“Can you bear with me for 30 seconds?” Oisín Mac Diarmada, Irish fiddler and storyteller par excellence, says by phone from freezing Columbus, Ohio. “I’m after ordering a cup of tea.”
Mac Diarmada and his team of Irish musicians—and one California step dancer—are on the “Irish Christmas in America” tour this month, bringing their seasonal music, song and dance to venues across the nation. They alight in the Old Pueblo on Tuesday, Dec. 15, for a single show at Berger Center for the Performing Arts. The tour started out in northern climes and will end in the sunnier south.
“We can’t wait to get to Tucson,” Mac Diarmada says.
Now 11 years in the making, the loveable Irish Christmas show first stopped in Tucson way back in 2005. The concert is an evening of stories, songs in Irish and English and photo slides conjuring up the joys of an Irish Christmas.
“We don’t feature standard Christmas carols,” Mac Diarmada says. “One of our lovely Irish Christmas songs is `The Candles of Baby Jesus’–sung in Irish. And we do ‘Silent Night’ [Oiche Chiuin] in Irish.”
The performers will recount at least one old Irish Christmas custom that survives: So-called Wren Boys venture out in costumes on Dec. 26, “going round from house to house, singing, maybe playing instruments,” Mac Diarmada says. “It’s a big social day of getting out of the house, after the family day of Christmas.”
Mac Diarmada, himself a prizewinning fiddler from Sligo, has enlisted an all-star pickup band. This year’s five musicians play the full array of traditional instruments, including fiddle, flute, harp, whistles, concertina and uilleann pipes.
Singer Séamus Begley, who has been on the Christmas tour for the last five years, is a native Irish speaker from Kerry in the West of Ireland. Awarded a TG4 Traditional Singer of the Year award in 2013, Begley specializes in songs in the island’s native tongue and also plays accordion. At 66, “he represents an era of Irish music,” Mac Diarmada says. “He’s a real character, a charming, funny person and a natural performer.”
Singer Teresa Horgan, a soprano raised in Cork, has performed in Tucson a number of times, with the band FullSet and last February with Outside Track.
Samantha Harvey, a champion Irish step dancer from Ventura, California, will dance with the band, accompanied on some numbers by local kids from Tucson’s Maguire Academy of Irish Dance. Descended from Italians, she grew up studying at the Claddagh School of Irish Dance. Now on her third year on the tour, Harvey and Mac Diarmada were married at the start of the year after touring in Asia together. When the band returns to Ireland on Dec. 22, joining the thousands of Irish emigrants who return each year, Harvey will go with them, Mac Diarmada says. “We’ll be going back home to Sligo for Christmas.”
Irish Christmas in America is at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 15, at Berger Performing Arts Center (1200 W. Speedway Blvd.). Advance tickets are for $27 general admission with senior, student and member discounts available. You can buy yours at Antigone Books (411 N. Fourth Ave.), The Folk Shop (525 N. Campbell Ave.) or online
with a $3 fee.