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Let the Celtic games begin

A Strong Man contestant pulls a truck with her body as part of the competition. (Courtesy of Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival)

Show your Celtic pride or just enjoy the culture during the 29th annual Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival.

The event, which runs Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21, is now in its 29th year. The festival will feature Celtic music, dance, food including Heritage Meat Pies and Oz Highland Farms’ haggis on a stick as well as arts and crafts vendors. Men and women will show off their skills and strength during Celtic Heavy Athletics on Saturday and Sunday and the Strong Man competition on Sunday. The Rio Grande Celtic 7s also will be holding a rugby tournament.

Celtic Heavy Athletics is a group of athletic events that make up a Highland Games Festival. Events include caber toss, hammer throw, weight over bar, sheaf toss, stone put and weight toss. The Strong Man competition on Sunday will have participants in three weight classes taking part in a variety of skill tests including a tire flip, carry and load and a truck push. A log press, yoke carry and farmers hold also will be part of the competition. The weight involved will be determined by class.

“There’s a 5,500-pound truck that they have to push over a 60-foot course, which is a straight line and they’re doing it for the fastest time,” said Grant Oliver, vice-chair of the festival. “Men and women all push the truck. We’re talking about individual athletes. (The yoke carry is) an apparatus that goes across the shoulders and they put weight on them. And the lightweight women are going to have to carry 210 pounds over a 60-foot course for time or 60-foot distance.”

Other competitions, which require less muscle, include a beard contest and a bagpipe competition. Nine bagpipe bands will compete as well as some members participating in solo piping and drumming competitions, according to Oliver. More Celtic music will be performed by The Spirited Lads and Piper Jones on the main stage as well as by 10 area bands on the smaller entertainment stage, including Galician band Da Terra Meiga, according to Oliver.

The dance stage will feature Irish and Scottish dance both days. On Saturday morning, the stage will showcase Irish and Scottish dance demonstration groups. On Saturday afternoon it will feature a Scottish Highland Dance Competition, which showcases an athletic dance form that requires dancers to excel in strength, stamina and grace, according to the event website. Featured dances include Highland Fling, Seann Triubhas, Scottish Lilt and more. A Scottish Highland Dance workshop will be held on Sunday morning with dance demonstrations by Celtic dance groups on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s the 29th year,” Oliver said. “I’m kind of happy about that. I’ve been on the board, this is going on 11 or 12 years, and it’s nice to expose people to the culture.”

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