An Irish Christmas and Celtic music are akin to peanut butter and jelly. It’s difficult to envision one without the other.
For some, the epicenter of Celtic Christmas and music is Dublin’s Grafton Street. Bono and the Edge from U2 made worldwide headlines busking on the iconic street last Christmas Eve to benefit the homeless in Ireland.
“Not everyone can get to Ireland or Grafton Street, which is an amazing place during the holidays,” fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada from “Irish Christmas in America” said by phone from his home in Sligo, Ireland.
“Bono has made it out to Grafton Street to perform a number of times,” Mac Diarmada said. “The Christmas spirit is all over Dublin and throughout Ireland. It’s a great place to be in late December, but we understand that not everyone can make it to Ireland for Christmas.”
So Mac Diarmada brings the Ireland’s holiday to the United States with the show, “Irish Christmas in America,” coming to CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids on Nov. 29.
“It’s a labor of love for us,” he said. “It’s an annual show we’ve been doing in America for (15) years.”
“Irish Christmas” features singing, dancing and amusing stories.
“It’s all about having fun during our holiday season,” Mac Diarmada said. “We have fun with traditional Irish singing and dancing.”
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The ensemble is fronted by two singers of distinction. Niamh Farrell, a Sligo-based vocalist, has toured with singer/songwriter David Gray.
“Niamh is a kind, sweet girl with a unique voice,” Mac Diarmada said. “She adds so much to the show. She’s the youngest member of our group (at 27) and she brings a certain spark to the show. And then there is Seamus Begley, who is quite a character. Seamus is a gifted musician and a great storyteller. Seamus lives a ways away from us. Seamus lives in the southwest corner of Ireland. He’s so far away from the rest of us, he jokes that the next parish from him is in America.”
The first time Mac Diarmada toured the States, he recalls how much Iowa reminded him of his homeland.
“There are so many things about Iowa that take me to Ireland,” he said. “The first time we played in Iowa (in 2005), I was thinking about home since it was so cold in Iowa, and it’s an area which is all about agriculture. We have so many farms in Ireland and we can relate to what goes on in Iowa. I don’t want to compare farming in Ireland to farming in Iowa, since you guys farm on such a grand scale. But what caught my eye were the walkways that are elevated — we don’t have those in Ireland. But there is a warmth among the people of Iowa. They come out every year and see our show, and they’re just so enthusiastic and appreciative.”
Not every member of “Irish Christmas” hails from Ireland. Uilleann pipes player and flutist Sean Gavin was born in Detroit but raised in Minneapolis.
“Sean has been with us for years (since 2014) and is an integral part of what we do,” Mac Diarmada said. “He’s a talented musician. Sean’s father came from Ireland and passed along his love of Irish music. Sean is as good as any musician that comes from Ireland. It shows what can happen if you live in America. If you get into this music early, maybe you’ll embrace it like Sean did. What we do is family-oriented. You see so many families at our shows.”
Every year “Irish Christmas” presents a new show in America.
“But some things remain the same,” Mac Diarmada said. “Every year we play the Celtic version of ‘Silent Night.’ Then we shift and play the English version of ‘Silent Night.’ Some of the traditional songs we do aren’t in English. You might not understand the words, but the songs are so beautiful that it doesn’t matter.
“Christmas is a time of beauty, love and so many wonderful things. It’s a season that is best put to music.”
• What: “Irish Christmas in America”
• Where: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 8 p.m. Nov. 29
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• Tickets: $30 advance, $35 door; CSPS Box Office, (319) 364-1580 or Legionarts.org/events/upcoming/
• Show’s website: irishchristmasinamerica.com