With shamrocks and leprechauns and all things green, the Celtic Canter 5K and Downtown Irish Celebration returns to Westminster on March 11 with a 5K race, a one mile Leprechaun Chase, artisans, Celtic demonstrations, a pub crawl, food vendors, crafts and games for children and a free trolley to make it easy to get around.
Wear green and pinch those who don't. Eat Shepherd's pie, drink green beer and hang out with friends and family. It all kicks off in the morning with the Celtic Canter 5K race and 1 mile Leprechaun Chase for kids.
According to Heather Mullendore, program coordinator for Westminster's Recreation and Parks, the event was started seven years ago by local dentist Patrick Gallagher.
"My wife [Renee] and my [three] daughters run a lot," Gallagher said, noting that they've done the St. Patrick's Day Run in Baltimore numerous times. "At the end of the [Baltimore] run the runners have a beer and celebrate. With O'Lordans right here in Westminster and with a name like Gallagher I thought it would be a fun event."
After approaching Dave Johansson, owner of O'Lordans Irish Pub, Gallagher said, a new event was launched. At that time, he was involved with the Carroll County Children's Fund and Gallagher wanted the event to benefit them. Johansson suggested they add Access Carroll, so the first event benefited two nonprofit groups.
"The event has grown from 170 the first year to over 900 running last year," Gallagher said. "We already have over 700 registered for this year so we should have the same if not better again. Since the City of Westminster has become involved it has grown to include music and food vendors, a pub crawl, and highland games. A Highland Football team is even coming to do a scrimmage this year. In addition to helping charitable organizations, now downtown businesses and the city of Westminster also benefit. People get to spend time in town, go around to the bars and restaurants and enjoy Westminster. And the runners get to see people who are benefitting from the race, because they are helping out."
Mullendore said this year's Celtic Canter benefits Access Carroll and Target Communities.
"They provide us with volunteers to manage the course," she said of the two nonprofits. "When runners are out there they can turn to them to point them in the right direction."
According to Mullendore, registration for runners opens at 7:30 a.m. in front of the Westminster library on Main Street. The Celtic Canter 5K race begins at 9 a.m. and costs $30 in advance or $35 day of race. The Leprechaun Chase — a one mile fun run for kids ages 10 and under — costs $10 and begins at 10 a.m. The awards ceremony for the 5K will begin as soon as everyone gets through the race.
"The start and finish is in front of the library so [runners] will come right into live music as they finish, right into the post party Irish celebration," Mullendore said.
Entrants to the 5K run get a long sleeve t-shirt and the post-race party for those over the age of 21 with one free alcoholic beverage after the race — a water or a soda for those who don't drink. Award medals will be given for first and second place in each of seven age groups. Children participating in the Leprechaun Chase all get a participation medal and a t-shirt.
Bonnie Hood, a program coordinator for Westminster's recreation and parks said this Irish festival has something for everyone.
"We expect about 6,000 people, between the runners, the people coming to enjoy the celebration and those coming to cheer," she said. "We have our own magical leprechaun that will lead the kids in the Leprechaun Chase."
Hood said a variety of vendors will have hammered silverware, steampunk and hand wired jewelry, quilted and upcycled items, hand marbled silk scarves, macramé jewelry and knit hats, Celtic wearables, wine accessories and more. The Potomac Valley Irish Wolfhound Club will have five to seven canines from this huge distinctive breed on hand to meet and greet festival goers, and author Patty Taylor Koontz will sell and autograph books from her Highlander Magick series.
Hood believes visitors will be fascinated by Mount Airy stone carver Ferenc Gregor demonstrating traditional hammer and chisel carving on site. Working from his Szobrasz Studio Gregor has sculpted for collectors and companies worldwide, including carving a black granite National Cryptologic Memorial in Fort Meade for the Department of Defense.
"There aren't a lot of places on the East Coast where you can see someone carving from stone," Gregor said. "I'll have some of my bone carvings and will have some granite etchings, and I'll bring a marble block, one of the pieces I am working on. It's similar to what you would see in a Victorian cemetery in New Orleans, a semi-nude, kind of macabre, half-flesh and half-skeleton."
He laughed. "I've done everything from the National Cryptologic Museum to a miniature American Standard Toilet earring [for a plumber]. There is a lot of variety."
Gregor said he will also have skeleton chocolates there, two flavors made from molds that he carved — his Mayan hothead chili chocolates and expresso chocolates. Proceeds of chocolate sales go to the Hampstead nonprofit, Scares That Care.
According to Hood, the pub crawl and free trolley will run from noon to 4 p.m. The trolley has 11 stops, including all the pubs, the city park, restaurants and a list of demonstration sites.
"At the city park we will have highland games and demonstrations," Hood said. "Our Kids Kingdom there has games and crafts for kids. These are all hands-on, make it-take it crafts. We will have archery in the park and a Gaelic Football scrimmage from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. And we'll have a free face-painter, too.
Visitors can also register online for a Whiskey 101 class and tasting presented by Glendalough Distilleries and held at Birdies Café, Main Street, at noon at a cost of $20.
Hood said to look for a variety of good foods and the 10th Ward Distilling Company, who will pair ¼ oz. samples of whiskey and brandy. She named the Rock Salt grill with shrimp salad wraps, O'Lordans with shepherd's pie, the Caramel Kettle with popcorn, the Carroll County Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians with scones, soda bread, cookies, brown bread and other Irish related baked goods. Lone Star BBQ will have brisket and pulled pork sandwiches. Maggie's Restaurant, a trolley stop on E. Green Street, will have a special going on and Giulianova's Groceria on Main Street will hold a cooking demonstration with Irish stew that requires pre-registration.
Mullendore said to look for top-notch Irish music and dance on the library stage as well as the Locust Lane stage.
"All of the entertainment is fantastic," she said. "They have bagpipes and they bring [us] the feel of the Irish Festival."
"I think the Celtic Canter and Irish festival have come a long way. The music is really good and makes you feel like you are stepping back into old Ireland. There's a lot to do for families and kids and we always have good food. This is a great time, especially if you have the winter blues. Come out and celebrate. It is a fantastic event," Hood said.
"This is the first event of the event season in downtown Westminster and it will really put you in a good mood with the Irish music, Irish fair, and Irish vendors. What a way to enjoy downtown and then finish it off with the pub crawl," she said. "I just think it is a great way to kick off March."
Looking back from its meager roots, Gallagher had a long term view.
"It has been great to see it evolve into a bigger event than just the run itself and to see it benefit local nonprofit organizations and bring business into town, and to showcase Westminster. We are proud to be a part of it."