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Derry comes vividly alive with Celtic color and sound

Audience prepares to greet Goitse at the Spiegletent.
Audience prepares to greet Goitse at the Spiegletent.
Martin McKeown

‘Failte go dti an Fheile Phan Cheilteach’ (Welcome to the Pan Celtic Festival) – those are the words in Irish embroidered yesterday on a colorful tapestry hanging high on an interior wall of Derry city's elegant downtown Guildhall in northern Ireland.
For the elegant 19th century edifice is one of two main venues for the week-long 43rd international Celtic cultural gathering featuring dancers, musicians, singers and artists from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man that marked the first time the festival has been held in Derry.
The other main venue is the cosy, ornate fairground-like tent known as ‘the Spiegletent’ in the open square opposite the Guildhall, where on Tuesday, the festival’s first night, Goitse (informal Gaelic greeting meaning 'come here'), composed of a quintet superbly-talented young Irish musicians, played an opening salvo of toe-tapping traditional tunes and heart-rending ballads. The group includes James Harvey, a wonderful banjo player warmly referred to by his colleagues as ‘the baby-faced assassin;’ Colm Phelan, a brilliant percussionist, who gave a resounding 15-minute solo on the bodhrán (a traditional Irish drum) and Áine McGeeney, a dynamic young female singer and fiddle player, who was formerly a member of Michael Flatley’s world-renowned dance show ‘Lord of the Dance.’
While Goitse was ‘raising the roof’ in the Spiegletent, a sample of the diverse entertainment still to come all this week took place inside the banquet hall of the city's most gracious building, seat of the city council and Mayor's office. Below hanging chandeliers and an enormous set of gold, blue and gray organ pipes with the flags of all participating countries and regions draped around the high-ceilinged hall, dancers, singers and musicians in costume took to the stage to offer their particular brand of dynamic Celtic culture, as well as participate together in a special international céilí (Celtic traditional dance) that lasted well beyond midnight.
With performances still to come from well-known groups such as Barzaz from Brittany; Declan O’Rourke and Alana Henderson, the Paddy Callaghan Band and the Mairtin O’Connor Trio from Ireland; as well as Capercaillie from Scotland, there is plenty of traditional music in store for everyone at this festival that will end on Sunday, April 27.
But the festival offers much more than music.
Events marking all things Celtic also include language dancing workshops, competitions and treasure hunts at various venues through the city. For example, visitors can try out the ancient Celtic art of straw craft with the Armagh Rhymers, maybe even making traditional ‘Mummers’ (street actors) masks, or take part in the ‘Gathering Drum’ workshops where you can ‘find your own rhythm.’ There is also a special ‘Parade of Nations’ with participants from the six Celtic nations marching through the city in full costume led by a conglomerate of pipers known as the ‘Pan Celtic Pipe Band.’