Halloween isn’t even here so it may seem odd to be thinking about St. Patrick’s Day.
But all around the world there's a new holiday celebrated Sept. 17: Halfway to St. Patrick's Day!
Halfway to Saint Patrick's Day became popular in 2009 when Guinness celebrated its 250th anniversary. The company sponsored live music and other events all over the world as part of the festivities, and among those, “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” celebrations sprang up as a way to encourage support of all things Irish, including Irish music and beer, of course.
The Celts, a bagpipe band, will join local merchants to celebrate the weekend before (Sept. 14) and the weekend after (Sept. 21).
The Celts started four years ago. Chelly and Steve Harkness, who live in Edgewater, are both Scottish and had played in traditional bagpipe marching bands since 2012. They wanted to switch to something less formal, feeling the pub atmosphere would be more personal and fun.
“My desire was I wanted to put together a pub band. So, I put this band together about four years ago right before St. Paddy’s Day,” Chelly Harkness said. “We are going to go in and play jigs and do stuff that people can jam to.”
It didn’t take long for local pubs to fall in love with the band. Starting out at Tayton O’Brians on Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach, they have expanded to other venues, including Clancy’s Cantina and McKenna’s Place in New Smyrna Beach, McK’s Tavern in Daytona Beach and Fletcher’s Irish Pub in Ormond Beach.
McKenna’s Place owner John McKenna said, “We’re excited to do it. We are expecting people that will want some good authentic Irish food that will be wanting to come to us and get out of the house and do something different. St. Paddy’s Day is our busiest day of the year, so we figure why not celebrate halfway there as well. We’ll have Shepherd’s pie and some corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew. Then we’ll have a couple of different drink specials like Guinness and some Irish whiskeys as well.”
Ms. Harkness said, “We’re not a competition band. We’re very much just in it for the fun. We want to get people to come out and learn to play pipes and join up with us just for the fun of it. We are trying to develop this, getting people out in their kilts, celebrating their Irish/Scottish heritage. There’s a lot of community events we want to get involved with.”
She added, “The thing I like about the bagpipes is it is very moving. We’ve been in pubs with fully grown, muscular tough guys that will just look at us with tears coming down their face at the sound of ‘Amazing Grace.' It’s weird to play ‘Amazing Grace’ in a pub, but it’s very moving.”
Besides the Harknesses, The Celts consist of her sister, Rhonda Preskitt, and Embry -Riddle Aeronautical University students Andrew and Nathan Schaff, who Ms. Harkness states “are the best pipers in Florida.”
“We’re are always looking for bagpipers and drummers to join our merry pub band,” Ms. Harkness said. “Our hope is to grow a thriving bagpiping community, and offer free piping lessons to anyone with an interest in learning.”
Steve Harkness said if any town should have a bagpiping community, it should be New Smyrna Beach as it was founded by Dr. John Turnbull, a Scotsman.
Ms. Harkness said, “In New Smyrna Beach, we have cooked up the idea of combining Half Way with Kilt Night, where the best dressed kilt wearer wins a free beer. For the last few years, we have seen the crowds grow bigger and bigger. In New Smyrna in particular, the restaurants and pubs are really working hard to create a fun event.”
In Daytona Beach, the owner of McK’s Tavern on Beach Street will use the Half Way celebration in conjunction with Daytona Brewing Co. rolling out a new beer. The local chapter of the New World Celts also will be there.
“So, it's shaping up to be a great event,” Ms. Harkness said.
The event at McK's will include the release of two beers that were made in house by their own brew master.
Ms. Harkness went to school in New Smyrna Beach and started her first band right after her high school graduation, playing guitar. She learned to play the drums after her husband mastered the bagpipes.