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Burns Exhibit Explores Connolly's "Musical Roots"

"The Musical Roots of Seamus Connolly." (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Mar. 13, 2013

Seamus Connolly, the architect and guiding spirit behind Boston College’s acclaimed Irish music programs, is the subject of a current exhibition at the Burns Library.

On display through May 23, “The Musical Roots of Seamus Connolly” offers a glimpse of milestones in the life and work of Connolly, a 10-time fiddling champion who joined the University’s Irish Studies Program in 1991 and became Sullivan Artist-in-Residence in 2004. Connolly also directs the Gaelic Roots series that brings renowned traditional musicians to campus for concerts and workshops.

“Musical Roots” is one of four current Irish-themed exhibits featured by University Libraries. Also on display at Burns are letters sent from an Irishman living through the Great Famine to his children in Boston. In the O’Neill Library Lobby are exhibits about pioneering Celtic artisan Eva McKee and on efforts to promote the Irish language.

The “Musical Roots” exhibit includes various publicity, performance and informal photos of Connolly — often with some of his many musical friends, collaborators and acquaintances — prizes he won in music competitions, and covers of, and some excerpts from, his albums and other recordings on which he appears. “Musical Roots” also gives some background to the Irish music tradition and notes prominent influences in Connolly’s life, while highlighting his role as teacher, mentor and scholar in addition to that of master musician.

For example, the exhibit displays a copy of Francis O’Neill’s landmark 1903 publication Music of Ireland. Early on in his days as a fiddler, Connolly would spend hours at a friend’s house learning tunes from the book, which, in lieu of a music stand, he propped up on a two-pound bag of sugar. Another part of “Musical Roots” notes Connolly’s appearances in the “Masters of the Folk Violin” US tours of the late 1980s, which showcased fiddlers representing different musical traditions — among them future multiple Grammy Award winner Alison Krause. 

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