Robbie O’Connell, born in Ireland, has become a well-known folk musician in the United States, and calls Bristol home.
Robbie visited the United States a couple of times before deciding to marry and move here. “I came out as a student at college in Dublin, then I came back out again, met Roxanne and fell in love,” he says. The couple lived in Massachusetts for 25 years, raising four children before moving to Bristol. Although Robbie has spent less time in the East Bay area, it’s closer to his heart. “I feel much more at home now,” he explains. “It’s relaxing living by the water. It’s also brighter here; Ireland can be overcast or raining for weeks at a time.”
Robbie and his cousin Aoife (pronounced “Eefa”) Clancy will be presenting a Celtic Christmas concert at Linden Place in Bristol December 19. Robbie and Aoife are both internationally acclaimed folk musicians and singers who have toured extensively in this country and abroad.
Robbie has performed on a few occasions before at Linden Place, including a similar concert last December. Robin Tremblay, office manager at Linden Place, commented on last year’s holiday event. “Robbie brings in the crowds for his concerts,” she says. “Last year we had over 75 people, and there were lots of compliments. People came from all over, not just Bristol.” The concert at Linden Place will include traditional songs from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, plus a few Christmas songs familiar to most in the United States. The event will also feature spoken stories interwoven with the music.
When asked if he has a favorite song, Robbie says it changes all the time. Often a new traditional song he is learning or one he has recently written becomes a current favorite. He writes songs about peace and war and relationships, some serious, some humorous, but often keeping to the style he learned as a lad. “I like to write in the tradition. My preference is to write something that sounds like it’s a couple of hundred years old.”
Robbie returns to his native Ireland for at least a couple of months every year. He and Roxanne began Celtica Music & Tours 19 years ago. ”It’s a music and culture tour, we take them off the beaten path,” he explains. Roxanne is a professor at Roger Williams University and cannot always visit Ireland because of her academic schedule, so Robbie’s sister, Alice, and her husband, Sean Rattigan, a fiddle player, help lead the tours. Celtica Music & Tours began with one tour a year, now Robbie also plans and leads a tour yearly for WGBH. The traveling gives him the opportunity to stay connected to his native country. “We still have lots of friends and relatives there, and I love the landscape there.”
Celtic Christmas Concert: 7:30pm. December 19. Linden Place, 500 Hope Street, Bristol. Tickets should be reserved in advance by calling the museum at 401-253- 0390.