It was 20 years ago that the Helix Theatre in Dublin hosted an event that would spark the quartet sensation, Celtic Woman.

“One little, small idea long ago has flourished into this beautiful thing,” says Mairéad Carlin, once-and-current soprano for the troupe. “The founder, Dave Cavanaugh, had a pretty grand idea to put together a group of women – and people often ask, why is it called Celtic Woman, and not Celtic Women? I think that is a really interesting question, because not many people know the actual answer. But I did ask him one night, and he said he wanted something from each of those women to come together and make the quintessential Celtic woman.”

As per Cavanaugh’s original vision for the ensemble, Celtic Woman isn’t your typical band with core members – without whom the group would simply cease to be. Instead, different performers have come and gone over the years and – like Carlin – each has brought something unique to the table, but in the end, coming together to create the unified sound that they are known for.

“We all embody what it is to be a true Celtic woman. And so, it’s not a collective, we are very much an individual when we come together.”

For Carlin, joining Celtic Woman was a second chance at a career she thought was taken from her too soon.

“I only ever want to see this group shine, because it changed my life,” notes Carlin, who hails from Derry in Northern Ireland. “I got signed when I was 21 to a very famous record label, and I made an album. This was my big chance, but they made the record, and then shelved the record about two weeks before release. Obviously, my dreams were shattered. I had sort of lost that real passion that I have for music.

“About six months later, Celtic Woman called to say, ‘would I be interested in coming to audition?’ And that was the moment I realized that second chances really do happen. They gave me the joy of music back.”

That was in 2013, and Carlin would spend the next eight years touring with Celtic Woman, until the COVID pandemic hit in 2020 and she saw an opportunity to take a needed reprieve from stage life.

“With a 92-show run, it can be hard to bring that energy every night. But we feel a sense of duty to the people that come and see us perform. I certainly know for myself that if I go out and I give three quarters of a performance, I’m not giving the people in the audience their due.

“I would sooner wear myself out and be completely on the floor and know that I gave everything, because everybody matters.”

“If I am being totally honest, I felt a little bit emotionally burnt out, probably because of that reason; I leave nothing on the table like when I go out to perform. I think I actually just needed a little break. I thought that would be a perfect moment to maybe step away for a couple of years and allow my body and my brain to recoup.”

Thus, Carlin passed the torch, as the torch had been passed to her by Chloë Agnew so many years back and spent some time for herself to recuperate By the time Celtic Woman’s producers approached her about returning for the 20 year anniversary, Carlin hadn’t just recuperated – she was reinvigorated.

“When the anniversary came around and they asked me to come back, I bawled my eyes out crying. I was like, yes, I would absolutely love to! It was weird how things happened. I just feel like I had my little break, and it was perfect, and it was just enough. I know I have all of myself to give again.

The 20th Anniversary Tour ready to take North America by storm in 2024. Their first stop was where it all began, however.

“To go back to that very venue – the Helix Theatre in Dublin – where that little idea started, it was very emotional,” Carlin recounts. “The big surprise for everybody was that they brought back four of the original members. We had Lisa Kelly, Chloë Agnew, Mairéad Nesbitt, and Méav Ní Mhaolchatha. They all had an individual solo and then, at the end, we all joined together and sang You Raise Me Up.

“It was emotional, I’m not going to lie. I was a blubbering mess, and I’m already a bit of a crier anyway when it comes to being on stage and sharing it with incredible people. That for me was probably the highlight of my career, because I was a fan of Celtic Woman before I joined them. It was a real pinch-me moment. When you decide to leave Celtic Woman, it’s almost like you’re passing the baton, and they did that for us. So, to share the stage with them was a really beautiful thing I’ll never forget.”

The big event was filmed for a TV special that’s air across 60+ PBS affiliates across the nation, as well as go on sale on DVD and as an album in early 2024.

“We actually watched it last week; we had a sort of premiere. We went to a little cinema in Dublin, we had our popcorn, and I cried from the start to the finish. It was so emotional.

“But I have to tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of a special as I am of this one. It’s magical. There is a strong blend of old and new. It’s almost like an acknowledgement of the past, and a look to the future – like the next wave of Celtic Woman. There is life in us yet.”

With some dates already under their belt at the end of 2023, the next series of shows begin in February, which will keep Carlin and her Celtic Woman cohorts Muirgen O’Mahony, Tara McNeill, and newest member Emma Warren, busy travelling across America, sharing their love of music, until the end of May.

“I hope that this group continues for 100 more years. I am likely not going to be around to see it, but I want people to be changed by their music forevermore. I fully believe that we have a duty as artists to pass on what we have – after all, music isn’t for keeping, it is for sharing.

“For me, the audience is the fifth member of Celtic Woman,” she adds. “To be standing here 20 years on and to continue the legacy that is Celtic Woman, we wouldn’t be doing it without the people that have followed our music throughout that time. So, we really do owe them a lot.”