One of the area's fall traditions is the Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games, which return to the Richmond International Raceway on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28 and 29. They're a smorgasbord of cultural exploration, from art to food to music. Expect highland dancing, plenty of harp and fiddle, and big people tossing big things in the heavy athletics competitions.
Food-wise, it means about 15 Scottish, Irish and British food vendors and bakeries. Think fish and chips, shepherd's pie — and yes, giant turkey legs — alongside more familiar fair food. And don't forget haggis — that delectable concoction of sheep lung, heart and liver mixed with onions, oatmeal and a little suet stuffed into the sheep's stomach. I know people who say it's delicious.
Of immediate interest to the thirsty in the crowd will be whiskey tastings. Spots fill up fast, so aficionados who'd like to try some Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey should buy their tickets now. It's a separate purchase from general admission, but it also comes with a commemorative glass to take home. Those of the beer persuasion can enjoy offerings from Guinness, Angry Orchard and Charlottesville's Blue Mountain Brewery.
Stokes McCune, one of the festival's organizers, emphasizes the festival's diverse offerings: sheep dogs, British cars, ax-throwing, rugby demonstrations, pumpkin painting and kilts.
"Last year, we even had a Highland cow show up," he says. "It's really great."
One aspects of the festival that might be unfamiliar is the annual fundraising for the Cullather Brain Tumor and Quality of Life Center, which serves patients for free in the Richmond area. It helps patients cope with some of the more practical aspects of their condition, including help navigating insurance, transportation for treatment and ways to manage pain.
The cause is a personal one for Loveland Distributing's president, Mark Stepanian. The Richmond beer purveyor is one of the organizers of the Celtic Festival and has helped to raise over $500,000 for the Cullather Center in last half-decade.
"Everyone involved share the common bond of having lost loved ones to cancer. My family lost a couple of members to brain cancer," he says. "Based on all of Loveland's event experience, we decided we needed to have a signature event to raise money for that brain cancer effort."
Stepanian says the proceeds from the Celtic Festival also go to other local charities and nonprofits, including the Children's Hospital and the Legal Information Network for Cancer through its partnership with the raceway.
"This provides a significant source of funding for the Cullather Center to continue offering their services to cancer patients and their families free of charge," he says. For details, visit vacelticfestival.com.