Listen closely to a track of old-time American music from the hills of Kentucky, and you might uncover traces of jigs, reels, and hornpipes from another world. Musician Marie Donnelly’s great-grandfather traveled from Ireland to Canada before settling in the state where many Irish immigrants made an imprint on both the landscape and culture.
She’s making similar waves with her band Roisin Mo Chroi in Tallahassee — whose sister city is Sligo, Ireland — as they will perform once more at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival on Saturday, March 17.
“As a group, we’ve really dug into the culture,” says Donnelly. “I think that makes it all a wonderful journey to be able to link the culture and the place.”
While Donnelly’s family didn’t stay as attuned to Ireland’s music during her childhood, she can vividly recall receiving her first record player. Seated in her rocking chair after dinnertime, she would place a needle on her mother’s vinyl compilation of classical symphonies, turn off the lights, and be carried away by the music. However, her family did maintain the Irish storytelling tradition, which wound its way around her imagination, and served as the inspiration for the band’s name.
“Some of those stories are like novels because they could go on for days,” says Donnelly, who loved the story of Mother Mo Chroi. “Mo Chroi means ‘of my heart’ or ‘my love,’ and roisin is ‘little rose,’ so the band’s name translates to ‘rosebud of my heart.’” Roisin Mo Chroi was formed in 2004. Donelly jests that the players were all band kids at some point — many took piano lessons, sang in church, or performed at weddings —learning on acoustic instruments before delving into Celtic music. Their repertoire spans across Irish and Scottish traditions, and they have traveled to those regions for years to study the language, culture, and history behind the music.
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