Celebrate Seven Nations at Wheeling Celtic Celebration

When you think of Celtic, do you only think of Ireland, Scotland and Wales?

Celtic refers to not one, not two, not three, but seven Celtic nations, including Cornwall, Isle of Mann, Brittany and Galicia, as well as Ireland, Scotland and Wales. While these groups were present early in the Ohio Valley during the height of immigration, Wheeling has most representation from the Irish and Scottish.

Celebrate the heritage of all seven of these nations on Saturday, March 7, at the Wheeling Celtic Celebration, with food, drink, entertainment as well as some education thrown in. The event will be held at the Wheeling Artisan Center, 1400 Main St., Wheeling.

“The Wheeling Celtic Celebration began in 1997 as a project of the Wheeling Celtic Society, Craig O’Leary and Wheeling Heritage,” said Chris Villamagna, program manager at Wheeling Heritage, which, along with River City Restaurant, co-hosts the event.

“The celebration featured everything from music, poetry, dramatic readings, education, dance and interpretation of Celtic traditions. We return to celebrating these traditions and the impact the Celts had on Wheeling through interpretive panel discussions, genealogical assistance and even an Irish whiskey tasting,” Villamagna said.

The programming begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday with a free breakfast buffet and panel discussion of Celtic history and traditions.

The panel will be moderated by Betsy Sweeny, preservation specialist with Wheeling Heritage. Each speaker will talk for 10-15 minutes, followed by a group discussion.

One of the objectives of the panel is to “connect information about the past to the present day, allowing the audience to see themselves. For example, you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy music or relate to family tradition,” she said.

Breakfast begins at 10 a.m., and the program begins at 10:15 a.m. in the River City atrium, on the first floor of the Artisan Center.

Interested in your family’s history? From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., meet one-on-one with local history buff Jeanne Finstein, treasurer of the Wheeling Area Genealogical Society.

“We’re scheduling people for half-hour sessions — certainly not enough to do a complete genealogy, but enough to get a start. We’ll begin by filling in as much as we can on a Five-Generation chart, so people should bring in names and birth and death dates and locations for as many ancestors as they can,” she explained.

“If time permits and people are local, I’ll have a copy of a 1901 map of Wheeling, showing property owners, and I can also show them how to research deeds for property in Ohio County,” Finstein noted. “I’ll have some handouts with links to online resources. And finally, I’ll have information on programs offered by the Wheeling Area Genealogical Society.”

Get in line for the free 2 p.m. Irish whiskey tasting with whiskey connoisseur Derrick McKee. Guests (limited to 30, first-come, first-served) will taste four exceptional Irish whiskeys.

McKee — who is of Irish descent — has selected the four whiskeys to show of the range of sweet, refreshing, bold and spicy.

“Irish whiskey has a very nice range in recipe, process and finish. In my opinion that helps differentiate the style from bourbon — which is always a big, bold powerhouse hitting you with vanilla and oak — or scotch — often peaty or smokey,” McKee explained.

“Some Irish whiskeys bring sweeter notes like caramel and banana; others are refreshing with notes of green apples; while some are big, bold, and spicy. The whiskeys selected will be able to show off that range, while also hitting the sweet spot of being relatively available either in West Virginia, Pennsylvania or Ohio.”

McKee will offer some insights into the history of Irish whiskey, how it’s made and its characteristics. Irish whiskey is the “original whiskey,” McKee pointed out.

“Then we’ll progress through four samples, talking briefly about each one to help people differentiate them. In true Irish fashion, we’ll hopefully have some good old-fashioned Irish craic going on, and I’ll try to inject some Irish ‘wit and wisdom’ into the tasting! I hope this is much more fun and conversational than formal,” he said.

The genealogy assistance and whiskey tasting will be held on the second floor of the Artisan Center. Both events are free.

On the third floor of the Artisan Center, traditional Celtic food and drink will be offered by River City, while attendees can shop Celtic vendors and enjoy live music from 1:30-8:30 p.m. Admission is $5. Children 12 and under are admitted for free.

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“Entertainment from 1:30 to 8:30 p.m. includes Irish step dancers, traditional Irish music, a balladeer and the non-traditional high-energy Brigid’s Cross,” Villamagna said.

Balladeer Terry Griffith playing guitar.
Terry Griffith


Seán Duffy, author and director of adult programming at the Ohio County Public Library, will discuss the context surrounding Celtic populations in Wheeling. He will address how immigrants assimilated to Wheeling, the challenges they faced and how some traditions were lost because of these conflicts.

• Jacob Coughlan, a member of local Celtic band Gallowglass, will discuss the history and evolution of traditional Celtic music. He will play snippets of music on a traditional instrument to help illustrate the topic.

• Craig O’Leary, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, will talk about Irish pride in present-day Wheeling, his early involvement with the Celtic festival, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Irish Road Bowling.


• Jeanne Finstein will have census records (1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880), a special census for Civil War veterans (1890) and some local cemetery records.

• She also will have electronic access to a variety of online resources such as West Virginia Vital Records; history archives from the Wheeling newspapers;  Ancestry.com, FindaGrave.com and two sites of the Wheeling Area Genealogical Society.


• Redbreast 12-Year-Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 80 proof

• Green Spot Irish Whiskey, 80 proof

• Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey, County Cork, 80 proof

• Powers John’s Lane Release Irish Whiskey, 12 year, 92 proof


River City Restaurant will offer its regular menu on the first floor, while on the third floor, Celtic specialties will be available. The menu includes colcannon, cabbage and noodles, boxty (Irish potato pancake), Scottish eggs, traditional corned beef reuben, Irish swiss steak, scones and Irish cream bread pudding. Hotdogs, pretzel sticks with beer cheese and assorted beverages also will be available.



• Celt Wares

• Celtic Treasures

• McMann’s Irish Cottage Gifts

• Green Fairy Botanicals

• Lilla Rose


• 1:30 p.m.: Burke Conroy School of Irish Dance, Irish step dancers

• 3 p.m.: Gallowglass, Wheeling-based traditional Celtic music

• 5 p.m.: Terry Griffith, a balladeer

• 7 p.m.: Brigid’s Cross, non-traditional, high-energy Celtic rock


Visit the Wheeling Heritage website wheelingheritage.org for a full entertainment schedule. For more information, call Wheeling Heritage at 304-232-3087.

• Having spent nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal now serves as Weelunk’s managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.