The Sherman Celtic Festival and Highland Games will returns this March for its fourth annual celebration of different cultures and their connections to Texas and Oklahoma.
Started in 2017 as a way to boost the profile of Sherman Police’s Regional Pipe and Drum Band, this year’s festival takes place March 21 and 22 and is expected to welcome as many as 10,000 visitors. Offerings will include traditional athletic and dance competitions, live music performances with plenty of bagpipes, whiskey tastings and demonstrations by bookmakers, blacksmiths, sheep herders and Gaelic language enthusiasts.
“There are very strong ancestral ties across Texas to those celtic countries, whether it be Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, or others,” says festival organizer and SPD Regional Pipe Band founder Rob Ballew.
In the coming years, Ballew says he hopes to get Sherman’s celebration of Celtic culture on the map by hosting a national championship for highland games — of which there a currently just a handful in the U.S. But the Lone Star State’s connection to the Celts runs deep and dates back to at least the early 1800s.
“There was a very large number of individuals from Ireland and Scotland who fought to defended the Alamo in 1836,” says Ballew. “And there was actually a bagpiper who fought and died at the Alamo. Oral tradition tells it that he and Davy Crockett used to have little musical duels between the bagpipe and fiddle.”
Ballew says conflicts like the 14th Century Scottish Wars of Independence and the Irish Rebellion of 1798 shaped the views of Celtic immigrants who eventually came the U.S. and were moved to action by their passion for personal liberty.
“They were willing to fight and die for independence and freedom,” Ballew says. “I think it’s a spirit that we share here in Texas and the U.S.”
And just across the Red River lies a long-standing connection between the Irish and the Choctaw Nation. After enduring forced relocation and the Trail of Tears in 1831, the Choctaw people looked beyond their own personal tragedies and took up monetary collections for the Irish in 1847 as the potato famine ravaged the country and claimed the lives of more than a million people.
According to the Smithsonian Institute, the gesture was honored by a group of Irish men and women in 1992, who walked the Trail of Tears and raised money for other famine-stricken nations. And between 1995 and 2017, Irish leaders visited the Choctaw Nation multiple times, thanking them for their help in the 1800s and establishing a scholarship fund for young Choctaw people. The Choctaw joined the Celtic Festival and Highland Games for the first time in 2018, where they shared their culture through traditional music, dance and ceremonies.
“It’s a kinship and a friendship between the Choctaw Nation and the Irish which has continued to blossom to this day,” says Ballew.
Rain or shine, this year’s Celtic festival will still go on, and so too will the celebration of these unique cultures and their many ties.
“As we learn about different people, we realize that there’s more that connects us than separates us,” says Ballew. “I think that knowledge yields not only a better understanding of one another, but a more peaceful and appreciative existence among multiple cultures.”