Be you a Ferriter, Fitzgerald, Russell, Moriarity or Sullivan?

There are a couple of Irish musicians who would love to meet you while they’re performing in Missoula Thursday night.

Meabh Ni Bheaglaoich and Paidi Mharthain Mac Gearailt, traditional Irish Gaelic singers from west Kerry, are next up in Missoula and Butte’s biennial Irish Music Concert Series.

Traolach O’Riordain, director of Irish Studies at the University of Montana – the concert benefits the Friends of Irish Studies, which benefits the program – says Ni Bheaglaoich and Mac Gearailt hope to meet Montanans whose ancestors hail from west Kerry.

There’s good reason.

Some of the songs they sing were written by Irish miners in Butte, and taken home to Ireland by a few returning emigrants. The names above are just some of the ones common in both west Kerry and Montana.

Mac Gearailt – often anglicized to Fitzgerald – has been here before.

“Last year his lecture and songs of the emigrant Irish in Montana brought tears to the eyes of UM students who were privileged to hear him,” O’Riordain says.

The songs written by the Irish in Butte spoke to their feelings of loneliness and separation from home.

“Can you imagine sitting in west Kerry and listening to a song about Montana?” O’Riordain asks. “Montana was just a place in their imagination back then.”

Most people on the Dingle Peninsula had never even been to Cork or Dublin, never mind Montana.

“The Mac Gearailts were the family who told the story of their people in song,” O’Riordain says. “In the Irish language you tell a song, not sing it, so the song you told had to contain a story. The repertoire Paidi Mharthain inherited tells the history of his people, including those who went to Montana.”

Ni Bheaglaoich is the daughter of Seamus Begley, a well-known accordion player in Ireland “and, as they say, was weaned on Irish music,” O’Riordain says. “Meabh draws on a large repertoire of love songs, ballads and traditional songs of her people to complement the reels, jigs, slides and polkas she plays on the accordion.

“She is considered one of the finest young talents in the country, and foremost among the new generation of artists who will carry into the future the music and song tradition of west Kerry.”

This year’s four-concert series wraps up in Missoula on Dec. 5 with one-time rock musician Liam O Maonlai, now a sean nos-style singer.

All the Thursday performances in Missoula have been, and will be, followed by Friday night concerts by the same performers at Montana Tech in Butte.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or by email at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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