The cool air on Westminster's Belle Grove Square was alive with the drone of bagpipes and pre-race chatter as runners keyed up to the starting line of the sixth annual Celtic Canter 5K on Saturday morning. (Jon Kelvey and Ulysses Munoz / BSMG)
The cool air on Westminster's Belle Grove Square was alive with the drone of bagpipes and prerace chatter as runners keyed up to the starting line of the sixth annual Celtic Canter 5K on Saturday morning.
The 9 a.m. start was the kickoff to a day of Irish and Scottish celebration, with a shorter Leprechaun Chase foot race for younger children, a beer garden and Irish festival, vendors, strollers, and a Celtic cultural fair of all types.
There were those runners who took a minimalist approach to the canter, donning singlets and short-shorts alone and perhaps seeking a personal record, but a plurality of the field sported celebratory green attire, from outsized glasses and hats to the emerald tuxedo jacket of Eldersburg's Bob Wiseman.
"I am a leprechaun," he said with a laugh. "The big thing about these races is it's fun to come out and dress up and enjoy yourself and be a little festive with the occasion. I saw this yesterday, actually, so I picked it up and put it on and here I am."
It was Wiseman's second time racing in the canter, and he absolutely plans on coming back again.
"They have some festivities going on Main Street and everybody has a good time," he said. "I have to stop back there and get my free beer."
Free beer for runners, along with bananas, hot dogs, live music and raffles, awaited in the parking lot adjacent to O'Lordan's Irish Pub, which is where first-time canter runners Laura Hook, of Westminster, and her friend Kara Rice, of Columbia, recuperated.
"It was great running through downtown; it was my first time ever running through Westminster," Rice said. "The support was great. Lot's of little kids on the course, it was amazing."
The festivities extended along downtown Westminster, with vendors and clubs set up along Main Street and a chain saw artist sculpting away in a vigorous way on Locust Lane.
On Main Street, Sara Gardener, of the Potomac Valley Irish Wolfhound Club, stood with Motley, a 3-year-old, 180-pound exemplar of the breed, introducing passerby to the sweet demeanor of the dogs despite their history as fighters.
"They've been around for over 2,000 years. Initially they were used as guard dogs and war dogs," Gardener said. "They were also bred to be large enough to hunt a wolf on their own, and their job was to take down and kill the wolf. In a pack of two or three of them they could hunt any large game like deer, elk or bear."
Motley looked something like a gray, wiry-furred bear himself, towering over Gardener when he stood with his paws on her shoulders to kiss her face.
In Westminster City Park, festivalgoers checked out Gaelic football, an archery contest and demonstrations of highland game events, in which sturdy men in kilts tossed a heavy, tapered pole through the air with a surprising degree of finesse.
Dale Green, of Baltimore, was one of those demonstrators and a member of Clan Leatherneck, an international charity devoted to assisting military veterans and active-duty soldiers that got its start with a group of U.S. Marines who were stationed in Scotland during the 1960s. Those Marines had a reunion in the '90s at a Celtic festival with a highland games competition, and Clan Leatherneck was born with a tradition of competition in the games.
"The Scottish highland games go back centuries," Green said. "It's the original extreme sport."
Ancient Scots would compete in events as diverse as bagpiping, sheep herding, stone throwing, and boulder lifting in order to earn a position as a king's favored messenger or soldier, according to Green. Today, there are nine official events, including the throwing of hammers, cast-iron weights, for height; and several types of stone.
"The big famous event that everyone associated with the highland games of course is the caber," Green said, referring to the long, tapered pole that is held and thrown from its base. " 'Caber' is Scottish Gaelic for 'tree.' They range generally 18 to 20 feet in length … and they generally weigh between 150 to 200 pounds."
How do Scottish traditions fit in to an Irish-themed event? Green said Ireland and Scotland are the two primary Celtic nations, sharing genealogy, similar language and traditions. It was a "Celtic" canter, after all.
"Ireland and Scotland have always had extremely close ties. … The bagpipes and the kilt, those are Scottish, but you also see them a lot with the Irish," he said, and then with a laugh, "Also, historically, they have shared a common dispute with the English."
Editor's note: A previous version of this story listed the incorrect occurrence of the event.