Mike Dunlap, one of the founders of the New World Celts, salutes during a recent ceremony at the Dunedin Highland Games. Looking on is Lynda Dunlap.
DUNEDIN – Chances are anyone who has attended a festival or large public event in Dunedin has come in contact with a member of the New World Celts. It is an organization that is dedicated to preserving and continuing the Celtic culture.
The Celts help organize community events, provide security and generally promote the activities that are common in and around Dunedin every year, events such as the Highland Games and Highland Dance.
Mike Dunlap, the president of the Dunedin Chapter of the New World Celts, said the organization started because he and some friends felt it was needed.
“It was on New Year’s Eve in 2000 that myself and four others decided to start the organization,” he said. “There were organizations that promoted Celtic culture but we wanted something that was all inclusive. The St. Andrews Society was mainly for Scots. There were organizations exclusively for the Welch or Irish Catholics. We wanted something more than that.”
So the New World Celts was born and Dunlap said it has grown remarkably since the founding back in 2000.
“There are chapters all over the United States and in much of Canada,” he said. “There is also a group in New Zealand and Japan and Ukraine. And there are big populations in Newfoundland and Patagonia in South America.”
The New World Celts are involved in helping young people spread the culture of the Celtic population. They provide scholarships and sponsorships for young people who enter dance competitions all over the world. They help send athletes to sporting events, especially Highland Games in Scotland. Most of all, said Dunlap, the organization is a social club where people meet and mingle.
“We are involved in fundraisers at Highland Games and festivals and we have kilt nights at different pubs,” he said. “It is always good in a Celtic environment to know pub owners.”
Mary Sloan, who served for four years as president of the club, stressed that the New World Celts were about much more than drinking in a pub atmosphere. In fact she says she hopes she left that message as her legacy during the time she served as president.
“I think I helped turn the corner away from just a drinking club and made us realize how much more involved we were in the community and in schools,” she said. “We’ve been involved in helping bands and in 2009 we helped a young lady, Hayley Adams of Dunedin, take part in a dance competition in Scotland.”
During Sloan’s tenure as president the organization also won a prestigious award in Dunedin.
“In 2011 we won Clan of the Year award because of our approach with children,” she said. “Every year at the Highland Games we have a big tent and we set aside room in that tent for children to come and play and learn about the culture. We won the award for that and the plaque hangs in Flanagan’s Pub for all to see.”
Sloan says the organization has also been a great help to her socially as well.
“I’ve met a lot of great people and have made some very good friends; we’re like a very large family. In a lot of ways we are like a Clan even though we are not blood related,” she said. “If people need help moving, we’re there. We squabble sometimes like families do, but I look at a lot of these people as brothers and sisters, we teach each other about our heritage.”
It was in 2005 that Sloan became interested in the New World Celts. She remembers it well.
“I saw them at the Highland Games and they looked interesting,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in my Celtic background. I’ve been interested in the philosophy and spirituality and I began learning the history of Scotland and Ireland. Eventually I was asked to serve on the Board and from there I was hooked.”
As the organization grew it got more and more involved in activities in the community and eventually the group provided security at the big events. The security arm of the group is known as Barbarians at the Gate. Dunlap recalls the specific incident that led to that name.
“We had been volunteering to provide security at the events,” he said. “At one of the first Celtic Festivals we were on the job when a lady drove up in her car and wanted to drive down a street that was closed. There were all kinds of people walking on the street and we couldn’t let her through. She wasn’t pleased and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She finally left but said she was going to complain to the mayor, which she did. The mayor told us later that in her letter she described us as a bunch of barbarians at the gate preventing her from going where she wanted to go. Ever since then the name stuck.”
Dunlap said the Celtic culture goes back a long way in Florida history. Seminole Indian Chief Osceola was a Celt. His name was Billy Powell, the son of a man who came over from Scotland and married a native woman.
The group continues to be all-inclusive and welcomes anyone who wants to be part of it.
“We have 140 members, men and women,” said Dunlap. “We welcome children and provide activities for them during special events. We take part in the July 4th parade in Safety Harbor every year and the Christmas Parade in Dunedin. We’re a colorful group and I’m sure our shirts and kilts add to the flavor of the city.”
Sloan stressed the fact that a person doesn’t have to have a Celtic background to join the New World Celts.
“If you feel like a Celt then you are a Celt. Come and join us, it is an attitude.”
Information on the New World Celts can be found on their website at newworldcelts.org.