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'We can always tell when there's a strong Irish connection in the audience': Q&A with Celtic Woman singer Muirgen O'Mahony

Celtic Woman has released 18 albums. The latest is "Postcards from Ireland."
Donal Moloney
Celtic Woman has released 18 albums. The latest is "Postcards from Ireland."

Grammy-nominated ensemble Celtic Woman is on tour in the United States — and on Tuesday, the group makes a stop in the River City.

Celtic Woman performs at 7:30 p.m. at the Peoria Civic Center. Doors open an hour before the show and tickets are still available online.

The Irish music group formed in 2005 and is comprised of a rotating cast of female musicians. Celtic Woman blends traditional Celtic melodies with contemporary songs.

The group is currently touring its 18th album, "Postcards from Ireland."

Muirgen O'Mahony joined Celtic Woman last year. In an interview with WCBU's Hannah Alani ahead of Tuesday's show, O'Mahony describes her love for celebrating and preserving Irish language and culture ... at home, and abroad.

The following is a transcript of an interview that aired April 18 on "All Things Peoria." It has been edited for length and clarity.

Muirgen O'Mahony: On tour ... We seek out the Irish bars. It's actually so funny. I was only speaking to someone recently about [how] the St. Patrick's Day parades in the U.S. are so much more extreme than Ireland. ... And I love it. I just love ... the scale of which they're put on. It's just actually really lovely to really see the connection to Ireland throughout the U.S. It's actually really heartwarming.

Hannah Alani: Yeah. Peoria does have this really strong community of families who have Irish ancestry. The pride here for the Irish community and Irish heritage is really, really strong. How do you feel about that, coming from Ireland, and seeing that in the U.S.? How does that make you feel as a performer?

Muirgen O'Mahony: it's actually so unbelievable. And I really don't think, until this tour, I really got a full sense of how strong those connections really are. And getting to meet so many of the Celtic Woman fans and to see the response to what is basically an Irish culture show. I mean, there's nights when we perform, and I can see in the front row ... We're singing "Amazing Grace," or "You Raised Me Up," and people are just really emotionally moved by it. That might have been a song that they connect to some ancestors who emigrated. Or people who they've lost. ... There's a huge sense of connection and family amongst the audiences, and between Ireland and the U.S. I think that that has always been the way.

Celtic Woman member Muirgen O'Mahony poses for a photo during a Zoom interview with WCBU.
Celtic Woman member Muirgen O'Mahony poses for a photo during a Zoom interview with WCBU.

Hannah Alani: Yeah, it's it's pretty incredible here in Peoria. During our St. Patrick's Day parade, I got to meet a lot of families of Irish ancestry. They had their own floats ... and people knew where they came from. They knew it was County Cork or County Mayo or wherever it might be. So people really do try to try to keep those connections alive here.

Irish families, dancers and more celebrate Peoria's 40th annual St. Patrick's Day parade

Muirgen O'Mahony: Sometimes we do meet and greets before the shows, and I met a gentleman whose surname was O'Shea. And I said to him, "Do you have family from Cork?" And he said, "Yeah." And O'Shea is such a strong Cork name where I'm from. So it's funny that you can pick out words where they're from, depending on their surname.

... [This tour] is by far the biggest that I've ever done. It's just incredible. I hadn't heard of Peoria before. Now, I hadn't heard of so many different places that we've been to. But it's lovely to get to see places in America that I wouldn't otherwise ever have seen, to get to experience the culture and the people. It's an absolutely incredible experience. Overwhelming.

Hannah Alani: Yeah. You joined the group during the pandemic. What was that like?

Muirgen O'Mahony: For so many people the pandemic — I know personally amongst the performance industry — it was just a really uncertain time. And I myself found myself at a crossroads, where I wasn't sure if there was a future for me anymore in performing, because I had been going so long without that kind of work. And I was kind of considering other avenues. And then this opportunity came along, which kind of turned literally my whole world upside down. It's kind of one of those things where once you stop seeking something, then it kind of comes to you? It was it was one of those situations.

Hannah Alani: How many members how many original founding members are still in the group today?

Muirgen O'Mahony: So we have one of the original founding members. Chloë Agnew was there from day one. She joined when she was 14. She left for some time, and now she's returned. It's an honor for me to be performing alongside her because I remember myself as a teenager, I remember the beginning of Celtic Woman, and I remember watching her on TV. So to now have her as a friend and a colleague, it's just really special. It's just such an honor to be part of the Celtic Woman lineage, I suppose.

Hannah Alani: I love how the name of the group lends itself to an evolution of of members. Because it's not just one woman. It's multiple women. And like, the 'Celtic Woman' is is all of you.

Muirgen O'Mahony: That's that was kind of the ethos behind it. What makes up a 'Celtic Woman' are these different personalities and different, I suppose, these different traits. Each female member is their own person and character. And they bring something different to the group, which is also fantastic as a performer to have that kind of artistic license, and to get to kind of explore your own artistry in that sense as well.

Hannah Alani: Yeah, definitely. In preparing for this interview I listened to some Celtic Woman on Spotify, and I did pick up on the fact that there are a lot of songs in ... Gaelic, I assume?

Muirgen O'Mahony: Yeah.

Hannah Alani: Did you grow up speaking Gaelic? Tell me what it's like to actually sing in that language. And, and if you can speak to how prevalent the language is ... throughout Ireland?

Muirgen O'Mahony: I was really fortunate in that I went to an all-Irish speaking primary and secondary school until I was 18. I did all of my subjects through Gaelic. ... I did French through Irish, which sounds bizarre. So yeah. There are streamline schools ... so if I was speaking amongst my friends, I would have spoken in Irish. And there are specific schools who do cater to that.

It's funny, because I think now people, young people, are wanting to preserve it a bit more. When I was going through school there was kind of a bit of ... people were kind of a bit exacerbated by the fact that they had to speak Irish in school. But there are moves being made to preserve that a bit more now than even when I was I was in school. I would like to see more of it. It's something that I'm extremely proud of, and I'm so grateful now that I have it as a second language. I don't think I was grateful when I was 15, 16. But definitely, and especially, now that I get to have that really special part in Celtic Woman. One of my songs that I perform in the show is called 'Dúlaman,' which is a song through Irish. And it's actually a song I learned when I was quite young ... never really knowing the significance that it would hold in my life.

Celtic Woman has released 18 albums. The latest is "Postcards from Ireland."
Donal Moloney
Celtic Woman has released 18 albums. The latest is "Postcards from Ireland."

Hannah Alani: I also noticed that there are a lot of covers on some previous albums ... 'Scarborough Fair,' 'You Raise Me Up.' Are these covers of songs written originally by Irish artists? What's the significance of these songs?

Muirgen O'Mahony: A lot of them would be Irish artists, yeah. For example, the 'You Raise Me Up' rendition that we do is specifically arranged for Celtic Woman. I suppose that specific arrangement has been made famous by Celtic Woman. A lot of them would have Celtic origin. For example, 'Caledonia' is a Scottish song, originally. So it kind of tries to encompass, I suppose, Celtic music, as opposed to just specifically Irish. Which is also so great to be able to give that kind of music a platform of its own. That's something that I definitely am really passionate about and. ... Giving Ireland and Celtic music its own market, if you will.

Hannah Alani: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners here in Peoria ahead of the show?

Muirgen O'Mahony: Just that I cannot wait! I cannot wait. The reaction we've been getting from audiences so far has been absolutely incredible. And we can always tell when there's a strong Irish connection in the audience. So we're so looking forward to just getting to see all of you and share share more Irish music and Celtic music with everyone.

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Hannah Alani is a reporter at WCBU. She joined the newsroom in 2021. She can be reached at hmalani@ilstu.edu.