Every March, St. Augustine is bursting with Celtic pride. People from all over the world don their tartans and come to America’s oldest city to reconnect, celebrate and learn about their Celtic heritage. Throughout the three-day St. Augustine Celtic Music & Heritage Festival, celebrations include the popular Highland Games, Celtic musicians, meeting of the clans, Celtic food, vendors and more.
While there is so much to do during the St. Augustine Celtic Festival itself, there are several sites throughout the city that demonstrate the significant cultural influence Celtic regions have had on St. Augustine.
What place would be more fitting to start a Celtic journey through St. Augustine than by standing in front of the statue dedicated to Don Pedro Menendez, founder of St. Augustine and of Celtic heritage himself? Menendez and the 800 colonists who originally accompanied him were from the town of Aviles and surrounding areas in the northern, Celtic region of Spain. This not only makes St. Augustine the oldest city in the U.S., but also the oldest Celtic city in the U.S. The statue itself, which stands outside City Hall at 75 King St., is a replica of one in Avilés, Spain, and was given by the People of Avilés, Spain, to the People of St. Augustine, Fla.
Besides Florida’s first Spanish colonial governor Don Pedro Menendez, six more colonial Florida governors were of Celtic descent.
In the 1700s, the Spanish government stationed Irish and Scottish expatriate soldiers who couldn’t return to their homeland. Several of these military men rose up through the ranks to become Governor of Spanish Florida.
Located along the Plaza de la Constitucion, St. Augustine’s “Central Park”, the cathedral-basilica is an architectural and artistic masterpiece and is home to America’s first parish. Irish priests Miguel O’Reilly and Thomas Hassett supervised the construction of the cathedral from 1793 to its completion in 1797. While it is still actively used as a place of worship, the church is open year-round to the public for touring and musical performances. Guides are available Monday – Thursday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. to answer questions and share information about the Celtic heritage, art and architectural elements of the cathedral. Visitors often bask at the bright ceiling, detailed tiled floor, or its many ornate glass windows and paintings. A virtual tour is also available to get a preview of the experience that awaits.
If you’re in town during St. Patrick’s Day, the parade honoring Ireland’s most revered saint is a must-see. Due in part to its Celtic roots, it is documented that St. Augustine’s very first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 1600 is also documented as the very first in the WORLD. Today, the parade features over 1,000 participants, including 50 units plus Clans and athletes from the Highland Games, floats, marching bands, bagpipes and drums, horse-drawn carriages, military units, local community groups and more. The parade route follows the bayfront to the Bridge of Lions, takes a right down Cathedral Place and returns to its origin via Cordova Street.
Kicking off the St. Augustine Celtic Festival is a limited seating special tasting that includes seven fine Irish whiskies and scotches. You’ll savor different whiskies as you hear the background of each. You’ll also learn the history and facts about the different regions and the whiskies from the Jameson Brand Ambassador.
If you’re in the mood for some Celtic flair outside the festival weekend, there are several Irish pubs that offer live music, traditional food and drinks all year round, including Ann O’Malley’s, Barley Republic, Donovan’s, Meehan’s and Shaughnessy’s.
If you’d like to add a little romance or some old-fashioned family fun after the St. Augustine Celtic Festival, see the sites from the comfort of your own private carriage ride. Your knowledgeable driver will be able to point out some key landmarks and share a bit more history behind the historic landmarks. St. Patrick themed tours are also available and can take you to Celtic locals throughout the city.
To learn more about cultural influences, events and things to do in St. Augustine and throughout St Johns County, visit HistoricCoastCulture.com.