November 25, 2022
Cassie and Maggie MacDonald will celebrate the holidays Nova Scotia-style at The Burren Backroom this month.
A sampling of this month’s Irish/Celtic music-related events in, or slightly beyond, Greater Boston.
Not surprisingly, most performances in and around town this month are holiday-oriented, but there’s at least one that isn’t, strictly speaking: Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series will feature concertina virtuoso Brenda Castles and locally based guitarist Alan G. Murray on Dec. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in Connolly House (300 Hammond St. in Chestnut Hill). A Co. Meath native, Castles earned All-Ireland Fleadh titles in solo and group competitions. She is known for pursuing unusual and rare versions of many well-known tunes, and sometimes tweaking them to her own particular whims. Castles has recently teamed up with Boston-area uilleann piper Joey Abarta and guitarist/vocalist David McKinley-Ward to form a trio, The Sheep Stealers. Murray, originally from Scotland, plays in a number of collaborations and has become a regular at several area sessions, especially the Brendan Behan.
For details, see bc.edu/irish.
•Seamus Egan will be busy later this month serving as co-music director and performer in “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” – see separate story in this section – but before he does, he’ll be presenting “A Celtic Christmas” on Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. in the Groton Hill Music Center in Groton, just a skooch to the northwest off Route 495. Egan – who’s about to release his new album, “Good Winter” – is a master of a multitude of instruments (banjo, mandolin, guitar, flute, and whistle) and equally accomplished as a composer and arranger, so no doubt all those attributes will be on display here. He’ll be joined by fiddler Jenna Moynihan and bouzouki/harmonium player Owen Marshall – both of whom will also appear in “Sojourn” – as well as guitarist Kyle Sanna.
For details and directions, see grotonhill.org.
•The Irish Cultural Centre of Greater Boston in Canton will hold a “Christmas Holiday Hooley” on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. with long-time Celtic Woman member Chloë Agnew and assorted friends. Agnew, a charter member of Celtic Woman at age 14, left the group in 2013 to forge her solo career before rejoining them in 2020 for their “US Celebration” and “Postcards from Ireland” tours; she’s now out on her own again. Among the highlights of her solo work has been performing at Croke Park’s massive “Stars, Choirs and Carols” Guinness Book of Records concert, collaborating with Emmy award-winning tenor Eamonn McCrystal on his album “And So It Goes,” and appearing on PBS shows “The Power of Music” and the Nathan Carter “Celtic Country Show.”
Tickets and info at irishculture.org.
•The Irish Tenors come to Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Dec. 4 from 3-5 p.m. for their “Holiday Celebration Concert” – the Christmas season being one of two times during the year the three are able to get together and tour (the other time, of course, being around St. Patrick’s Day). Original member Ronan Tynan – who left the trio to pursue his own career for several years before returning in 2012 – along with Anthony Kearns and Declan Kelly, combine classical, operatic, and popular-music styles and a repertoire heavy on Irish traditional and folk, as well as inspirational songs. Their Christmas material typically includes the familiar (“We Three Kings,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”) and the sacred (“Mille Cherubini In Coro,” “Mary’s Boy Child”).
Tickets available through lowellauditorium.com/events. The trio also will be at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester on Dec. 7; go to thehanovertheatre.org/event for ticket link.
•Club Passim in Harvard Square will have holiday-themed shows on consecutive nights. First, on Dec. 22 (7 p.m.), will be Boston-based fiddle and cello group Scottish Fish. Starting out before they were even in high school, “the Fish” (Ava Montesi, Caroline Dressler, Julia Homa, Maggie MacPhail, and Giulia Haible) have become a highly experienced and assured ensemble, their performances of Scottish and Cape Breton reels, jigs, strathspeys, and the like fortified by years of fiddle camp and session music handed down from generations of the tradition's finest players. Whether it’s traditional or contemporary tunes or their own material, the five play all with imaginative, engaging, and downright fun arrangements. They’re experienced in Christmas music, too, having released the holiday-themed CD EP “Tidings” in 2019 (and they just put out their newest album “Upscale,” which will be covered on this site in very soon).
At 7 p.m. the next evening (Dec. 23), Ainé Minogue will offer her take on seasonal music. A native of Tipperary, Minogue is widely recognized as a premier Irish harpist and singer who conveys the lyricism and richness of Irish music, mythology, and poetry, and is attuned to the traditions, rituals, and celebrations associated with the ancient Celtic world. In addition to having released numerous holiday season albums, Minogue won a New England Emmy Best Producer nomination for the “A Winter’s Place” TV special. She will present music of the winter solstice and Christmas, with tunes and carols that have roots in ancient traditions of the British Isles.
Tickets, other information at passim.org.
•Having just released their first holiday album, Nova Scotian sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald trek down to the Boston States (Nova Scotian for “Massachusetts and vicinity”) to play at The Burren Backroom series on Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. Originally more of an instrumental act in presenting their home island’s distinctive fiddle and stepdance tradition, the pair went in a new direction for their 2016 album “The Willow Collection,” exploring various archives for both Celtic and American folk songs built around themes and symbolism of the willow. Among their honors are Live Ireland Radio Vocalists of the Year, multiple Canadian Folk Music Awards, and the Chicago Irish-American Emerging Artist Recording of the Year. Cassie (fiddle, vocals) and Maggie (guitar, piano, vocals) also will appear at the Old Sloop Presents in Rockport on Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. (oldslooppresents.org)
Lúnasa will make its by-now regular end-of-the-year pilgrimage to The Burren Backroom series on Dec. 14 at 6 and 8:30 p.m., joined by multi-instrumentalist, singer and dancer Dave Curley. Known for its enthralling, layered instrumental arrangements and sheer overall and individual ability, the band (Kevin Crawford, flute, whistle; Cillian Vallely, uilleann pipes, whistle; Colin Farrell, fiddle; Trevor Hutchinson, double bass; Patrick Doocey, guitar) has easily become one of the most influential and admired Irish music acts of the 21st century. Curley, from Corofin in Co. Galway, has drawn plaudits for his solo work and his stints with the bands Slide and RUNA. He’s also collaborated with Moya Brennan, vocalist and harpist with the legendary Clannad.
For tickets to these shows, go to burren.com/music.html.
•Genre-busting, Irish-world music fusion fiddler Eileen Ivers has come through the Boston/Eastern Massachusetts area pretty often over the years, but this time around she, too, will be in for the holidays: She and her band (Buddy Connolly, accordion, whistles, keyboard; Matt Mancuso, guitar, trumpet, fiddle, vocals; Dave Barckow, percusson, guitar, vocals; Lindsey Horner, double and electric bass, baritone sax) will present “Joyful Christmas” at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport on Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. The show promises to be a mix of “traditional, story-filled, age-old Wren Day songs, poems, and of course, foot stomping and hollerin’ roots music.” By now, most people know about Ivers, the original “Riverdance” fiddler and a co-founder of Cherish the Ladies, who has played with the likes of Sting, Hall and Oates, rock-poet Patti Smith, and jazz guitarist Al Di Meola, and appeared on “Gangs of New York” and other movie soundtracks. But maybe you didn’t know that she holds a degree in mathematics – magna cum laude, in fact – from Iona College, whose school name is, appropriately enough, the Gaels.
Tickets, details at rockportmusic.org