Boston College’s acclaimed Gaelic Roots Series will take on a different format this semester while continuing its mission of presenting accomplished performers and experts in Irish, Scottish, American, and related folk music traditions. 

Instead of in-person events held in campus venues, Gaelic Roots will offer a virtual “Lunchtime Series” incorporating real-time presentations by noted musicians with pre-recorded performances. These will be livestreamed via the Gaelic Roots Facebook page and YouTube channel and then be made available through the BC Irish Studies Program page.

Two Lunchtime Series events are scheduled thus far, involving two distinguished musician-scholars who are veterans of the Irish music scene: On October 22, Manus McGuire will speak on and illustrate the various regional styles found in Irish fiddling, such as those of Sligo, Donegal, and Clare; on November 5, Gerry O’Connor will discuss and showcase his research on the traditional dance music found in South Ulster, which he published in the book The Rose in the Gap: Dance Music from the Oriel Region. Both events will begin at noon.

Irish Studies faculty member and Gaelic Roots Director Sheila Falls Keohane said the Lunchtime Series format resulted from an extensive exploration of online-event options, after it became clear that in-person concerts and lectures would be impossible to stage because of the pandemic.

“I had to learn a lot on the fly,” she said. “I found the sound quality uneven for some of the ‘live’ performances I watched online, where it was difficult to really hear what the instruments were doing. And some platforms had limitations I didn’t think would work very well for us.”

Keohane said she was most impressed by events that were a hybrid of a real-time presentation and pre-recorded segments. For the latter, she explained, it was possible to establish a set of standards—for lighting, sound, picture, equipment—for performers to follow in producing the videos so each would have a professional quality. 

“But I also wanted to have the feature of someone interacting with an audience, because that gives the event a more intimate, organic feel,” Keohane added. “So the livestream will enable people to pose questions and make comments to which the performer can respond.”

Manus McGuire and Gerry O'Connor

Manus McGuire (left) and Gerry O'Connor will be featured in the Gaelic Roots' virtual "Lunchtime Series" this fall.

Even without pandemic-related travel limitations, tightened visa restrictions of recent years have made it increasingly difficult for some musicians from Ireland, Scotland, and elsewhere to tour in the United States. The Lunchtime Series thus offers a means for Gaelic Roots to host, albeit virtually, eminent traditional music performers it might not otherwise—and in a format that approximates the small-hall setting for which it’s known, said Keohane.

“It’s a way for us to honor these artists by giving them this special opportunity to share their music in a very personal way,” she said. “At the same time, we’re also continuing to give our Gaelic Roots community the chance to experience, and gain insights from, these outstanding performers.” 

McGuire has long championed Irish music and its many historical and social links with the U.S. He won the prestigious Fiddler of Dooney national fiddle competition at age 14, and has recorded 14 albums, including three solo fiddle CDs. He’s also performed and recorded as part of the band Buttons and Bows; their recording of “Inisheer” was used in the film “The Good Mother.” In addition to performing, McGuire has taught in the U.S.—including at the annual Swannanoa Gathering, one of America’s largest folk and traditional music programs.

O’Connor comes from a family with a strong musical legacy, having been taught by his mother, Rose, a descendant of three generations of fiddle players. He co-founded the well-regarded bands Skylark, Lá Lugh, and Oirialla, and has made 14 recordings; he’s also collaborated with other leading Irish music performers including members of The Chieftains, Planxty, The Bothy Band, and other groups. In addition to The Rose in the Gap, O’Connor compiled and published I Have Travelled This Country, a collection of songs by Cathal McConnell, a much-loved traditional singer from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. 

For details on the Gaelic Roots' Lunchtime Series, visit the University's Event Calendar.

Sean Smith | University Communications | October 2020