The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Celtic Thunder. Courtesy photo.

Celtic Thunder

When:  Friday, Aug. 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 South Main Street, Concord
Tickets: $48-$88 at

Irish power
Celtic Thunder returns to Concord

By Michael Witthaus

 Ireland’s music is embraced by the world, and the fresh-faced members of Celtic Thunder are among its most ardent emissaries. Since 2007, the group has circled the globe performing songs of their home country on a multimedia stage. Renditions of traditional favorites like “Galway Girl” and “Caledonia” mix with contemporary selections, each given a unique stamp. 

Celtic Thunder’s Legacy Tour comes to Concord Friday, Aug. 26, on the heels of a March PBS special and a new album of the same name. The lineup of the group is different from the one that appeared at Capitol Center two weeks after St. Patrick’s  Day 2015. Current members are  Damian McGinty, Ryan Kelly, Neil Byrne, Emmet Cahill and newest addition Michael O’Dwyer.
Though he wasn’t with Celtic Thunder during their last New Hampshire visit, Cahill isn’t a new member. He left in December 2013 to concentrate on solo work, then came back briefly after tragedy struck in March 2014. Founding member George Donaldson died unexpectedly, and Cahill filled in for a tour of Australia that became a tribute to the Scottish singer.
Cahill first joined Celtic Thunder in 2010, replacing founding member Paul Byron. He announced plans to rejoin last December and was back  in time to sing “Ireland’s Call” on St. Patrick’s Day on The Today Show. In May, another member departed, this time for an opera career. 
Cahill stressed in a recent phone interview that although the cast is ever shifting,  the power of Celtic Thunder’s show remains. 
“There are always people coming in and out, but the show is very much the same,” he said. “It’s great to be able to do my own stuff but then come back in; it’s like coming home to your family.”
This is O’Dwyer’s first American tour; he came on board for a few Australian shows in April. “I feel sympathy with him. ... I was sort of the first new member after the original guys,” Cahill said. “I have an idea of how daunting it can be at times, so we’ll be kind to him for the first week.”
On Aug. 12, the group released the second of two news CD, Legacy Volume Two. It includes a bracing version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and “Streets of New York.” The latter is a new song for the band, but not by traditional Irish standards. 
“It’s only 40 years old,” Cahill said with a laugh. “Many of our songs are as old as Ireland. ... There’s an Irish war song we do that’s a thousand years old.”
More recent is “Falling Slowly,” from the movie and Broadway musical Once. Though modern, it’s of a piece with the rest of the group’s catalog. 
“The song is from an Irish musical set in Dublin ... it won the Oscar,” Cahill said. “With Celtic Thunder, people know those songs, and we put our stamp on it — set them in a  different way, and pull them into our show.”
Before he joined Celtic Thunder, Cahill was on a different musical path.  Born in Mullingar in County Westmeath, he’d learned piano by the time he was 5. 
“My parents were both musicians, but it was mostly classical, and a lot of church music as well,” he said. “I never had a huge ambition to be in a  band, but it just somehow fell that way. I was studying opera in college. ... I auditioned for this Irish show, and I didn’t know a whole lot about it; here we are today.”
Music is Ireland’s top export, and shows like Celtic Thunder are enormously successful in the U.S. Cahill said fans have told him that seeing his band perform was the spark of a search for their own Irish roots.  
“Every American you meet is fifth generation Irish,” he said. “But they haven’t really done their homework or really gone back and looked for their family history. Irish music may be the first step, and people often say to us, ‘We heard your music and decided we want to go to Ireland.’”
The reach of Ireland’s mid-19th-century diaspora is powerful — more expatriates live outside the country than in. Cahill said Irish music “appeals not only to Irish people but ... has quite an impact on people that have come over to find a new life and land of opportunity and all that. I think that was why it succeeded so well.”
A song from the Legacy tour, “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” tells the story of the first Irish immigrant to arrive at Ellis Island.  
“It’s the story of millions of Irish people, really,” Cahill said, then offered a brief observation on current mores. “Not to be too political, but immigration has been the story of America; it’s made it what it is ... the land of opportunity.” 
“Hopefully,” he added, “it will continue to welcome the Irish.” 

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