Tomáseen Foley's 'A Celtic Christmas'

One wintery night just before Christmas, neighbors from the parish gathered in a small farmer's cottage in western Ireland, bringing with them instruments, stories, songs and good cheer — elements of an impending Christmas celebration.

Irish storyteller Tomáseen Foley recreates such a night from his childhood in his show, "A Celtic Christmas." He began writing the narrative more than 12 years ago, but has developed it subtly over the years. The show incorporates music, dancing, singing and storytelling into a nostalgic scene of a good ol' Irish Christmas.

"My job is to take the audience back to the time and era and to the place," Foley said.

This year, Foley brought "A Celtic Christmas" to nearly a dozen states. His last stop will be Medford's Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, where the show has been featured for 12 consecutive years. This year's matinee and evening shows are at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22, at the Craterian, 23 S. Central Ave.

"I grew up in a time when the area was still very remote and a lot of the old traditions lingered on there ... when I left, I missed that very communal way of life," Foley said.

"Even in rural Ireland, where I'm from, (the traditions) are definitely dying out."

Foley seeks to revitalize those traditions through his stories and the music and dance of a talented four-person cast.

The scene is a "very simple cottage in the west of Ireland, and it's Christmas time," Foley said.

He relates the stories, told to him by his grandmother, to the audience. The stories are varied every year.

"I am kind of the man of the house, the emcee, and everyone else is kind of the neighbors gathering at the house and that includes the audience," Foley said. "We invite them to the house as neighbors."

The stories convey both the traditions and culture of Ireland, such as the candle in the window of the cottage.

"The candle in everybody's window created an aisle of light for the Holy Family as they pass through the parish on their way to Bethlehem," Foley explained.

He said families also were accustomed to leaving their doors slightly ajar so the Holy Family could enter in and rest along the journey.

Each member of Foley's cast was either born in Ireland or to Irish parents and is very familiar with Celtic music and dance.

New to the show this year, Marianne Knight, 25, is from Ballyhaunis in County Mayo in west Ireland. She plays accordion, the wooden flutes, whistles and the bodhran, a goatskin drum, as well as dances. She was the first Irish-born dancer to win the American Irish National Dance Competition and also has competed in the British, Canadian, All-Ireland and World championships.

"Tom discovered me singing on a YouTube clip," Knight said. "That goes to show you the power of YouTube."

Returning for the second year is world champion Irish dancer, Katie Linnan, 20. Linnan has competed in many major dance competitions throughout Europe and North America, including the All-Ireland-Oireachtas Rince Na hÉireann, the 2000 British National Championsips, the 2003 All-Scotland Championships and six World Championships. She also is an accomplished fiddler.

Brian Bigley, 25, has performed in "A Celtic Christmas" for four years. From age 8, he studied the traditional uilleann pipes, flute, whistle and low whistle with piper Michael Kilbane of Achill Island.

Bigley also is a renowned step-dancer and competed in the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland in 2002 and in Killarney, Ireland in 2003.

The music director and internationally-acclaimed steel-stringed guitarist, William Coulter won the Grammy's Best Pop Instrumental Recording in 2005 for his track in Pink Guitar, a solo guitar compilation of Henry Mancini tunes. He has recorded several Celtic and American folk albums and is "one of the most sought-after Celtic musicians," Foley said.

"A Celtic Christmas" incorporates a variety of Irish dances including sean-nós, which resembles clogging; modern Irish dance, which is similar to river dancing; chair dancing and broom dancing. The cast also will play Irish Christmas carols such as "The Wexford Carol" and "The Kerry Carol" and other traditional songs such as "Ned of the Hill," which depicts Ned, and Irish minstrel, trying to woo a woman.

"I suppose the reason we chose those songs is cause we wanted to rekindle the Irish, Celtic Christmas," Knight said.

Tickets to the matinee and evening performances are $29, $25 and $21 for adults and $19, $15 and $11 for youth.

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