Spanish folkloristic traditions are flamenco dances and bullfighting events, Menéndez was from a town in the northern region of Spain, named Avilés. Believe it or not, Aviles was founded by a Celtic tribe as early as the 5th century B.C., and so Menéndez had strong Celtic roots.
The Celtic customs that Menéndez implanted upon arriving in the Old City stuck like toffee pudding on a hot Florida day. Now, it is a tradition for the Historic Coast to celebrate its settler-rooted heritage annually.
Find the Celt in You!
You don’t have to dress up in a kilt and you don’t have to drink the green beer – but we recommend that you do! Year after year, the festival asks only one thing of its attendees: embrace their Celtic roots (even if those roots are fictional.)
Naturally, this year’s festival launches with a VIP whiskey-tasting event and St. Augustine’s highly anticipated St. Patrick’s Parade. Traditions and customs continue all weekend long through a series of highland games, musical lineups, and authentic Celtic vendors.
Kick-off the festival with a “multi-instrument musical experience,” and one of the Celtic’s favorite past times: whiskey-tasting. On Friday, there will be a VIP tent on Francis Field where guests can sample seven fine-Irish whiskeys and scotches! A Jameson Brand Ambassador, from Ireland, will lead the event and speak on several top-shelf liquor topics including; how the taste of whiskey is affected by the region its distilled in, fun facts about the Jameson brand, and of course the long trial-and-error history of whiskey. Seating is limited, so, you’ll want to pre-order your tickets as soon as possible.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Saturday morning, shortly after 10:00 am, the Old City’s little cobblestone streets are flooded by shades of green, flags, and floats, as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade begins. Thousands of travelers from nearby states and afar make their way to St. Augustine, as it is the only city in Northeast Florida that holds a parade for this holiday.
Similar to many cultures, music is a lasting tradition in Celtic heritage. Thus, two band stages are occupied by musicians from Friday night until the last plate of cabbage and ham is served on Sunday. Musicians often play an assortment of traditional Celtic instruments like the fiddle, bodhran, tin whistle and accordion. Furthermore, this year’s music lineup includes 7 of the top 100 Celtic bands worldwide. After all, the Celtic Heritage & Music Festival is notorious for having “Arguably the finest collaboration of Celtic artists assembled in the United States!”
Is it a man? Is it a keg? It’s both, and obviously named a Keg Carry – a highland game where men carry a keg as far as they can in 60 seconds. The highland games were developed by a Scottish Highland King who was in search of elite athletes in the village. The winner of each game was crowned with an important role in the kingdom – such as the royal messenger. Although there is no longer practicality to the highland games, it’s lived on as a fun and competitive tradition.
Along with the Keg Carry, the Festival’s highland games will include:
- Open Stone Put: 16 lb. thrown for distance
- Braemar Stone Throw
- Weight for Distance Toss: 56 lb.
- Weight for Distance Toss: 28 lb.
- Caber Toss
- Sheaf Toss: 16 lb. burlap bag tossed with a pitchfork for height
- Weight for Height Toss: 56 lb.
In between drinking sips of whiskey, watching the highland games, and bouncing between music stages, don’t forget to check out the merchandise vendors! In fact, not only do local companies attend the festival but, international companies travel to St. Augustine with their best creations in tow. You’ll find while some vendors sell popular Celtic items like kilts, Celtic knot jewelry, and musical instruments, others specialize in wood-crafted Viking swords and steel home decor!
Upon walking onto St. Francis Field, a collaboration of corned beef, soda bread, and shepherd’s pie will fill your nostrils and get your tummy growling. Luckily, vendors also offer a variety of whiskey and green beer that will pair perfectly with your homecooked authentic food-findings.
For a complete timeline of musical events and list of vendors check out the Celtic Music & Heritage Festival’s website.