On Sunday afternoon Fairfield University's Quick Center hosted the group Danú, who brought their touring show “Christmas in Ireland: An Nollaig in Eirinn” over from Ireland.
The current sextet, which will mark 20 years as a performance troupe in 2015, features founding members Benny McCarthy and Donal Clancy from Waterford, Eamon Doorley from Dublin, Oisin McAuley from Donegal, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh from Kerry and Martin O’Neill from Glasgow. It was another superb program in the well-attended concert hall, which features intimate sight lines and slope despite the hall's spacious stage.
The band’s reputation down through the years has always been for tight, spirited musical arrangements for both the tunes and accompaniment for the tasty singers who performed with them like Nic Amhlaoibh for the past 10 years, and Ciarán Ó Gealbháin whom she replaced.
In Ireland they are often joined by Donnacha Gough on pipes and bodhran, Tom Doorley on flute, and Jesse Smith or Daire Bracken who were all in the band at some stage but left to take on other commitments.
So the foursome of McCarthy, Doorley, Nic Amhlaoibh and Clancy come over aided and abetted by bodhran player extraordinaire O’Neill and fiddler McAuley, who makes his home in the Boston area where he works at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Enhancing their ensemble performance was a pre-arranged mix of instrumentation and balances that came through ear pieces throughout the show. This did away with unsightly stage monitors and long tedious sound checks at venues on the road all controlled by their touring sound engineer on his iPad.
We were treated to seasonal favorites like the reel “Christmas Eve” and "Apples in Winter/The Frost Is All Over" in jig time, as well as polkas popular in the sunny southern climes of Kerry, Cork and Waterford where it only rains twice a year, as Doorley told us, from “December to June and July to November.”
Nic Amhlaoibh, who recently moved back to the Dingle Peninsula with her young family, gave us a pair of songs favored in Kerry with the gorgeous “Boys of Barr na Straide” about hunting for the wren on St. Stephen’s Day, and also “La Coinnle na N’Aingeal” in Irish about the custom of placing the candle in the window to “welcome any visitors who might come that way like the Holy Family on Christmas night.” Clancy added the Clancy charm to “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake.”
As it happens, both shows finished up with “Oiche Chiuin/Silent Night” with Cathie Ryan and Nic Amhlaoich singing the first verse in Irish and the respective audiences joining in on the beloved Carol that reminds us of why we are celebrating Christmas at all.
No need to worry about offending anyone who attends these increasingly popular Christmas shows to share the music, fun and spirit of Christmas with family and friends and to sing out in joyful praise for the traditions and faith that were passed onto us and celebrated for over 2,000 years.