Audio, Music, People

Still Much to Celebrate: Celtic Woman’s Máiréad Carlin Reflects on New Album

Celtic Woman was scheduled to perform in Philadelphia toward the end of this month, but then—well, you know what happened. With the onset of the novel coronavirus, the tour was canceled, and so went our latest chance to take in one of the biggest and longest-lasting groups in world Irish entertainment.

Fortunately, we now have a new CW album: “Celebration: 15 Years of Music & Magic,” featuring the 15 performers who have comprised Celtic Woman over the years.

We recently interviewed Máiréad Carlin, a seven-year member of Celtic Woman from Northern Ireland, about the abrupt end to the tour, but—more to the point—the new album’s capacity for comfort in trying times.

Irish Philly: We were looking forward to seeing you in Philadelphia. Quite a disappointment, but understandable circumstances, I’m sure.

Máiréad: Absolutely. I mean, my goodness, I think it was a shock for everybody. The news trickled through the world. I think over the few weeks that we were out there and we genuinely didn’t realize the magnitude of what was about to come. And we really only find out ourselves the day before we announced that we were going to go home and have to postpone the tour. It was such a disappointment because for us, this is a celebration.

This is our celebration of 15 years of being around and never having canceled a show. Celtic Woman has never canceled a show in 15 years. So much hard work had gone into bringing this tour to everybody and we were just so sad to have to go home, and people were so looking forward to seeing the show.
But in these cases, my goodness, public health and safety is so much more important. And hopefully, I keep saying Celtic Woman has always brought music to people in their darkest times. So hopefully now they’ll be able to put on our music and feel solidarity together all around the world and have some hope.

Irish Philly: It’s really interesting you should bring that up. I was going to ask you about it. As it happens, I was watching an interview with Yo-Yo Ma about music and its power to speak to people in times like these. And I saw that interview and I thought ahead to this interview. And in some ways it really seems to me like your new album couldn’t have come at a better time. There’s a lot of hope in it.

Máiréad: There is. I put up a tweet the other day just saying, my goodness. Because I saw musicians all across the world cancel their tours and I saw independent musicians with their instruments on their backs flying home at JFK. And it just really got me thinking. So I put up a little tweet just saying, “I’m thinking about you all and we’re all in this together.” And an actor wrote to me and said that Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was in isolation from the plague. And for me I was like, “Wow, out of darkness there really does come light.” And music is that thing. It’s that universal language that speaks to people in their darkest times and their times of need and gives them that sense of, “We can get through this.” And right now everybody’s in their homes in isolation, so music is the one thing that they’re turning to, which is amazing.

Irish Philly: Sometimes I wonder why that is. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that musicians, or really good ones, have a sense of what people are feeling.

Máiréad: Yeah, we’re empaths. For the most part, we’re empaths. We feel things very, very deeply. And I think that’s why we connect with our audiences so much as well, is that we take on what they’re feeling. I know for sure whenever we’re in Celtic Woman doing Celtic Woman shows, the people that come to our shows are people that need to come away feeling moved. Need to come away feeling uplifted in some way, because that’s the kind of people that Celtic Woman attracts. And so we don’t take that lightly. So I know for sure that people that are putting on Celtic Woman’s music now are people that need that uplift.

Irish Philly: Well, they’re certainly going to get it from the new album.

Máiréad: I hope so. And that’s the thing, it’s a celebration. And in a way this is our chance to maybe take a step back and to really think about what’s important in life. And the songs on this album really do reflect that. So you’re so right, this album couldn’t have come at a better time because it gives people that little sparkle that they need.

Irish Philly: Well, how’s it feel doing part of that undertaking? I mean, for one thing, can you believe Celtic Woman has been on the scene this long?

Máiréad: No, it’s crazy. In one way I can’t believe it, in another way I can, because the people that have come through Celtic Woman speak from the heart and I do believe that if you sing and you tell truths, then people really relate to that. But honestly, 15 years, my goodness, no one could have predicted that. And to have such a small part in that legacy of Celtic Woman, I feel very honored and more so now. I think I had my appendix out when I was on tour in September and I had to go home. And that was the first time ever that someone has had to go home from tour. Of course, it would be me. And that gave me a little insight into how much Celtic Woman really meant to me, and this has given me a sense of that even more for all of us, we really are a such a community and such a family. This is our life, we love being a Celtic Woman and we love what we do.

Irish Philly: It made me think it’s kind of like a sisterhood.

Máiréad: Completely, as we say, that we’re the sorority of Celtic Woman.

Irish Philly: Well, this is quite a collection. Do you have any personal favorites or is that like asking a parent her favorite child?

Máiréad: The thing is, because this has been 15 years and there’s been 15 women over the 15 years, it’s so nice to see this collected all together on one album. And there’s loads of different songs on there, but obviously I have “I See Fire” on there, which was one of my favorite songs to record. “Danny Boy,” my goodness, how can I not say “Danny Boy?”—from my beautiful home town of Derry. That was the other name of the “Londonderry Air,” but of course “Dúlamán” as well. I mean how could you not go to “Dúlamán?” That’s one of the classics. But this is an album of all that and new, so it’s lovely to hear how the sound has progressed over the years as well.

Irish Philly: I was going to ask you about that, too. I mean, do you see any kind of theme that’s running through the album? Anything that binds together these 15 years of performing and recording?

Máiréad: I would definitely say, although you can hear the nuances between the different arrangements, there is always that common thread of honesty. When I’m looking at the set list here, I mean, “May It Be,” “You Raise Me Up,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Voice,” “Ave Maria,” “Danny Boy,” they’re all songs from the heart. They’re story songs, they’re songs that give people that sense of camaraderie and Irish people have a great way of telling a good story, and Celtic Woman always tells that from the heart. So I think that’s the common thread.

Irish Philly: Well, the one thing it shows me is that there’s always been a level of quality. There’s this really high bar, and no matter who happened to be on the stage at any given time, there was always that high bar and they always met those high expectations. That seems like a really hard thing to do. Have you thought about that?

Máiréad: Yeah, with Celtic woman, quality is key. We wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t putting out something of quality. That’s top priority for us, and the harmonies are so important that we get that blend right. And that’s why whenever we choose someone new that comes into the group, that is key, is being able to blend. And we never want to drop the ball. It’s so important that we keep up that standard. We have to face that 15 years ago it started with that standard, so why should we settle for anything less going forward? We are so privileged to be here 15 years later and we want to be here in 15 years’ time again. And the only way we’re going to do that is if we continue that quality.

Irish Philly: Well, it really shows on the album.

Máiréad: Oh, thank you so much.

Irish Philly: Do you think that this album shows any evolution any changes in musical choices or the nature of your performance?

Máiréad: I definitely do. I think looking back, in the very beginning it was incredibly beautiful, (but) it was also very still. We have a lot more movement in our show now and we’re a bit more active around the stage. And so that’s one change that’s happened. But also I think there has been a shift in maybe modernizing it a little bit more. When the group first started, there wasn’t social media, there was no interaction with the women really, unless you got a meet and greet. But now, we’re all online and you can message us and we can start stories on our Instagram and you can connect to us on a personal level. So that’s something that the group has experienced over the 15 years, a massive shift in that sense. You can actually access us, right there and then.

Irish Philly: Well, there’s a lot to be proud of, I would say being part of Celtic Woman and really part of this album.

Máiréad: I’m so proud to be part of Celtic Woman. I’m here seven years now, and that’s almost half the time that the groups been going. So to see the development over the last seven years, it’s been an absolute honor. And I’m just so grateful to be here and we genuinely cannot wait to get back on the road and finish what we started with this tour and more tours to come.

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