This weekend, the inaugural Celtic World Forum will bring together Celtic music enthusiasts, experts, and artists from around the world to explore and celebrate the rich and diverse traditions of Celtic music. Recently we spoke with event founder Eabha McMahon about the gathering.
What are your own roots?
My childhood was steeped in the Irish language. My Mother has always been incredibly passionate about the Irish language. We attended Irish schools and all of our extra curricular activities were also carried out in Irish, so essentially Irish was my first language growing up despite living in a predominantly English speaking area in Dublin. I started attending music classes in the local Comhaltas at a young age. Music was always my happy place, particularly traditional Irish music. I have always felt deeply connected to the stories of Ireland and I was fascinated by the stylistic ornamentation that could be heard in ‘sean nós’ singing. I began competing nationally at the age of twelve and quickly realised that singing gave me such a sense of fulfilment that even back then I began to contemplate it as a career. At age fifteen I began singing professionally with the world-renowned choral group Anúna and toured the world with them before turning eighteen. Music has always been so integral to my family; you will never find them leaving the dinner table without singing a song or two first!
How did the Celtic World Forum come together?
Like any creative idea, the Celtic World Forum has grown and transformed as a concept many times over the last three years. My manager Shane McDonnell and I have been discussing for years the idea of a new show that would showcase incredible Celtic talent on the world stage. The Covid pandemic certainly stalled any plans we had for that, and as the world emerged out of it a different place, especially the world of touring, we knew that we needed to rethink our concepts. I had always wanted to do something that had a creative and educational element to it but we both felt strongly that we wanted to create a unique event that would hold as much appeal for a music listener as it would for a music player. It was a hard balance to achieve but we are confident that we have that structure in place to achieve that now. The feedback has been amazing and every artist and speaker involved is as passionate as we are.
What is the event’s core mandate?
To be informative, inspiring, and entertaining. Those were the three key elements that we kept referring to as we developed the event, and to also ensure that would hold equally for all, whether you are a Celtic music listener or a musician or vocalist, either professional or keen amateur. Our aim is to provide a unique opportunity for attendees to engage with leading experts and artists in the field whilst immersing in the past and present of Celtic music and culture.
Who is expected to attend the gathering?
Our goal is to bring together Celtic music enthusiasts, experts and artists and anyone that has an interest in, or appreciation of, Celtic arts and culture. We want to provide an informative and enjoyable experience for those passionate enthusiasts and also provide invaluable insights for singers and musicians that perform in these genres, about the scale of the global audience for this style of music and ways in which they can introduce their talent around the world.
What can they expect to experience?
With Celtic music covering such a vast range of regions and styles, we decided with this event being the first of its kind in Ireland, that we would have an emphasis on Celtic music from an Irish perspective. We have some very interesting talks lined up on subjects from ‘The Role of Music in Celtic Identity’ and ’The Irish Myths & Legends’ to ‘The Instruments Of Celtic Music’ and ‘Sean Nos Singing’. Then there will be various workshops where people can choose to learn more in depth about a particular subject, instrument or technique. But above all there will be an incredible array of musical performances over the three days. Each daytime will end up with a Song Circle, where both Forum participants and attendees will be welcome to perform an acoustic or unaccompanied song in a wonderful outdoor amphitheatre setting. On each of the evenings we will host a full concert, each one themed differently to focus on a particular aspect of Celtic music. We have a host of Celtic talent to perform at these concerts. Three days where attendees can immerse themselves in Celtic music and feel very much part of a worldwide community.
Why is it an important event for the community there?
Whilst many people around the world always think of Ireland when they think of Celtic music, it may just be the only Celtic region that, until now, has not had an event that celebrates its worldwide interest. In the years I performed with Celtic Woman we performed sold out concerts in over twenty countries across six continents. It showed me how huge the interest for the type of music that I had grown up with was, all around the world, more so even than in my home country. We wanted this event to show the enthusiasts, musicians, and singers in Ireland that there is a global appreciation of Celtic music in all its many different forms and whichever form that takes is beneficial to all those creating music in Ireland. The Irish in particular have a long history of passing stories and music down through the generations. That to me is what lies at the heart of a great Celtic artist, music undefined by style but sharing a common ability to stir emotions in a listener through the words or notes of a song.
Why is it an important event for the Celtic community?
Sometimes people have a defined reason why they feel so connected to Ireland, through ancestry for instance. But above and beyond that, the music often resonates with people in all corners of the globe that have no familial ties to Ireland. Quite often in a Gaelic language they do not understand, yet somehow feel the exact emotion the song was written to convey. Even an instrumental piece can connect with someone on the other side of the world and bring a sense of peace, tranquility and a feeling of home to them without them ever realising why. We hope that by bringing people together for this Celtic World Forum it can help explore some of the reasons behind this phenomenon. Today more than ever, it is so important for people to feel that sense of community with others no matter what their geographical background, what they believe in or what they stand for.
Will this be a yearly event?
The hardest thing about putting together the program for this inaugural event has been trying to include all the various topics, artists, and styles that the world of Celtic music encompasses. So yes, we are certainly aiming to grow this as an annual event in Ireland. There are so many undiscovered artists here in Ireland that deserve to be heard around the world, and I know from my experience that there is a worldwide audience waiting to hear them. We are also exploring possibilities for creating a touring version of the Celtic World Forum that we could take overseas and host in other countries, as we realise there are many passionate enthusiasts that are unable to travel to Ireland for one reason or another.
From your perspective, what does it mean to be ‘Celtic’ today? And why does Celtic culture still matter (perhaps more than ever!)?
I feel being ‘Celtic’ may have different meanings to all those who claim it. To me it means a sense of pride in belonging to a community that shows great respect for its origins, traditions, arts and culture and an ever-evolving responsibility to pass those traditions on to the next generations. I believe a true person of the Celtic community needs to be open to all world cultures and should treat all equally, regardless of race, creed, or identity. They should have a deep appreciation of the entire world we live in and do what they can do to make it a safer place for future generations. From a musical side I am proud to be part of a community that creates what is in their hearts. As we cautiously approach a future of artificial intelligence, it is so important to preserve that sense of history, tradition, and humanity in the creative arts.