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Eire Society cites O’Donovan’s ‘authenticity, artistry’

By BIR News Room, July 2, 2014

The Eire Society of Boston presented its annual Gold Medal Award to the well-known radio host and musician Brian O’Donovan at a reception and dinner on Thurs., June 12, at the Neighborhood Club of Quincy. He and his wife Lindsay live in Cambridge. They have four children: Aoife, 31, Ciaran, 29, Aidan, 27, and Fionnualam 21.

 Following are the text of the citation honoring a man who has spent the past four decades promoting Irish traditional music and other Celtic music in the New England region and excerpts from his remarks:

“Boston and America have benefited enormously from the spirit of adventure that has propelled scores of young men and women tour shores. They have enriched our culture, enlivened our talent base, and touched our communal soul with the full- throated vigor of the newly arrived.

“Our Eire Society honoree, Brian O’Donovan, has traveled that uncertain route, trod that path of striving and attainment. We have been the beneficiaries.

“From Clonakilty in West Cork he came fortuitously to Boston three decades ago to organize, entertain, and enlighten:  a joyously welcome amalgam of authenticity and artistry.

“O’ Donovan has leapt from success to success in two notable  and demanding careers. For a dozen years Brian held vital leadership positions for Kraft Sports ranging from chief operating officer, Stadium GM, vice president of the Patriots, to COO of New England’s Major League Soccer franchise, the Revolution.

“Heeding his heart, Brian extended his universe as the longtime host of WGBH’s popular weekly Celtic Sojourn, and on stage, he has operated in full flight as entrepreneur, performer, producer, talent scout, and musical tour guide, enthralling a generation of music lovers. His Christmas shows, now in their second decade, are a sparkling, multifaceted addition to the NewEngland holiday season that reflect splendidly on its creator.”

Brian O’Donovan: Thank you so much for having me here tonight.  It is truly and I mean this, honestly, an honor for me to stand here in this beautiful place, and to look and see so many familiar faces, I am genuinely humbled.

“And that humility comes from a variety of sources but chief amongst them is that I feel this honor tonight is really for Irish culture itself, and for me, yes, I accept it, but only as a simple messenger, maybe a curator, if you will, but just one such curator/messenger/advocate for a culture that is powerful, and enduring, and transcending of commercialism or faddishness.
“A culture that has survived the very real human challenges of famine, dislocation, brutal discrimination, forced emigration, prejudice in the new land – right here in America, right here in Boston – and the uphill struggle to assimilate.

“And yet, here we are tonight in our beautiful surroundings in Quincy not far from where Abigail Adams looked on with her family as Charlestown erupted in the flames of revolution on June 17, 1775.   Did she or her husband John envision at that point in history, that almost 250 years later, the Irish would have played such pivotal roles in creating what I believe strongly is one of the greatest cities in the world, certainly one of the best places to live.

“But it’s at times like these, we need to remember who we are and how we came to be, so Irish and proudly American.
“In his book “Irish Boston,” Michael Quinlan recounts the story of two Irish immigrants, each named Patrick Sullivan, who left their homes in the year 1847 and took passage to Boston.   One of them flourished here; the other perished.

“The Sullivan who survived had boarded the Unicorn in London in July 1847, and sailed into Boston that August. His only skill was dancing, so he set up a dance academy (to teach the girls and boys of his adopted city).  He married Swiss immigrant Adrienne List, a classically trained pianist, and they settled on Bennett Street in the South End, where the New England Medical Center is today.

“The other Patrick Sullivan spent his final days on this earth quarantined at Deer Island in Boston Harbor.  He died on Nov. 11, 1847, at age 33.  He was the 260th Irish immigrant to have died at the quarantine hospital after its opening on May 29 of that year.  He was one of nine Sullivans who died on the island between June and December 1847.

“In September 1856 Sullivan the dancer and his Swiss wife had a son whom they named Louis.  He went on to become the nation’s foremost architect and is regarded as the Father of American Architecture.

“But the Patrick Sullivan who languished on Deer Island is also part of our history. He was one of several hundred men, women, and children who suffered a sad, painful, lonely death at a quarantine station in a harbor 3,000 miles away from home.

“Fate has always had a hand in Irish history and it’s worth pondering what this Patrick Sullivan and the other Sullivans might have become had they actually made it to the Promised Land, which shimmered just five miles in the distance on the shores of America.

“Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican political leader of the early 20th century, said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”

The Eire Society – all of you as curators of this proud legacy we have as Irish – have kept this knowledge alive in the area for over 70 years. As you heard me say, I am just the messenger, maybe a curator.  In so many ways, you are also the messengers, the keepers of the flame.

“But in 2014, the Irish culture we celebrate is not backward.  It is not inward- looking.  Nor is it academic, to be dusted off now and then and analyzed.  Our literature – drama, poetry, fiction – is known the world over and a new crop of writers like Colm Toibin,  Emma Donoghue, Colm McGann, and Ann Enright continue to make impact in such an Irish way.   Our visual arts, film and video, our actors, like Michael Fassbender, and Colin Farrell, Irish singers with names like Samantah Mumba, and Laura Izibor, indicate just where we are in the home country, pulsing at the edge of Europe.

“No, our Ireland, our Irishness is open and invitational and celebratory.  It is in all of its forms, a narrative on who we are and where we have come from and a celebration of our being there, of our being here in America.  Its language is about sharing.   A traditional session in a kitchen or a pub, a festival in a field, a history lecture, a book reading , a short story re-discovered, a chorus of a song, a smile, a welcome, a poem from your childhood, a remembered proverb from your mother, a cup of tea with a friend in the old china.”

“There is a poem I have become very fond of from a poet who deserves to be read far more widely than he is:  Michael Coady, a retired teacher from Carrick on Suir.   He captures so much of my sentiments on the subject of music, its position as a balance in a broken world:

Though there are torturers in the world,
There are also musicians.
Though, at this moment,
Men are screaming in prisons,
There are jazzmen raising storms
Of sensuous celebration,
And orchestras releasing
Glories of the Spirit.
Though the image of God
Is everywhere defiled,
A man in West Clare
Is playing the concertina,
The Sistine Choir is levitating
Under the dome of St. Peter’s,
And a drunk man on the road
Is singing, for no reason.