Pauline Scanlon and Eilis Kennedy of Lumiere.
You can celebrate Christmas Celtic style this year by traveling across the water to the Emerald Isle – without going near the Atlantic Ocean.
“An Irish Christmas in America” celebrates the heritage of Ireland on Beaver Island Dec. 18. A 15-minute plane ride or two-hour boat trip from Charlevoix, Beaver Island is called “America’s Emerald Isle” in reference to its Irish roots.
And for those who can’t make that trek, the show is also being performed Dec. 17 at St. Francis High School’s Kohler Auditorium in Traverse City.
TRADITIONS OLD AND NEW
According to Oisin Mac Diarmada, who first put together the holiday show in 2005, this year’s version will emphasize Ireland’s vocal tradition.
“The main concept behind the show is to engage the audience in an Irish cultural celebration of the holiday season,” Diarmada continues. “With the consumerist emphasis on a modern Christmas experience, people really seem to enjoy taking some time off during this hectic season to take an entertaining look at some of the customs and celebrations inherent in an Irish Christmas celebration.”
Diarmada, perhaps best known for his work with the traditional Irish music group Téada, was initially inspired by a Christmas show he’d been in that toured Germany and Holland. He wanted to bring a similar experience to American audiences.
“An Irish Christmas shares many similarities and themes with other worldwide celebrations of Christmas,” Diarmada says. “There are also some pretty unique customs such as the Wren Boys tradition, which takes place on December 26th each year, which are interesting and historic.”
The Wren Boys involved the sacrifice of a wren, which supposedly betrayed the Irish against the invading Norse over a millennium ago by pecking on a drum, giving away the Irish hiding place.
“It’s always fascinating to hear about the customs which we share with other cultures and of course the distinctive practices which make our celebration unique,” he says.
This family-friendly performance features Irish ballads and holiday carols, lively fiddle tunes and Irish dancing. Narration brings to life ancient customs and stories, while evocative photographic images provide a unique backdrop.
The show this year will feature Lumiere, lauded as one of Ireland’s leading vocal acts.
“I am really excited about bringing Lumiere to the U.S. This will be a first U.S. tour for this group which features singers Pauline Scanlon and Eilis Kennedy along with guitarist Donogh Hennessy,” Diarmada says.
“Seamus Begley, legendary West Kerry accordionist and singer, will once again join the tour this year, as well. Seamus and myself have just finished recording a new duet album which will be released just in time for the Christmas tour.”
One of Diarmada’s favorite things about bringing “An Irish Christmas in America” to America is the fact that he gets to experience the holidays stateside.
“The atmosphere throughout the U.S. during the Christmas season is absolutely wonderful,” he enthuses. “I really enjoy the warmth of the people and the beautiful decorations in towns and cities all over the country.”
BEAVER ISLAND’S IRISH SOUL
Michigan’s Emerald Isle revels in its Irish roots.
“To say that the island has a very strong Irish heritage would be, perhaps, an understatement,” say Ann Partridge, the effusive and friendly Events Director for the Beaver Island Community Center.
“Many Islanders can easily trace their family directly to the eviction and subsequent emigration of Arranmore Island, off the coast of Donegal, in 1851. In fact, Beaver Island became “twinned” with Arranmore in a ceremony on their soil in March of 2003 – an event that was actually attended by 48 of these Beaver Island descendants.”
Irish music, Partridge says, is part of the Island’s “soul” - part of the residents’ and descendants’ identity, and a unique part of visiting the island itself.
“The Community Center is committed to preserving this unique heritage and culture. Since opening, the Celtic sounds of Switchback, Shae Laurel, Teada, The Screaming Orphans, and many more have filled our hall,” she says.
“For Beaver Island, a Christmas celebration featuring Irish music, song, dance, and tales couldn’t be more fitting.”
Diarmada feels the same way.
“It will be so exciting to finish our long tour on Beaver Island, where I’m sure the weather will be more Christmassy than that which we will encounter in California at the beginning of the tour,” he said.
Tickets for An Irish Christmas in America at Kohler Auditorium Dec. 17 are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For tickets or more information call 941-8667. Tickets for the Dec. 18 6 p.m. show at the Beaver Island Community Center are $30. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 231-448-2022.