Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 May-Jun Contents 54 Rhythms
When and where is the National Celtic Festival held?
The National Celtic Festival (NCF) is held each year on
the June long weekend in Portarlington, a picturesque
seaside town on the Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria.
How would you describe the festival?
The NCF is unique. At the heart of each festival is an
exploration of Celtic culture in all its diversity and forms
- traditional, contemporary and Australian expressions
all have a strong presence. The festival brings people
together from across Australia as well as beyond our
shores to create a festival community, where there’s a
focus on participation and enjoying the craic. Over 70
acts across a dozen venues showcase a top-class artistic
program of concerts, acoustic music, dance, theatre,
comedy, literature, workshops, master classes, talk
sessions, forums, music sessions, presentations and
What attendance do you anticipate this year?
Overall, we expect 15,000 to visit the area, some staying
for a day, others a weekend, and some for the week.
There’s a free element to the festival, with markets and
entertainment attracting day-trippers, but the weekend
and day tickets are in hot demand.
How long has the festival been running?
It will celebrate its 15th year this June. Some time ago
now, the festival needed a new home. A quiet coastal
community-focused town that offered a broad foreshore,
amazing views of Melbourne across the bay and a
selection of small venues, not to mention a great pub with
open fires, seemed the perfect place. We worked hard to
engage the community and local businesses at the first
festival in the town, which created great enthusiasm. We
now have over 300 volunteers; the bulk are locals.
Apart from putting an emphasis on Celtic music, what
differentiates the NCF from other festivals?
A festival in the depths of winter certainly sets us apart.
While we feature concerts, acoustic venues and small
hall gigs all weekend, we also offer other strands of
equal importance. We have a strong workshop program
in which artists offer small-group tuition on an array of
instruments, or in singing, drama or dance. In the last few
years we have developed a strong theatre program and
a pipes and drums program that feature Australian and
Over the past four years, the NCF has developed
relationships and partnerships with countries of Celtic
origin - Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales as well as
other diaspora countries such as Cape Breton in Canada.
We have worked in collaboration on several major
projects with these countries.
What’s your favourite festival moment?
It came at the end of the very first festival in
Portarlington. We knew that this would be the beginning
of Australia’s finest and most diverse Celtic festival.
What acts have you enjoyed most over the years?
We have presented almost 1000 acts, so it’s difficult to
pinpoint the acts I’ve enjoyed the most. I do love great
dance bands and seeing people dancing. Two years ago
we had a group of over 20 musicians from Scotland on
the main stage playing traditional dance music at our
Grand Ceili. Then there was Solas, a fantastic Irish band
based in America, who flew across just for the festival.
Which acts are you most looking forward to seeing at
this year’s NCF?
Damien Leith’s concerts and his musical theatre piece
The Parting Glass; Marcia Howard, Port Fairy Folk
Festival’s Artist-of-the-Year; Bush Gothic connecting
to Australian history in their unique way; John
McSherry Trio, Donal O’Connor Trio and the Bernadette
Morris band from Ireland. Also feature concerts like
Festival Fiddles, Hush for the Singers and the Scottish
What are the top five things to see and do at the NCF?
y Experience a ceilli – a Celtic dance
y See a play in one of our small halls or churches
y Take part in a workshop, master class or Q&A forum
y Party the night away at the Celtic Club
y Wander the markets and taste local produce and wines.
RESPONDENT: NCF DIRECTOR UNA MCALINDEN
INTERVIEWER: TONY HILLIER
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