Deep Oceans 

Theater company Celtic Nights shares a musical story of Irish immigrants.

click to enlarge Celtic Nights performs an evening of Irish step dancing and dramatic stories about 19th century immigration with Oceans of Hope. - GFD PROMOTIONS / PROVIDED
  • GFD Promotions / provided
  • Celtic Nights performs an evening of Irish step dancing and dramatic stories about 19th century immigration with Oceans of Hope.
In a month known for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Armstrong Auditorium in Edmond brings Irish culture to the forefront.

The auditorium offers Oklahoma audiences a night of Celtic music, song and dance when it welcomes Celtic Nights to Edmond for the first time March 11. March is celebrated as Irish-American Heritage Month in the United States and was first proclaimed in 1991.
The Celtic Nights tour tells the story of Irish immigrants around the globe, carrying their culture with them into new lands.

Armstrong Auditorium, 14400 S. Bryant Road, in Edmond hosts performances each year as part of the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation Performing Arts Series.

The Celtic Nights dance company performs its current program, Oceans of Hope, inspired by the diaspora of Ireland.

Through song, dance, music and narration, Oceans of Hope explores Irish immigration as people of Celtic origin moved across oceans to America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, fleeing war, persecution and famine, according to the Celtic Nights organization.

The show is produced by GFD Promotions of Ireland.

"We're delighted to be coming back to the States, where we have wonderful audiences, to tell the story of the Irish emigrant," GFD executive producer Michael Durkan told Broadway World.

Oceans of Hope is different from other Irish musical shows that the company has taken to more than 30 countries worldwide since 1997. It centers its music, dance and narrative on the specific historical theme of Irish natives who had to leave home during what was known as the Great Hunger or the Great Famine, though Americans might have heard it referred to as the “Irish potato famine.”

More than a million people died during the famine, and at least that many fled the country as refugees.

The famine was caused when a fungus-like organism ran roughshod over the potato crop in Ireland starting in 1845. A mix of political and religious reasons had led to the potato being the main source of food for most of Ireland’s population. The destruction of a huge percentage of the potato crop over the next seven years led to a famine of epic proportions, killing about 12 percent of Ireland’s population.

Those who escaped via immigration often faced discrimination and prejudice in their new lands.

In 1847 alone, over 37,000 Irish had arrived in Boston and over 50,000 more to New York, according to an article at DiscoveringIreland.com.

“Upon their arrival to the United States, the new immigrants were greeted by a government that was openly anti-Catholic, and signs advertising jobs also said "No Irish Need Apply,’” the article reads.

Despite this, Irish Americans became ingrained in American culture over the decades, with notable achievements in labor, politics and increasing the prominence of the Catholic Church in the United States.

“When addressing the themes we work with in our shows, there is always such a wealth of history to look back on,” singer Ciarán Olohan said in an e-mail interview with Oklahoma Gazette as Celtic Nights crossed the country on tour. “For such a small nation, Ireland has touched so many parts of the world. Our relationship with the United States is embedded in our shared history after such a huge portion of our population left our green shores and made the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean all those years ago.”

According to the U.S. Census, 34.7 million U.S. residents claimed Irish ancestry in 2010, the second most-claimed group behind only German ancestry.

“Fleeing starvation with few or no material possessions, they brought their music and song and tales of home as they spread out across the land, until there was not a corner they didn’t touch or leave their mark upon,” wrote Patricia Harty, author of Greatest Irish Americans of the 20th Century. “They became American. And, yet, despite their identification with the American way of life, they continue to have an interest in their Irish heritage and a sometimes poignant emotional connection to the land of their ancestors.”

Celtic Nights’ program reflects on those journeys. Ireland’s rich history gives the producers of the show many potential stories to pull from in crafting each year’s performance.

"Celtic Nights has been touring the states for a number of years. The development of the show comes with our accompanying themes that tell the story of our ancestors’ journeys to the four corners of the globe as a result of war, famine or poverty," Olohan said. "Celtic Nights has toured under several different titles such as Celtic Nights: Immigrants Bridge, Celtic Nights: Spirit of Freedom and this year's show, of course, Celtic Nights: Oceans of Hope."

Olohan hails from County Wicklow, Ireland, and was trained in Dublin under Philip O’Reilly at Royal Irish Academy of Music. This is his second year touring with Celtic Nights.

“Some of our performers have been with Celtic Nights in previous years,” Olohan said. “Rebekah Shearer and Emily O'Dwyer rejoin the cast yet again, but we welcome our newest female singer, Amber Sylvia Edwards, a Scottish performer who also performs in London's West End.”

Other new additions to the show this year are Irish tenor Mark Irwin and Irish actor Kevin C. Olohan.

Irish traditional music and other updates make Oceans of Hope a poignant, yet upbeat experience, Ciarán Olohan said.

“This year, we have updated our set list with more exciting dancing, some truly touching and heartfelt songs and some really toe-tapping Irish traditional music,” Ciarán Olohan said. “With some entertaining narration to bring it all together, it provides for a truly entertaining variety of talent. … Even if you are not of Celtic origin, don't be afraid to come to this show; it will leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.”

Visit armstrongauditorium.com.


Celtic Nights: Oceans of Hope
7:30 p.m. March 11
Armstrong Auditorium
14400 S. Bryant Ave.
armstrongauditorium.org
405-285-1010
$45-97
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