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Acclaimed Singer-Songwriter and RTE Radio One Award Winner Performs His Epic Song Cycle with an 8-piece Folk/Trad Ensemble at Irish Arts Center (February 7-10)

Additional Dates in Chicago, Kansas City, Lancaster, PA, and Elkin and Asheville, NC

“O’Rourke mines the darkest corners…of the Irish famine with a sensitivity that animates a raft of highly personal stories.” The Irish Times

Irish Arts Center (IAC), a multidisciplinary center dedicated to bringing people of all backgrounds together through the excellence and dynamism of 21stcentury Irish arts and culture, announces a multi-city series of performances of Declan O’Rourke’s epic song cycle Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine. Released in 2017 and winner of a 2018 RTE Radio One Folk Award, Chronicles is an empathic portrait of the forgotten, and a vivid musical evocation of Ireland through the incomprehensible hardship of the Great Famine.

This poignant song cycle from O’Rourke — developed over more than a decade including frequent previous residencies and performances at Irish Arts Center — will be presented at Irish Arts Center in New York from February 7-10, as well as Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago (February 2), Kansas City Irish Center (February 5), Tellus360 in Lancaster, PA (February 14), The Reeves Theater in Elkin, NC (February 15), and Isis Music Hall in Asheville, NC (February 17). Building on the success of IAC’s 2017 multi-city presentation of An Evening with Cassandra Wilson and Liam Ó Maonlaí, through this engagement and tour Irish Arts Center again expands its scope to bring exemplary Irish work beyond New York to communities across the U.S.  

O’Rourke—one of Ireland’s most beloved contemporary pop/folk singer-songwriters, renowned for his gorgeously textured voice and virtuosic guitar playing—will be joined at IAC and in subsequent stops by a chamber ensemble of top Irish traditional, folk and classical musicians. O’Rourke provides lead vocals and guitar, while his band includes John Sheahan (fiddle), a member of The Dubliners for nearly five decades who brought to their work an “evergreen skill and grace” (The Irish Times); Floriane Blancke (harp, backing vocals), who O’Rourke has said has “the ancient gift of pure and natural musicality”; Dermot Byrne (accordion), a member of the traditional Irish band Altan who is “revered for his virtuosity on the accordion and melodeon” (The Irish Times); longtime O’Rourke collaborator Rob Calder (bass guitar), who has recorded and toured extensively with Angus & Julia Stone and Passenger; Caitriona Frost (drums/percussion), currently the percussionist for the world-renowned, Grammy nominated ensemble Celtic Women; Chris Herzberger (fiddle), an accomplished violinist/viola player who’s contributed to more than 50 studio albums; Sharon Shannon collaborator Jack Maher (banjo, 2nd guitar); and Cillian Vallely (pipes and whistles) of the acclaimed trad band Lúnasa.

The initial inspiration for the song cycle came after O’Rourke learned from a birth certificate that his grandfather had been born in a workhouse in 1916, before they were shuttered for good in the early 1920s. Shortly after the discovery, the musician picked up a copy of a John O’Connor’s The Workhouses of Ireland: The Fate of Ireland’s Poor. A description on its very first page struck him: it told of a man who carried his wife’s body home from the workhouse, and was himself found dead in their home the next morning, with her feet hugged to his chest. O’Rourke was compelled to pen the first song in what would, for the artist, be a 15-year songwriting process. “It’s taken me years to sort through the emotions I felt reading that,” he says.

The album is a meticulously researched combination of true and historical fictional stories, deviating from O’Rourke’s contemporary, genre-crossing sound to capture an “emotional landscape” through more traditional sounds of the time. Presenting these stories on an intimate level was no easy task: few written accounts of personal struggle exist, because the bulk of Ireland’s poor at the time were not literate, and there was a cultural tendency of trying to erase these years from memory.

O’Rourke explains, “A lot of it was not spoken about afterwards. It took me until recently to get a sense of why that was. In Ireland they talk about ‘the shame.’ That was the biggest sense I got of why they went quiet—I suppose they lived in fear of it happening again. But it’s part of our history, and it has demonstrated to me what people are capable of in their own darkest moments; what kind of fundamental good is in the bottom of the soul. It’s a story that’s relevant time and time again around the world. We’ve had a standing ovation every night we’ve played it—people get it even more than I’d thought.”

This engagement and tour builds on a long artistic relationship between O’Rourke and Irish Arts Center, which has provided New York audiences a variety of opportunities to experience his soaring talents. In 2013, O’Rourke performed in residence at IAC, during which he played music from his extensive catalogue, as well as select songs from what would become Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine. In a New York Times review of his performance, chief pop music critic Jon Pareles noted the “virtuosity” in O’Rourke’s performance and the “compassion, romance, a sense of mortality” and “sense of history” running through the his songs.  In December 2015, Irish Arts Center and the Abbey Theatre collaborated with O’Rourke on a weeklong workshop at the Peacock Theatre to develop a dramatic context for the live performance of Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine. In 2017, IAC presented the U.S. launch of O’Rourke’s studio album In Full Color in a Valentine’s weekend engagement with orchestra, and in 2018 O’Rourke featured in IAC’s Groundbreaking Gala Concert at Symphony Space, alongside Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, and Camille O'Sullivan.  

Performance Schedule

Chicago
February 2

Buy Tix Here
7:30pm
Old Town School of Folk Music
4544 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

Kansas City, MO
February 5
Kansas City Irish Center
19 W. Linwood Blvd
Kansas City, MO 64111

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