A Celtic Sojourn

For over twenty years famed Boston radio host Brian O’Donovan spread holiday cheer with his annual production of “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn.” From an oversized, red chair, O’Donovan presented to American audiences the Christmas traditions of Ireland through a mix of music, dance, poetry, and storytelling.

Born and raised in Clonakilty, Cork, O’Donovan emigrated to Boston in 1980. Six years later, he joined GBH radio and began producing a weekly radio show featuring traditional Irish music – A Celtic Sojourn. The three-hour show became a Saturday afternoon staple to GBH listeners across New England; and it made O’Donovan a beloved public figure. In 2017, then-Mayor Marty Walsh declared 14 December Brian O’Donovan Day, “in recognition of his contributions to immigrant communities in Greater Boston.” 

O’Donovan died on 6 October after a long battle with brain cancer. This year, as we mourn the voices lost, let us fondly remember a man who brought so much of Irish music and culture to those in his adoptive home of Boston. He was indeed ‘a man you don’t meet every day.’

To our readers and writers, we wish you happy holidays and all the best in the new year. We leave you with this fine poem by Seán Carlson.

The Sojourn

in memoriam: Brian O’Donovan, 1957-2023

The seat on stage sits empty

before the reels and ringing

bells, alert to remembrance

brief light of emigrant song

Snow swirls in wind sweeps

salt spread on sidewalk ice

a knit vest, unwound scarf

drape of red curtain lifting

His book opens to Bethlehem

the nativity laid, refuge within

bursting breaths of concertina

tension found in fiddle string

My father played the melodeon

My mother milked the cows—

Touches of Kavanagh haunt

the theatre halls of memory

on the wireless in Boston

West Cork, the world

Window candles flicker there

stables set with summer’s cut

wrenboy clamors at the door

ghosts now around a table

That voice echoes, beside me

my mother, my father

and the drift of one

into another, then

We listen to the eulogy on radio

grace the night already fallen

with a child’s Christmas still

on the tip of our tongues:

I said some words

to the close and holy darkness,

and then I slept.

Seán Carlson‘s essays have appeared in the Irish TimesNew York Daily NewsBoston Globe MagazineNowhere, and elsewhere, and his poetry is forthcoming in the Honest Ulsterman. He is working on his first book, a nonfictional narrative of migration, amongst other projects. Seán currently lives in County Kerry, Ireland.