Dog days of summer in Mount Airy as Celtic fest supports service canines

The Mount Airy Fairgrounds were filled with the sounds of pipe bands and the smell of peat smoke for the 2018 Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival June 16.

The carnival grounds in Mount Airy were filled with smell of burning peat, the sound of clan banners flapping in the wind and the sight of knees peeking out of kilt hose as guests brought out their best tartans for the 2018 Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival, hosted by the St. Andrew’s Society of Mid-Maryland.

In the lower fields, a parade at noon announced the start of the Highland Games, where athletes competed in traditional feats of skill and strength such as throwing stones and 56-pound hammers or tossing cabers, a sport that resembles lifting a wooden telephone pole and trying to flip it end over end.


Chris Carlsen, a veteran competing in the adaptive athlete division, sported a camouflage-print kilt as he competed Saturday. He got involved in the games after organizers reached out to Warrior 360, a Virginia-based nonprofit supporting service veterans, to see if some of their athletes would participate.

He said it was a way to encourage adaptive athletes (athletes who have disabilities) to get out and compete, and get the message out to members of the public who may have their own disabilities about the possibilities.

“Veterans are used to feeling that camaraderie and brotherhood,” he said, so they have fit right in to the close-knit highland games community, he said.

Josh Collins, who competed in the pro division of the games, said he got started through his track and field background where events like shot put and discus transitioned well into highland sports after college.

The best feeling, he said, is hitting a big throw.

“[It’s] hard work coming to fruition. The very high level of competition gets the best out of you,” he said.

Jason Barth, of Westminster, and Dawn Meade, of Eldersburg, enjoyed travelling to Mount Airy to perform as part of the MacMillan-Dunn Pipe Bands because it was close to home. For some competitions, the group has traveled as far as Ireland.

Dressed in tartan and still carrying her drum after the opening ceremony of the games, Meade joked that American bands are much better prepared to handle the heat on days like Saturday than their European counterparts who may be used to a more overcast climate. The band has performed at the Celtic festival for years even before it moved from Frederick to Mount Airy.

Nick Seniura and Josh Halatyn, members of Maryland Saga, a historical re-enactment group, were also feeling the sun as they suited up in wool garments, metal helmets and chain mail before an afternoon weapons demonstration.

Their goals for the day was to teach people about early medieval combat, not get heat stroke, and “grab some swords and whack each other for a little while.”

Dressed in bright yellow medieval garb, Barb Kriner, of Westminster, demonstrated wool spinning in the living history area next to her husband, Bob, an armorer.

She had a traditional spindle and a small loom as well as wool from alpacas, buffalo and even a black sheep.

The two came with the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an educational organization that recreates Middle Ages and Renaissance life.


Kriner started in 1986 when she heard an ad for the society on the radio and has remained passionate about it ever since, meeting people from around the world from as far away as Japan who also share her love for history.

The selected charity for this year’s event was Hero Dogs, a Maryland nonprofit that trains dogs to be paired with veterans for assistance with symptoms of PTSD, some hearing loss, mobility loss or other needs. The dogs’ training is customized to their partner’s needs.

Volunteers were set up at the festival along with a few of their dogs who were training to stay calm in the boisterous festival atmosphere. The service is entirely free for veterans, said volunteer Maureen McCabe.

With funding from the festival, the organization looks to expand its facility and work toward establishing its breeding program, which will allow them to be with the dogs from birth. This will help the organization to better meet demand for its service: Last year was the first in which they had a waiting list, said Deputy Director Barbara Ramundo.

Ramundo described the day as veteran friendly and dog friendly, so it was the perfect atmosphere for Hero Dogs.

Next to the games, a section of the festival was dedicated entirely to dog rescues and other pup-centric groups called Woof Woof Glen.

Dogs from the Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue showed off their skills in agility demonstrations throughout the day.

Pat Wellheuser, who served as the announcer for the agility show and fostered border collies for 13 years, said the skills a dog demonstrates in agility can transition into training for other jobs such as search and rescue.

“They’re very versatile,” she said. “The important thing is that they have a job.”

Many of the dogs came to the rescue from owners who didn’t realize just how much activity the breed requires daily. Wellheuser encouraged those looking for a dog to look to rescues before breeders because “there a lots of wonderful dogs out there.”

Throughout the day, dance troupes gave demonstrations of traditional Scottish and Irish dance styles, including a few sessions where the audience could participate and learn a few moves.

Rebecca Law has been dancing with GrantFling out of Alexandria, Virginia, for about a year and a half after falling in love with the style. The company performed several Scottish numbers Saturday including a dance for very young performers and their mothers, many of whom were also brand new to dance.

Director Eileen Grant said the group has been coming to the festival for eight or nine years and it’s nice to see the festival grow while others have cut back or ended.

Law said she has Scottish and Irish heritage “way back” but didn’t have a strong connection until she started dancing.

“Getting to do this makes me feel like I have a culture,” she said.