Songs of Ireland: PBS Documentaries Celebrate Irish in Music

Hob Clancy

By Kara Rota, Contributor
April / May 2010

PBS is celebrating March and St. Patrick’s Day with a series of Irish music specials and documentaries, exploring the history of Irish music in America and offering fantastic in-concert footage of some of Irish music’s all-stars.

The performance documentary Music of Ireland – Welcome Home, premiering nationwide on PBS stations in March, is narrated by Grammy Award-winning Moya Brennan of Clannad and features interviews and performances with some of the most influential musicians in contemporary Irish music. Beginning in 1960 with the Clancy Brothers, the film is touchingly dedicated to the late Liam Clancy. Vintage television clips are interspersed with in-depth interviews between Brennan and artists as wide-ranging as Sinead O’Connor to Pete Seeger, Larry Kirwin to Bono. Bob Geldof, Malachy McCourt, Paddy Moloney, Donal Lunny and many other influential figures in the history of Irish music make appearances and try to explain the “X Factor” of Irish music: the part that comes from “deep down in some well of understanding,” capturing the singularity and universality of human emotional experience.

Liam Clancy’s words are particularly moving as he reflects on the place of popular music in Irish-American life towards the end of his own.

He discusses the Famine roots of Irish music, saying, “People who had nothing carried with them the only thing that was portable and could not be taken from them, and that was song.”

Moya Brennan shares her childhood memories of growing up with music in a big family in the countryside, sharing her gift with many of her siblings including Irish superstar Enya. “We were exposed to more music than the average family,” she says.

Music of Ireland – Welcome Home covers the New York Greenwich Village music scene in the 1950s and takes viewers through the explosion of Riverdance through the reflections of Bill Whelan and Michael Flatley, Van Morrison’s impact in embracing the work of American artists, the resurgence of Irish traditional music reinvented by bands like Thin Lizzy and the Pogues, and many other seminal moments.

Three PBS Irish concert specials are also premiering this March. Celtic Thunder: It’s Entertainment! is a new musical revue spanning six decades of the singing sensation Celtic Thunder. It premieres March 9 and includes both old classics and contemporary hits, accompanied by nine sensational dancers.

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling: An Irish Parade of Stars takes viewers through the 1950s and 1960s with rare footage of performers including Maureen O’Hara, Rosemary Clooney and The Dubliners. Hosted by Academy Award-winning actress Patty Duke and written by actor and author Malachy McCourt, the special is a trip down memory lane. It premiered in the beginning of March.

The third PBS special, The Priests in Concert at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, premieres March 7 and showcases the voices of the three clergymen from Northern Ireland who became a worldwide phenomenon. Backed by sponsors including Barnes & Noble and Tourism Ireland, all of these specials and documentaries promise to offer history, great performances and the joy of Irish music to lifelong fans and new listeners alike. Check your local listings to make sure you don’t miss them.

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