It doesn’t have to be St. Patrick’s Day — or even March — for audiences to be moved by the heartfelt singing and dancing of Celtic Woman.
Pittsburgh seems to have “the luck o’ the Irish,” though, in helping the Grammy-nominated recording and performing artists to celebrate Ireland’s rich musical and cultural heritage close to or on their national holiday.
Celtic Woman’s concert on March 19 at the Benedum Center downtown will be the group’s 12th performance in Pittsburgh since they made their debut tour stop at the Byham Theater in July 2005. Of their dozen appearances, nine have taken place in March, and one, in 2014, was on March 17, the actual date of St. Patty’s Day.
The ensemble features vocalists Mairéad Carlin, Éabha McMahon and Megan Walsh along with violinist Tara McNeill and their troupe of talented Irish singers and dancers. They are accompanied by a band playing traditional Celtic instruments, including bodhran, tin whistle, bouzouki and Uilleann bagpipes.
Celebrating story-telling tradition
They will be performing music from their newest album, “Ancient Land,” that celebrates the centuries-old Irish tradition of telling stories of the land, of love and of families through their songs, as part of their North American tour of nearly 70 cities in 2019.
Explaining the focus of their new CD created last year in Peter Gabriel’s Real World recording studio in Wiltshire, England, Carlin says in a phone call from Daytona Beach, Fla., a stop on Celtic Woman’s current U.S. tour, “We wanted to delve deeper into our heritage and put our own stamp on it.”
A new outdoor concert featuring songs from “Ancient Land,” filmed at the historic Johnstown Castle in county Wexford, Ireland, will air on PBS stations this fall. The “Ancient Land” CD/DVD is available for purchase on the Celtic Woman website.
Irish classic favorites
In addition to the new music, Carlin says a typical Celtic Woman concert is sure to feature two of the group’s most requested songs – “Danny Boy,” English songwriter Frederic Weatherly’s popular ballad set to an ancient Irish melody, and “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by the familiar prelude of bagpipes.
“As soon as the bagpipes start playing, you can feel the energy in the show,” the singer says.
“Danny Boy” has special meaning to Carlin, since the original tune, “Londonderry Air,” actually was written in the mid-19th century in Limavady, a town located 10 minutes from her family home in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Before she joined Celtic Woman in 2013, replacing Chloe Agnew, one of the original members of the group that left to pursue solo work, Carlin worked as a solo artist, touring the UK and Ireland as part of American singer-songwriter Don McLean’s “American Pie” tour.
She also made her debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in Dublin’s National Concert Hall for RTE Television in Ireland. She still does solo performances and is looking forward to the release of an EP recording in conjunction with Celtic Woman. Her debut album, “Songbook,” was released in 2014.
The pinnacle of Irish music
Carlin grew up in a musical family in Derry, where her dad was a bass player in a band, her sister played violin and her granny was a singer. Mairéad won a national BBC talent competition at age 15 and studied opera at the Conservatory of Trinity College of Music in London.
She said that even as a kid, she always wanted to be a singer and she’s proud to be a member of Celtic Woman, “the pinnacle of Irish music for any female singer growing up in Ireland.”
Following their March 19th performance at the Benedum, Celtic Woman is scheduled to return to Pittsburgh on Dec. 18 for a concert date with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall as part of the group’s “Home For Christmas – The Symphony Tour.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Celtic Woman recorded its latest CD, “Ancient Land” at the historic Johnstown Castle in County Wexford, Ireland.