Celtic Woman, the lushly orchestrated stage production that celebrates traditional (and more contemporary) Irish music with four beautiful singing lasses, all of whom look like Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man – beguiling and sweet and oh-so-Irish (but without the hot-tempered insouciance of O’Hara’s Mary-Kate Danaher, of course) – returns for its annual visit to the Mahaffey Theater Wednesday, just in time, don’t ya know, for St. Patrick’s Day.
There’s an Irish band, and stepdancers, and production values right out of an Enya video.
The four angel-voiced women out in front, however, aren’t window dressing. Each in her own right was an established and successful singer (and/or instrumentalist) in the Old Country before booking passage on the SS Celtic Woman, which has been in existence for just over 15 years as a touring, recording and doing-PBS-specials entity.
In one way, then, Celtic Woman is more Menudo than Spice Girls – as a member of the quartet leaves, whatever the reason (and there are many), a new one is recruited and rehearsed. That way, there are always four of them.
The group’s newest member is Tara O’Neill, who holds a BA in Music Performance (violin) from the Royal Irish Academy of Music. She’s toured the world with several orchestras. She is also an accomplished harp player who first performed as part of Celtic Woman’s stage band in 2015.
Like Éabha McMahon, who joined in 2015, O’Neill was a singer with the vocal group Anúna.
In an interview with me a couple of years ago, McMahon told me she was an expert and master soloist in Sean Nos, one of the oldest (and most difficult) forms of Irish a capella vocal music.
Sean Nos (“old style”) is performed entirely in Gaelic, the traditional language of Ireland.
“I was brought up totally immersed in the Irish language – even though I’m from Dublin, where that’s not normal!” she said. “We didn’t speak English in my house until I was 6. We spoke Irish. My mum would only speak Irish to us. Then I went to an Irish primary school, where we only spoke Irish. It was there that the Sean Nos started, because we were introduced to that as our form of music. We didn’t learn any English songs at all.”
McMahon also happens to have a BA in Human Rights Law, which she studied in Gaelic.
She and O’Neill are joined by Derry native Mairéad Carlin, who’s now the longest-serving member of Celtic Woman (since 2013), and 21-year-old Megan Walsh from County Meath.
The group has a new album, Ancient Lands, coming out this very week. Wednesday’s show is part of (another) massive world tour.
Although the group does very well in other countries, Irish music, McMahon mused in that interview, resonates particularly well with American audiences. “Maybe it’s the simplicity of it all that brings emotion to people,” she said, “because somewhere in them, they’ve heard that before. And it reminds them of home, whether it was their grandmother’s home or their great-grandmother’s home.”