Rekindling the Flame of Our Ancestors: A Celtic Christmas
Southwest Ireland in the 1950s was a region largely devoid of televisions, cars, or even telephones; an information island. Growing up during this time for Tomáseen Foley meant taking in the enchanting oral storytelling of anyone who could tell a tale.
Sunday, December 23, Foley will perform “A Celtic Christmas,” a production celebrating the spirit of the holidays. “In our remote part of the world, in the days and weeks before and after Christmas, but especially during the twelve days of Christmas, the neighbors would gather at each other’s homes to sing songs, play music, dance and, especially, to tell stories,” he says. “These were unplanned, spontaneous communal gatherings. Our show, ‘A Celtic Christmas,’ is an attempt to recreate the spirit and joy and innocence of those communal nights.”
This show has traveled to the Rogue Valley during the Christmas season for over 20 years. “We first began performing the show at the Ashland Community Center in Ashland twenty-four years ago,” he says. “Stephen McCandless, Executive Director of the Craterian, took a chance on us and invited us to try it at the Craterian––and we’ve been performing there ever since. Stephen has been a loyal and devoted supporter of the show throughout that time.”
This year’s show welcomes a new addition to the performers: Eimear Arkins. “She is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and dancer from County Clare, in the west of Ireland,” Foley says. “She holds eleven solo All-Ireland ‘Fleadh Cheoil’ titles and has competed in all-Ireland, European and World Dance Championships. She has toured with ‘Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’ throughout Ireland, Britain, and North America, and represented Ireland in France at ‘Rennes Expo’; in Spain in ‘La Noche Negra,’ in Shanghai, China at ‘World Expo 2010,’ and in Milan, Italy at ‘World Expo 2015.’ ”
The show is full of talented and well-known performers, such as Alyssa Reichert, who recently toured China with Riverdance, Grammy Award-winning Music Director Brian Bigley, and flute/whistler Marcus Donnelly.
Foley shares that the show’s biggest challenge is coming up with the necessary funds to finance the country-wide tour for seven people. On the other hand, he says the greatest rewards “are those magical nights when everything comes alive, more-or-less exactly as I had imagined it might twenty-five years ago, when the audience is so tuned into the show you feel they’re breathing with you.”
The show’s tour kicks off in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Nov. 29 and ends at the Craterian Theatre, which consistently impacts Foley the most. “Those two final shows of the tour are almost always the most emotional for me,” he expresses. “Partly because they’re the final shows of the tour, but also because I know that most people in the audience have been to show many times before, some ten times or more, and there arises that communal feeling that was the original inspiration for the show.”
When it comes to explaining the importance of telling his ancestor’s stories, he quotes Carl Jung: “To live without knowledge of your ancestors is to live with a wound.” While we may look back at our ancestors with disapproval of lives devoid of technology, we all are our ancestors in some way.
“Like it or not, we are all, each one of us, just a wave that rises up from the ocean of our ancestors, and in a frighteningly short period of time we sink back down again into that ocean of ancestors,” he says.“We become one of them––we are one of them. It used to be thought, and taught, in Ireland in the old days, that if you didn’t honor your ancestor, they wouldn’t make you welcome when you go to join them.”
Foley and everyone else involved in the show honors their ancestors through Christmas spirit and true holiday cheer.
A Celtic Christmas
3 and 7:30 pm, Saturday, December 22
Craterian Theatre, 23 S Central Ave, Medford
$32 – $38