And For All, a Very Good Night Indeed

Guitarist Seán McElwain, in "wren boy" guise.

Guitarist Seán McElwain, in "wren boy" guise.

If you weren’t in the holiday mood before the Irish Christmas in America concert Saturday night at the Irish Center, then you would have to have been made of stone not to be full of the yuletide spirit afterward.

Holiday or not, it would have to have been a deeply satisfying experience for lovers of Irish traditional music. The core of the band consisted of three members of the supergroup Téada: fiddler and producer Oisín Mac Diarmada, Seán McElwain on guitar and Tristan Rosenstock on bodhrán and serving as the show’s narrator. Singing and playing flute and whistle was Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, lead singer of yet another supergroup, Danú. Rounding out the ensemble was local favorite, harper Gráinne Hambly and the superb uilleann piper Tommy Martin.

Joining the band from time to time on stage were two fine dancers from the great Irish state of Texas, Abbey Magill and Siena Hickey.

Surely, all that A-list Irish entertainment on one stage would have to be enough to melt even the iciest of hearts on this, the iciest of nights.

The show, presented by the Philadelphia Ceili Group, artfully blended the Christmas traditions of Ireland and America—including one all-too-brief appearance by the “wren boys” (Oisín, Seán and Tristan in the guise of the costumed merry-makers who hit up their friends and neighbors for food and drink on December 26, the feast of St. Stephen, an age-old Irish tradition.

The musicians also blended some familiar tunes and sets from their own work, such as a set of jigs from Martin’s “Shady Woods” CD (“Wallop The Spot,” ”The Leg of the Duck” and “Temple Hill,” accompanied by McElwain) and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s latest release, “Fainne An Lae : Daybreak” (“The Emigrant’s Farewell,” accompanied beautifully by Martin) and “An Spealadóir,” accompanied by everybody). Nic Amhlaoibh and Martin also paired up later on for a memorable whistle duet.

The regular performance closed out with Nic Amhlaoibh singing “Silent Night” in Irish, and then leading the audience in a verse in English. The band had time for precisely one killer encore before packing up the minivans and driving down to Charleston, West Virginia, in the freezing rain for a 3 p.m. performance on Sunday. (Anyone who thinks this sounds like fun is nuts. For all that, they stuck around and graciously spent time chatting with members of the audience, posing for pictures and signing autographs.)

Still, I could just swear I heard them exclaim, ere they drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

If you missed it, don’t worry—we shot some photos.

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