BostonIrish Arts Calendar April 2024

Uilleann piper Cillian Vallely and fiddler David Doocey perform at Boston College's Gaelic Roots series on April 25.


  A look at upcoming Irish/Celtic music events in Greater Boston

Guess these things just happen sometimes: By whatever twist of fate, this coming month includes an abundance of concerts with performers who have brand new or recently released albums.

•At Club Passim in Harvard Square, guitarist-mandolinist-vocalist Flynn Cohen – now Brattleboro-based but a longtime denizen of Boston’s Celtic scene – will launch “Pirate Mountainside” on April 7 at 7 p.m., which features original compositions that evoke his vast experience with Irish and American folk music. A self-confessed music theory nerd, Cohen has long shown a penchant for conjuring with time signatures, rhythms, keys, and other such elements, and taking inspiration from unusual, even improbable, sources or inspirations for his works. So it is on “Pirate Mountainside,” which includes a tune – named for a Roddy Doyle novel – that puts some spins on the Irish slip jig form; another slip jig experiment that integrates polyrhythmic characteristics of South African Thembu-Xhosa traditional music; a Turlough O’Carolanesque piece written as a tribute to a friend and musical compatriot’s late father; and a tune referencing the early 1980s work of TV theme composer Mike Post (“Hill Street Blues,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “The A-Team”).  

The cello-fiddle sister duo of Natalie and Brittany Haas, meanwhile, has finally been able to bring together their prodigious talents and wide-ranging interests on a recording: “HAAS,” which they’ll present at Passim on April 27 at 5 and 8 p.m. Natalie is known for her longstanding partnership with Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser, through which she has affirmed the cello’s place in Celtic music and its overall versatility, as she and Fraser have blended Scottish and Irish with Scandinavian, Breton, American, classical, jazz, and other music forms; she has also played with the likes of Irish super-group Solas and Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster. Brittany has been similarly groundbreaking in her pursuits involving American music, which have included collaborations with Darol Anger, Tony Trischka, Chris Thile, and Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin). Nearly all of the tracks on “HAAS” are Haas originals that sum up their experiences far and wide, as they note, “from Nashville to Norway, the Celtic Isles to California.”

The following day (April 28), Quebecois trio Genticorum will be in for two shows at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., and will highlight their recent release, “Au Coeur De L'Aube.” The album has all those desirable Genticorum traits: energy, dynamism, and a special conviviality, even gentleness. Some of it has to do with Nicholas Williams’s flute, which adds a soulfulness to their sound, and his accordion playing has a similar quality; it all sits very well alongside the brilliance of Pascal Gemme’s fiddle, mandolin and foot percussion, along with Yann Falquet’s guitar and guimbarde (jaw harp). Their voices, whether solo or together, are robust yet infused with an affability and warmth. You can read more about “Au Coeur De L'Aube” in this recent BostonIrish review [].


•The Burren’s Brian O’Donovan Legacy Series hosts another ever-popular Revels Pub Sing on April 3 at 7:30 p.m., led by the inimitable David Coffin, who would surely be in the first cohort of candidates for a Sea Chantey/Maritime Singer Hall of Fame.

The Legacy Series will present the Seán Heely Celtic Band at a 4 p.m. matinee on April 7. Heely, a Gaelic singer and one-time US National Scottish Fiddle champion (whose interests extend to classical and jazz), has performed not only at concert halls and festivals but also at military tattoos – including the Royal Edinburgh – so he has a certain flair for the moment and the place. His repertoire covers Irish and Scottish traditions, into which his compositions fit snugly. Joining Heely are multi-instrumentalist and All-Ireland singing champion Kevin Elam, bouzouki and bass player Beth Patterson, percussionist Lucas Ashby and percussive dancer Agi Kovacs; their vocal selections include songs in Scots Gaelic as well as ballads, sea shanties and pub songs.

 Boston-area native Liz Hanley showcases her new album, along with Eamon O'Leary and Jefferson Hamer (The Murphy Beds), at the Brian O'Donovan Legacy Series in the Burren Backroom on April 17.

Boston-area native Liz Hanley will launch her new album on April 17 at 7:30 p.m., along with her collaborators Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O’Leary – better known as the duo The Murphy Beds. Devoted as she’s been to Celtic music, Hanley has also been comfortable in other genres, such as chamber rock band Emanuel and the Fear and her theatrical/musical project Frogbelly and Symphony. Her first solo album, “The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia,” released in 2013, shows this range of interests:  tunes such as “Ne’er Shall Wean Her” and “Crooked Road to Dublin,” Napoleonic ballads (“Isle of St. Helena,” with five-string banjo and harmonica, and “Bonny Light Horseman”), contemporary songs (Robbie O’Connell’s “Keg of Brandy,” Liam Weldon’s “Dark Horse on the Wind”) as well as poet-playwright Vincent Woods’s poignant but bittersweet “Sanctuary,” which includes a stirring brass accompaniment. Some recent videos of Hanley have included her collaborating with Hamer on a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “St. Stephen’s” and – along with O’Leary – the traditional song “You Lovers All.”

A scion of one of Ireland’s most cherished music families, Rory Makem will perform on April 24 at 7:30 p.m. The son of Tommy Makem and grandson of Sarah Makem, Rory Makem has been performing folk and traditional music for more than three decades, as a soloist as well as with his brothers, Donal Clancy (son of Liam Clancy, Tommy’s longtime partner) and the Makem and Spain Brothers band – and, for 17 years, with his father. Accompanying himself on guitar, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki, Makem shares nuggets from the family repertoire as well as other, more recent material. His own compositions, meanwhile, have been featured on PBS and movie soundtracks (“The Lightkeeper,” “A Fool and His Money”).

Winding up the series for this month is progressive-acoustic string quartet High Horse, on April 28 at 4 p.m. A project of fiddler Carson McHaney – Aoife O’Donovan and fiddler Jeremy Kittel have been among his collaborators – the quartet also includes cellist Karl Henry, guitar/banjo player G Rockwell and bassist Noah Harrington, bringing together Irish and American roots music as well as classical and jazz backgrounds. The band’s works may be based in familiar traditional instrumental structures, but also have space for improvisational and experimental passages. They’re in the process of recording their first album.


•Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series, directed by Sheila Falls Keohane, features harp-guitar duo Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman on April 11. The two perform a distinctive and innovative take on Celtic music that includes swing jazz, bluegrass, baroque, and other influences. Ní Chathasaigh, from a celebrated Irish music family, is widely hailed as an innovator of the Irish harp technique (a remastered version of her landmark 1985 album “The New-Strung Harp” was released last year); Newman has performed throughout the UK and beyond both as a soloist, as a member of The Boys of the Lough, and with a lengthy list of collaborators ranging from jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli to Northumbrian pipes virtuoso Kathryn Tickell to Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa. Newman and Ní Cathasaigh have performed at numerous events and venues in the US, Europe, and other parts of the world, and toured with leading Celtic performers such as Altan, Cherish the Ladies, Maura O’Connell, and Mary Black. 

Cillian Valley and David Doocey, joined by accompanist Alan Murray, come to Gaelic Roots on April 25, and will play selections from their recent album “The Yew & the Orchard.” Vallely (uilleann pipes, whistle, low whistle) is a founding member of trad supergroup Lúnasa, while Worcester native Doocey (fiddle, concertina) owns multiple All-Ireland titles and has been a member of Gráda and Blás. On “The Yew & the Orchard” – their first recording together – the pair display top-level musicality as well as an inspired choice of material, including some of their own work [read more at]. Murray, originally from Scotland and a resident of Boston for a while, plays in a number of collaborations and has become a fixture in New York City’s Celtic music community.

Both events take place at 6:30 p.m. at Connolly House (300 Hammond Street).


•Quite the double-header at the Groton Hill Music Center on April 12 at 8 p.m. The eclectic quartet Reverie Road sports the twin fiddles of former Gaelic Storm member Katie Grennan and Winifred Horan and the accordion and flute of John Williams – who along with Horan helped co-found Solas – as well as former New England Conservatory student Utsav Lal, dubbed “the raga pianist,” who skillfully intertwines Dhrupad and Indian classical music with other genres, from jazz to Irish and Scottish music. They recently released their first album, which is full of imagination, passion, grit and fun: a fiery trio of slip jigs (Michael Rooney’s “Land’s End,” “Throw the Beetle at Her” and “Evan’s”); an equally high-energy set of reels (Jimmy McHugh’s “Flooded Road to Glenties,” Ed Reavy’s relentless “House of Hamill” and “New Mown Meadow”); some fine contemporary tunes like “Gap of Dreams” by Altan’s Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Josephine Keegan’s “Only for Barney”; and tunes from Shetland and France, including “Le Femme De Marbre” by the late highly regarded French diatonic accordionist Stéphane Delicq (known in some circles as “The King of The Asymmetrical Waltz"). And then there’s Lal’s pensive take on “Rocks of Bawn.”

Also on the bill is Boston-based duo Rakish, with Maura Shawn Scanlin (fiddle, banjo, vocals) and Conor Hearn (guitar, bouzouki, vocals). They combine a solid grounding in Irish and American folk traditions with a shared interest in, and love for, chamber music and jazz. Scanlin, a two-time US National Scottish Fiddle Champion and a winner of the Glenfiddich Fiddle Competition, wields the technical range of an accomplished classical violinist, and the deep sensitivity of a traditional musician. Hearn, a native to the Irish music communities of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, has played for a number of traditional music acts and bands. Their first full-length album, “Counting Down the Hours,” includes original tunes and songs and was produced by another Solas alum, Seamus Egan. 


Eloise & Co., a pair of highly respected New England musicians, will be at the Sudbury Meetinghouse Concerts Series on April 13 at 7:30 p.m. Becky Tracy (fiddle, octave fiddle, vocals) and Rachel Bell (accordion, vocals) – who will be accompanied here by pianist Rachel Aucoin – play music from the Celtic, French, and Quebecois traditions, whether for concert and festival events or contra dances. Tracy – whose grandparents involved in the early years of NEFFA (New England Folk Festival Association) – is known for her unique fiddle style that combines qualities of French Canadian and Irish music and has been part of innovative dance/performance bands Nightingale and Wild Asparagus, and her duo with husband Keith Murphy. Bell has become a familiar figure at New England concert and dance halls, festivals and music camps, recognized for her skillful interpretations of traditional or contemporary tunes and her prowess as a composer. Classically trained, Aucoin has shifted very comfortably into the folk/trad domain, playing throughout the US and Canada and recording with, among others, fiddler Laura Risk.  


•The Dover Town Library will host musician and storyteller Jeff Snow for what he calls “A Softer Side of Celtic” on April 6 at 12:30 p.m. Snow, who plays six- and 12-string guitars, autoharp, bouzouki and bodhran, provides some insights into Scottish, Irish and English history – as well as American – through tunes and songs, whether traditional, contemporary or his own: “Southwind,” “All Through the Night,” “Kilkelly Ireland,” “Greensleeves,” “Come by the Hills,” “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and “Loch Tay Boat Song.”  

The event is free, but registration is required; go to

•Special events this month include the New England Folk Festival Association 80th annual festival, better known as NEFFA, which runs from April 19 to April 21 at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel and Trade Center in Marlborough.  Although centered on New England folk and cultural traditions, its offerings have always included Celtic music and dance – among the artists featured at this year’s NEFFA are Casey Murray and Molly Tucker, Jim Sharkey, Anna Seda and the Scottish Cello Revivalists and Michael O’Leary. And as you might expect, there are jam sessions, planned and spontaneous, all over the place. 


Greater Boston has quite the active uilleann pipes community, and they’ll be in their glory for the second Patrick J. Touhey Memorial Weekend April 26-28, with most of the action taking place at the Canadian American Club (202 Arlington Street in Watertown). The weekend – co-organized by local piper Joey Abarta – will feature workshops and presentations, appearances by acclaimed musicians and scholarly experts, as well as a concert/session and other happenings; it is by no means for uilleann pipers only. The event’s namesake, the Galway-born Touhey, who lived in Boston during his youth, was a key figure in the development of Irish music in America during the 19th and 20th centuries.


If anyone’s looking for a Cape Breton experience, the aforementioned Canadian American Club will hold a Sunday Dance Ceilidh on April 14 from 2 p.m. to 5  p.m. The music is live – and unfailingly superb – and there’ll be people to help you learn the dances, perhaps even the Mabou Shuffle.