The BostonIrish Calendar of Irish/Celtic Music Events November 2023

Boston-area fiddler Isabel Oliart will perform as part of the newly christened Brian O'Donovan Legacy Series at the Burren on November 5. 


•The high-quality, well-loved and equally well-attended slate of concerts that Brian O’Donovan organized, nourished, and emceed for so many years at the Burren Backroom will now live on there in his name. And the Brian O’Donovan Legacy Series will get off to quite the start on Nov. 1, presenting uilleann piper Cillian Vallely and Worcester-born-and-bred fiddler David Doocey – who have just released an album together, “The Yew and the Orchard” – as well as multi-instrumentalist, singer, and dancer Dave Curley at 7:30 p.m. 

Vallely, acknowledged as one of the finest uilleann pipers and whistle players of his generation, is a member of Lúnasa and has collaborated with performers such as fellow Lúnasan Kevin Crawford, Tim O’Brien, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Bruce Springsteen. A winner of All-Ireland medals on concertina as well as fiddle, and the inaugural World Fleadh fiddle championship, Doocey has played in the band Gráda and with Mayo accordionist David Munnelly, and toured with international dance shows like “Irish Dreams.” Curley has drawn plaudits for his solo work and his stints with the bands Slide and RUNA, and collaborated with Clannad harpist/vocalist Moya Brennan. 

Boston-area native Isabel Oliart – who’s in the Backroom on Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. – was inspired as a child by O’Donovan’s “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” to move beyond classical violin and explore fiddling. She went on to study with local fiddlers Anne Hooper, Katie McNally, and Hanneke Cassel as well as Solas’s Winifred Horan, and is now pursuing a career in classical as well as Celtic; a New England Conservatory grad, she’s a master of music degree student at Boston University. The Backroom is a familiar venue for Oliart, who has played solo and collaborative concerts there for years, and  been on the “A Celtic Sojourn” and “Says You” radio shows. She has not only won Scottish fiddle competitions – including at the New Hampshire Highland Games – but also a competition for Scottish-style tune-writing, a fast-emerging aspect of her music. She’ll be joined here by cellist Sammy Wetstein. 

Fiddler Kevin Burke stops in on Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m., six days after his appearance at Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series (see below).

Information on Brian O’Donovan Legacy Series events in the Backroom available via

•Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series has quite an active month ahead of it. On Nov. 2, Gaelic Roots will host the long-awaited (and twice rescheduled) Boston-area appearance of legendary fiddler Frankie Gavin and pianist Catherine McHugh. Having already previewed this event twice, I’m not going to jinx it; you can read the original write-up here.

On Nov. 9, another fiddler of similar stature, Kevin Burke – who helped bring Sligo’s storied fiddle tradition to worldwide audience – will perform at Gaelic Roots. Burke was a mainstay in London’s Irish music community as a teenager, but a chance meeting with Arlo Guthrie wound up changing his life: He emigrated to the US, where the Irish ex-pats he encountered convinced him to take up music full-time. Eventually settling in Dublin, Burke became a member of the groundbreaking Bothy Band, going on to equally rewarding turns with Patrick Street and the Celtic Fiddle Festival. He recently launched a video series on Vimeo, “Music from an Irish Cottage,” with six episodes of music and conversation with Irish trad notables like Sharon Shannon, Nuala Kennedy, John Carty, Mick McAuley, and Josephine Marsh, 

Rounding out the month will be a Nov. 30 concert by sean-nós singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde, a native of the northwest Gaelic-speaking region in County Donegal.  Mac Giolla Bhríde has brought a fresh perspective to sean-nós, which has traditionally featured songs performed a cappella with distinctive ornamentation, usually by a solo singer. He founded a four-part choir of sean-nós singers, Cór Thaobh an Leithid, which has presented newly composed pieces, as well as a set of songs arranged for choir and string quintet by Mac Giolla Bhríde, in live appearances. Mac Giolla Bhríde’s recordings – one of which comprises poems and rhymes for children written by his mother – have included unusual instrumentation, such as pedal steel guitar, clarinet and harmonium, alongside his own accordion and uilleann pipes.

Info at

•The annual Fiddle Hell festival takes place Nov. 2-5 at the Westford Regency in Westford (near the intersection of Routes 2 and 495). Musicians of all levels interested in Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, Quebecois, American, Scandinavian, Cajun, blues, and other traditions or styles can take classes and workshops – not just for fiddle but mandolin, banjo, flute, harmonica, and guitar, among others – and participate in planned and spontaneous jam sessions. And if you’re not a musician, you can attend Fiddle Hell performances and, basically, stroll around and enjoy the atmosphere. Boston and New England is well represented in the Fiddle Hell faculty, which includes Katie McNally, Laurel Martin, Barbara McOwen, Armand Aromin & Benedict Gagliardi (AKA The Vox Humters), Lissa Schneckenburger, Rose Clancy, Ellery Klein, Conor Hearn, Maura Shawn Scanlin, Hanneke Cassel, and Janine Randall; there’ll also be luminaries from further afield like Matt Cranitch, Andrea Beaton, Emerald Rae, and the trio of Nicholas Williams, Pascal Gemme, and Yann Falquet, known collectively as Genticorum. 

Do yourself a favor and check the website for all matter of details:

•Representing the union of two renowned family Canadian Celtic music traditions, fiddlers and step dancers (and spouses) Natalie MacMaster of Cape Breton and Donnell Leahy of Ontario will visit The Cabot Theatre in Beverly on Nov. 4. MacMaster and Leahy have earned numerous honors, including JUNO and East Coast Music Awards, and have starred in their own family Christmas special along with their children, who typically travel with them on tour and join in during their concerts of powerful, up-tempo instrumentals as well as intimate, heartfelt melodies. The couple frequently share their experiences and insights as a musical family on their website’s blog. Earlier this year, they released their third album together, “Canvas,” which goes beyond their previous takes on Celtic music, embracing a global/international perspective as well as more contemporary production and innovative arrangements, incorporating new instrumentation and contributing musicians – among them cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Grammy-winning Americana/Appalachian musician and singer Rhiannon Giddens.  

Go to for tickets and details.

•Drogheda-based emo/indie-pop quartet modernlove makes its Boston-area debut Nov. 11 at the Middle East in Cambridge. Barry Lally (vocals, guitar), Graham Fagan (guitar), Danny Rooney (bass), and Cian McCluskey (drums) put forth what’s described as a pop-punk-inspired take on electro-alt pop. Their narratives are set to “a backdrop of being young and going out and falling in love and drinking too much and things getting a bit hairy,” they explained in an interview last year, and they cite bands like New Order and the Cure as inspirations, as well as U2 (“kind of inescapable when you’re from Ireland…definitely a kind of band to aspire to”). Lally’s heart-on-his-sleeve vocals – sometimes plaintive, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes fiery – energize but also humanize the more punkish, hard-driving songs like “Only Ever Only You,” “Until My Heart Stops Beating” and “Ruin Your Night.”

Tickets, info at

•If you’re looking for Celtic extravaganza, three major stage productions that have become fixtures of pop culture will be at area venues this month: The Lowell Memorial Auditorium will present “Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance: 25th Anniversary Edition” on Nov. 18 and Celtic Woman on Nov. 29, while Celtic Thunder: Odyssey comes to the Chevalier Theatre in Medford on Nov. 11. 

“Lord of the Dance,” which premiered in July of 1996, was Flatley’s first post-“Riverdance” project, and reflected his interest in putting together a show that had more of a narrative. “Lord of the Dance” was featured in the 1997 Oscars ceremony and at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center. The show has continued in one form or another over the years, including a brief return by Flatley in 2010, nine years after he had departed to work on other projects. The current cast includes Irish dancers Matthew Smith, James Keegan, Cathal Keaney and Andras Kren.

Celtic Woman was originally formed in 2004 – organized by producer Sharon Browne, executive producer Dave Kavanagh, television producer, director Avril MacRory, and musical director David Downes – for what was supposed to be a one-time concert in Dublin, but the attention it received thanks in great part to airings on PBS kept the show going. Now comes the Celtic Woman "Symphony Tour" ahead of its 20th anniversary year in 2024 (a TV special will be part of the celebration). Its more well-known members include Chloe Agnew, Orla Farlon, and fiddler Mairead Nesbitt; the current members are Mairéad Carlin, Tara McNeill, Muirgen O'Mahony, and Emma Warren.

Celtic Woman co-creator Browne was the driving force behind Celtic Thunder, teaming up with composer Phil Coulter to pull together a band that would perform traditional songs, pop classics, and Coulter originals. Formed in Dublin in 2007, Celtic Thunder also found a US following through nationwide appearances on public television during March 2008. Their current roster is Ryan Kelly (who has been with the band from the beginning), Damian McGinty (another original member who returned in 2015 after a four-year hiatus), Neil Byrne, and Emmet Cahill. The “Odyssey” tour marks the release of their 16th studio album, which includes familiar traditional material like "Fields of Athenry,” “Will You Go Lassie, Go,” “The Parting Glass,” and contemporary songs like Eric Bogle's "Green Fields of France" and Barry Moore’s "City of Chicago." 

Links to the Lowell Auditorium shows and other information at The Chevalier Theatre website is