Cityfolk legacy Cathie Ryan celebrates Irish Christmas at Miamisburg’s Plaza Theatre

By Tim Smith

Photo: Cathie Ryan celebrates Irish tradition with ‘The Winter’s Heart’ Dec. 14 at Miamisburg’s Historic Plaza Theatre

Each country has its own unique holiday traditions. In America, we hang stockings by the fireplace. In Great Britain, children of all ages are given bangers, pull-apart firecrackers with a small toy or treat inside. Ireland has its own share of traditions, many of which will be celebrated in The Winter’s Heart: An Irish American Christmas at The Historic Plaza Theatre in Miamisburg on Dec. 14.

The musical celebration of all things Gaelic is the brainchild of Cathie Ryan. Long considered one of the best interpreters of Celtic music, she has released five solo albums, collaborated with many musicians, and has won multiple awards. Her shows are noted for their intimacy and power, as well as her witty banter. The inspiration for this Christmas offering came from a place deep within her soul.

“I love Christmas!” Ryan says. “The sharing of meals, of gifts, of song, of together time is a blessing. We all slow down to be with our family, our community. And no matter how stressed we are, Christmas seems to take the edge off. People are more patient and kind. I wanted to bring the band together to make some beautiful Christmas music that we could all share. One of my most favorite things about Christmas is that we celebrate the holiday with song. It is a reminder that we are all together at the core. I love that.”

Her touring ensemble is a four-piece band, consisting of Patsy O’Brien (from Cork) on guitar and vocals, Patrick Mangan (from New York) on fiddle, and Kieran O’Hare (from Chicago) on uillean pipes, Irish flute, and tin whistle.  Not mentioned online.  However Brain Mellick, no hometown given, was cited as percussionist. Selecting the music was a collaborative effort.

“I love Christmas songs and the impulse was to do lots of songs we all know already,” Ryan says. “There are some beloved songs that are musts, like Silent Night, and we will be singing those. My guitarist, Patsy O’Brien, and I have written a song called “The Winter’s Heart” that we’ll do. There are also some lovely Christmas songs sung in Ireland that aren’t so well known in America, and I look forward to sharing those. I have run a lot of things by my band. They are great musicians and have great judgment on all things musical.”

Many Irish traditions, such as hunting for the wren on St. Stephen’s Day, Women’s Christmas, and leaving a candle in the window to light the way home for loved ones, are handed down from generation to generation. Ryan observes some of these with her own family and includes them in her show.

“Christmas in Ireland lasts for two weeks,” she says. “Everyone is home for the holidays, and there are big dinners and get-togethers before, during, and after. We celebrate right up to January 6, which is Nollaig na mbhan (Women’s Christmas). It is the brightest time of the winter—again, the winter’s heart. It’s all about family and community. We leave candles in the window still. Ireland has such a history of mass emigration due to the Great Hunger and the waves of emigration in the generations that followed. That candle is for anyone who may not be with us, for the stranger, and for those on their way to know they will be welcome to the hearth and all we have to give.”

One of the traditions little known outside of Ireland is hunting for the wren on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas. According to Ryan, the ancient Celts believed in the importance of birds and saw them as messengers between the worlds. The wren that sings through the cold, dark winter is seen as the spirit of life itself and is also said to be a symbol of the passing year. To catch this spirit that sings in winter and release it back to the wild would bring good luck.

“The significance for us was always the fun of it,” she says. “Being raised in both Ireland and America I was able to have some Christmases in Ireland and go on the wren hunt the day after Christmas. It is a real Kerry tradition. We would carve a wren shape out of a potato and put it in a box to go door to door with [it]. The boys would hoist it up on a big stick,” she recalls. “We were singing songs and it was all about music and neighbors all coming out to hear, though you would get sweets at most houses. The money we collected was usually all pooled for a big party. Nowadays they gather the money for a charitable cause.”

Ryan hails from a musical family. Her father and grandmother were singers, and she was surrounded by music while growing up, including an eclectic mix of Irish folk songs, along with Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn. Ryan points out that the show’s title holds special significance for her.

“The way we open our hearts at Christmas inspired the show’s title,” she said. “The Winter’s Heart seemed to encapsulate everything I believe Christmas is about, including Christ being born at Christmas and all of the heart-centered teachings of Christianity. It is beautiful that in the time of cold and barrenness, a time when most of us go inside, we open our hearts, our homes, to new hope, new life and to each other. It raises us up.”

“The Winter’s Heart” will be performed at The Historic Plaza Theatre, 33 S. Main St., Miamisburg, on Dec. 14. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be obtained at Info@MyPlazaTheatre.com or by calling 937.247.5980. Tickets also available at https://SunnySkies.TicketLeap.com/Cathie-Ryan/. For more information on Cathie Ryan, visit her website, CathieRyan.com.

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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