Irish Concerts by John Doyle and Danu Touch on Immigration and the Longing for Home

John Doyle and Duncan Wickel
Renowned Irish guitarist and songwriter John Doyle has long written Irish-style tunes inspired by history. In his latest CD, Shadow and Light, Doyle, who plays at Pima College West Saturday night with fiddler Duncan Wickel, zeroes in on the great Irish immigration to America in the 19th century.

Echoing the travails of today’s beleaguered immigrants, his song “Liberty’s Sweet Shore” laments the immigrant’s fate, telling of a journey in a coffin ship, sailing “on an ocean of tears.” The chorus evokes the loss of home: “We left all we know/to this new life we’ll go.”

Another tune, “Clear the Way,” recounts the true-life Civil War exploits of the Irish Brigade, led by the legendary Thomas Francis Maher.

Born in Dublin, Doyle is familiar with contemporary immigrant life—he’s spent many years living in the U.S., in Asheville, home of southern traditional music. But he hasn’t lost his Irish charm. In his frequent stops in Tucson (this is his fifth local concert), he’s showed off his gift of gab, spinning hilarious yarns about Ireland, including a memorable one about his aged grandparents riding a motor scooter through their village.

Doyle is also an extraordinary guitarist. A founding member of the Irish-American band Solas, he’s now a solo artist who’s played with most of the greats of today’s Irish music scene, including Eileen Ivers, Liz Carroll and Mick Moloney. On his last stop in Tucson, he was joined by singer Karan Casey. This time he shares the stage with Wickel, a Boston multi-genre fiddler who is as comfortable in jazz and classical music as he is on old Irish ballads.

He and Doyle will perform many of those traditional songs. Doyle grew up in the music, going to pubs with his father and brothers to hear his grandfather on the accordion.

As Doyle once said, “I was a folk nerd from way back.”

Danú: Féile Na Nollag: A Christmas Gathering
The Irish still practice some of their old Christmas customs, even in its post-Celtic Tiger, high-tech era. The Wren Boys still go around from house to house on Wren’s Day, the day after Christmas, and community choirs still sing in the squares.

But a tradition that spans both old times and the new is the Christmas Return, when Irish exiles come back home. Before it became an internet giant, Ireland’s economy was best known for exporting its labor to points all over the globe. At Christmastime, Irish airports are crowded homesick emigrants returning to the homeland from around the world. And the tradition of gathering family at home on the big day is still going strong, with the returned wanderers getting
Irish super-group Danu celebrates the cozy holiday in an extravaganza of Christmas music, song, story and dance next Wednesday at Centennial Hall. The dancing is courtesy of the kids from Tucson’s Maguire School of Dance. The rest is courtesy of the six-member band, who hail from Irish counties Waterford, Cork, Dublin and Donegal. Now clocking 22 years together, they play a multitude of instruments from fiddle, flute and guitar to button accordion, bodhran and uillean pipes.

New to the band this year is lead singer Nell Ní Chróinin, who grew up in the Irish-speaking community of Múscraí in West Cork. Singing in both Irish and English, she delves into the old sean-nós songs of this region. She’s young but has already picked up some prizes, including TG4 Traditional Singer of the Year.

Singer-songwriter John Doyle performs with fiddler Duncan Wickel at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at Pima College West Center for the Arts Proscenium Theater, 2202 W. Anklam Rd. Advance tickets $20 adults, $18 seniors and students; $3 more at the door. Advance tickets at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave., and The Folk Shop, 2525 N. Campbell. 981-1475;

Danu: Feile Na Nollag: A Christmas Gathering, a concert by the Irish band Danu, with dancing by performers from the Maguire School of Dance, takes place at 7:30 p.m., Wed, Dec. 7, at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd on the UA campus. Tickets $20 to $55, with discounts for students, faculty, seniors and military. Available at the box office (phone: 621-3341) or at or 800-745-3000 for a service fee of $5.