All roads lead to Canton for Irish Festival

JigJam's members have Trad Irish credentials, collectively earnng more than 20 All-Ireland titles at Fleadh Cheoil competitions.

Irrepressible, nationally renowned Celtic rock band Gaelic Storm will return to the Boston Irish Festival when the annual event takes place June 2 and 3 at the Irish Cultural Centre of New England in Canton. Also headlining the festival are bluegrass-folk-Irish performers JigJam from Offaly and Galway traditional band BackWest.
As always, Boston’s wealth of local music and dance performers will be well represented, and families and children will find plenty of activities and amusements during the weekend, including a special “living history” recreation of early 20th-century rural Ireland.

Gaelic Storm, which will close out the festival on June 3, has built a solid, loyal following through more than two decades of constant touring, the release of 13 albums and, most of all, a crowd-rousing mix of Celtic, country and rock/pop. The group – Steve Twigger, Patrick Murphy, Ryan Lacey, Pete Purvis, and Katie Grennan – has regularly placed at number one in the Billboard World Music albums chart and appeared on the same bill with such acts as the Zac Brown Band, the Goo Goo Dolls, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett, and at various events and venues including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Milwaukee’s Summerfest.
JigJam’s four members – Jamie McKeogh, Cathal Guinan, Daithi Melia, and Gavin Strappe – have considerable traditional Irish credentials, having collectively earned more than 20 All-Ireland titles at Fleadh Cheoil competitions. To this they add an appealing blend of bluegrass and Americana styles and a lively stage presence, not to mention dapper wardrobes – a combination that, along with their two albums, has brought them acclaim well beyond Ireland.
BackWest features P.J. McDonald (guitar, vocals, whistle), who has worked with luminaries such as Arty McGlynn, Cathal Hayden, and Seamie O’Dowd; the Browne siblings, Maureen (fiddle) – formerly with Arcady and the Alan Kelly Gang – and Brendan (accordion), whose resume includes a stint with “Riverdance” and as a trio with Maureen and famed bodhran player Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh; and Peter Vickers (bodhran, step dance), with vast experience in major stage productions including “Lord of the Dance.” Their repertoire includes many instrumentals and songs – “The Flower of Sweet Strabane,” “Nancy Whiskey” – from the heart of Irish tradition.
Other special festival guests will be Christian McNeill, a Derry-born singer-songwriter whose psychedelic folk-tinged alternative rock and soul has earned him two “Male Vocalist of the Year” Boston Music Awards; and Michigan-based progressive Celtic sextet The Founding, which integrates contemporary folk-rock and original material into its expression of traditional Irish and Scottish music.
Among the local performers will be multi-genre Devri and Boston’s Hanafin-Cooley-Reynolds branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which will hold a ceili mor open to all late Sunday morning. The O’Riley School of Irish Dance will present “In Harmony,” a performance of traditional Irish music and dance, while Erin’s Melody will host a “Ballroom of Romance.” ICCNE’s Friday night “regulars” will lead an open Irish music session on Saturday afternoon.
The ICCNE’s authentic Irish thatched cottage will be the setting for “An American Wake,” a recreation of life and times in Ireland of the early 1900s that evokes a fond farewell – with songs, dance, and music – to young emigrants seeking a new life across the sea. The cottage also will be a setting for demonstrations of old crafts and everyday tasks like baking Irish bread, thatching, making hay, tending farm animals, and burning turf. And, of course, there is conversation in Irish Gaelic, including at a “pop-up pub” that will be located next to the cottage.
Children can enjoy a petting zoo, face-painting, a visit with fairies TinkerBell and Zania in the Enchanted Forest, an Irish singalong and Irish dance workshop, arts and crafts, and even a Viking ship ride (for older kids). Festival admission is free for children under 12.
In addition, festivalgoers can get a look at popular Irish sports, as the Boston Gaelic Athletic Association hold hurling and Gaelic football matches on the expansive ICCNE campus.
Rounding out the festival attractions will be a food court and various vendors and exhibitors.
Further details and updates are available through the ICCNE website,
Our long tradition of bringing people to celebrate Irish culture and heritage continues this weekend at the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton. Our scheduling is different this year.
Saturday will feature a pre-concert festival from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday will be a full festival day with kid’s activities, events at the cottage, sports and two stages of music. This is a time where Irish music, art, song, food, language, sport, dance come together for a Celtic fusion for all ages to enjoy. There are many aspects to the festival:
The festibval will showcase some of Ireland’s leading new bands, including many genres. Our Irish-American performers bring us the best of Irish music cultivated here in the states. Bands traveling from Ireland for the festival include:
• Backwest, a traditional Irish music group out of Galway City holding a five star review from Irish Music Magazine. The troupe has been aptly classified as ‘innovative’ and ‘thrilling.
• JigJam is a multi-award winning quartet from the heart of the Irish Midlands that blends the best of traditional Irish music with Bluegrass and American in a new genre that has been branded as ‘I-Grass’ or “CeltGrass.” Described by Irish American News as “The Best Irish Group in Bluegrass so far.”
June 3 Headliners
• Gaelic Storm is back in Canton where once again they will no doubt deliver a foot-stomping, eclectic mix of tunes that has established the band as one of world music’s premier live acts. With their energetic mix of Irish and Scottish traditional fare, drinking songs, and playful original material, this group will certainly present a blazing Celtic-inspired rock ‘n roll show, and one not to be missed.
• The Founding is a progressive Celtic band from Michigan. Writes Local Spins: “This sextet has been expeditiously carving out a name for itself since forming in early 2015 and has already played its way up bills at top-tier Irish music festivals around the region.”
• Christian McNeil, born and raised in Derry, Ireland, is a mighty force of psychedelic folk-tinged alternative rock and soul. A New Englander of the past 21 years, he is a multi-Boston Music Award winner, taking home “Male Vocalist of the Year,” two years running in 2011 and 2012.
Also featured will be Devri, Erin’s Melody, Ceoltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, and an array of local Irish trad musicians all weekend long.
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Take a stroll back in time to the West of Ireland and to the Irish country lifestyle from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Join us as we dress as if we were in this time period and become a part of the experience as we remember the traditions and folklore of that era. From the sight of cut turf, to the smell of fresh hay to the sound of farm animals, to old Irish crafts on display, take a trip with us to Ireland of old.
11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
All day tours inside the Irish cottage with demonstrations of bread making, knitting & crochet, butterballs, craft making (including a harvest knot & St. Brigid’s cross). Learn the traditions, history, and folklore associated with a typical Irish cottage. Let the kids take turns kneading bread. Information provided courtesy of the Museum of Country Life, Castlebar Co. Mayo.
Around the cottage: Learn about the sugan, watch as one of our “farmers” (and maybe the kids!) rakes the hay into a cock of hay. Touch some turf, sit into a currach (old Irish fishing boat). Learn a little about the history of Irish farming life courtesy of information provided courtesy of the Castlebar Museum.
A thatching demonstration: Collin McGhee, thatcher extraordinaire who actually thatched our Irish cottage, will be on hand with a display of his thatching instruments, materials and miniature thatched cottage. Kids and adults can try their hand working on the weave. See
1:30 – 3:30
An American Wake. Thirty minute reenactments will take place during this period. Stop by and wish the young emigrants farewell as they get ready to leave for America (and usually never return). Have a drink, have a chat, dance a set outside the old cottage. Become part of the show, don your britches and scally caps, or your hair fastener or favorite shawl and come dance the siege of Ennis with our actors. Featuring Irish dancers from the Harney Academy of Irish dance.
Tent is open from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
All day events include: Arts & Crafts. Face painting. Balloon twisting. Free dance.
Art competition – three age categories/ $50 first prize / $25 second prize.
Noon to 2 p.m. – STEM with Sheila Hume
4 p.m. – Sing-along with Michael Maloney
5:15 p.m. – Irish dance performance followed by an Irish dance workshop
Outside the tent
• Photo op and visit with “Blades” from the Bruins; photo op and visit with “Wally” from the Red Sox.
• A petting zoo.
• Touch a truck.
1:30 – 3:30
Visit our enchanted forest and meet “Tinker Bell & Her Fairy Friend” (actors). They will sing songs and tell stories. A train ride around the premises. Rides on a Viking ship and a fire engine.
Ship Ride & kids Fire engine carousel
Tug O’War – make a team on the day.
Viking Irish – Some 30 Vikings dressed in costume will camp out on one of our fields and re-enact a battle
Pop Up Irish pub – Features an Irish-speaking bartender and musicians. There’ll be signs to help you say a “cupla focal.”
Fine Arts: Six Boston Irish dancing schools will strut their stuff upon the stage.
Genealogy – Free mini-consults.
Tea House: If you haven’t tasted one of Mary Walsh’s scones or Bridie’s brown bread, you are in for a delightful treat.
Boston GAA will have five gaelic games on during the day on Sunday. Ladies and men’s games. Football and hurling
Early bird: Saturday $10 / Sunday $15. Children under 12 free.
Pre-festival concert in the ICC Marquee Tent & Patio.
3 p. m. – 4:15 p.m.: Open session with our Friday night musicians
4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.: Dance drama by the O’Reilly School of Dance
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.: The Founding
8:30 p.m. –10:30 p.m.: Backwest from Galway City
At the ICC Marquee Tent & Patio
10 a.m.: Mass followed by am Irish breakfast in the first-floor function room
11:30: Ceili Mor with Ceoltas Ceoltoiri Eireann
2:30: Devri.
4:45: Ballroom of Romance with Erin’s Melody
On the Main Stage
1 p.m.: Backwest
3:15: JigJam
5:15: Christian McNeil
6:30: Gaelic Storm.