You’ve probably been to the Celtic Classic and enjoyed a beer with your Shephard’sPie as you walked around the Grand Pavilion, but have you ever thought about the beginnings of this favorite festival?
This is the 25th anniversary of Celtic Classic; there couldn’t be a better time to examine its inception. We talked to the owner of Donegal Square, Neville Gardner, to get the full history. He should know, he started it! Neville grew up in Belfast until 1979 when he came to the United States and started working as a civil engineer in Allentown.
Though he kept this job, he opened up Donegal Square in 1985 after friends kept asking him to bring back gifts from Ireland. Donegal Square has since doubled in size and added McCarthy’s Tea Room. But back to 1985, Neville got the idea for a Celtic Classic with some of his friends after he saw the positive impact that the newly created Musikfest had on his business. Along with a small group of friends, they planned the physical aspects of the festival. They knew where the festival could be held and where they would put the tents; next they needed the money.
Among this group were Celtic athletes, friends interested in bagpipes and Scottish culture and an employee of Chevrolet. After two years of planning, Chevrolet pledged $250,000 over a period of five years and for those years the festival was born as the Chevrolet Celtic Classic.
Twenty-five years later, the Classic is more popular than ever for bringing together authentic Celtic dance, athletics, food and music. Despite the political troubles of Ireland, the festival has always been a cultural celebration in the two veins of Ireland: the Irish culture and the English/Scottish traditions. It seamlessly blends the two in entertainment and education in a first hand experience in Celtic culture without ever leaving the United States.
Neville has served on many committees of the festival as it grew, and he’s currently a trustee of Celtic Classic and promotes the festival through his business. So, we’ll see you there!