A holiday season concert to aid Greek island refugees

Robbie O’Connell and Rose Clancy will perform a benefit concert in Watertown.

A local holiday-themed event coming up in early December offers a very desirable combination: great entertainment to help support a worthy cause that is inspired by one person’s good works.

Legendary Irish singer-songwriter Robbie O’Connell and Cape Cod fiddler Rose Clancy will present “A Celtic Christmas Concert” on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. at The Ancient Order of Hibernian Hall Division 14 of Watertown, 151 Watertown St. Partial proceeds will benefit the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT), an NGO group of volunteers that assists refugees who are currently housed on the Greek Islands.

The concert’s organizers cite Sister Lena Deevy, LSA, the now-retired founder of the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston, as a guiding spirit for the event. They note Irish President Michael D. Higgins’s description of her tireless work in Boston and in Ireland as “small acts of kindness, unseen but with profound effect.” 

In a similar vein, the organizers hope that their fundraiser will help make a difference to families and individuals being assisted by CESRT. While the intense media coverage of the refugees’ plight in the Greek Islands, as elsewhere in Europe, has receded, the situation is still desperate, the organizers point out: The refugee camps are crowded, with mostly canvas shelters, and the people in them have little or nothing. CESRT provides basic food, water, dry clothing and toiletries, and is trying to arrange schooling for the children in the camps. The response team also is accepting applications for volunteers who can self-fund their travel for minimum two-week rotations and for teachers with credentials who can commit two months of time to work with children [more information is available at gofundme.com/ShareTheJourney].

An appeal for kindness and generosity certainly seems appropriate for a Christmas concert, especially where it involves O’Connell, whose portfolio includes original songs (“American Lives,” “Full Moon Over Managua,” “Land of Liberty”) that remark on compelling world events and social issues in eloquent, contemplative fashion – his passion and empathy clear, but not excessive. Likewise, when it comes to singing about the Christmas season, O’Connell prefers to dwell on simple, intimate yet fulfilling joys.

“Growing up, Christmas was all about family, and getting together to enjoy the company,” says O’Connell, a Waterford native whose mother was part of the famed musical Clancy family of Tipperary – he toured for 19 years with the Clancy Brothers and later with Liam and Donal Clancy and Aoife Clancy; he’s also played as a member of Green Fields of America. “As a kid, it was very exciting to stay up late and have all these things to do, like go to midnight Mass and then visit relatives and friends. That’s the atmosphere I try to recreate in these Christmas concerts.”

O’Connell likes to evoke old traditions and customs by, for example, singing “Hunting the Wren” and “Don Oíche úd i mBeithil (That Night in Bethlehem)” or reciting from Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Yet there is ample room for jocularity amidst the reverence of Christmas, he says.

“You have to have a bit of humor, or things can get a bit too somber. That’s why I like to sing something like ‘The Charladies Ball’ [a music hall song written by Harry O’Donovan and Eva Brennan that was made popular by Jimmy O’Dea] or Frank Horn’s ‘Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake,’ which has some great lyrics: ‘There were caraway seeds in abundance/Such that work up a fine stomach ache/That could kill a man twice after eating a slice/Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake.’ It’s fun to have people sing along on that – if they can keep from laughing.”

O’Connell, who’s been doing Christmas concerts for the better part of two decades, has enjoyed making the musical and personal acquaintance of Clancy – who comes from a different, but equally musical, Clancy family. Born and raised in New York, she made a career change at 42 and enrolled at the North Bennet Street School to learn violin-making. In 2011, she opened The Chatham Fiddle Company, where she makes violins and hosts concerts.

“Rose is a fabulous musician, just a great personality, and is wonderful with tunes as well as songs,” says O’Connell.

Even as he fosters a home-spun ambience, O’Connell likes to point out the global dimensions of Christmas. “I wrote a song a few years ago that’s based on a fragment of a Catalonian version of ‘Carol of the Birds.’ From what I can tell, it seems that all cultures have a ‘Carol of the Birds’ – it’s a reminder of how, in spite of our differences, there are things that unite peoples of the world.”

Tickets are $20 with advance reservations, $24 same-day, $16 for seniors (age 65 and over). Reservations for the concert are highly recommended: Call Connie Koutoujian at 781-899-3140 and leave a message for a call-back.