Sunday, October 17, 2010

Getting in Touch with Irish Heritage Through Music - Ken O'Malley

Ken O'Malley
Ken O'Malley

I'd been hearing about Ken O'Malley from a friend of mine who had been living in L.A. for several years. Singer, storyteller, tour guide, composer - he was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland and has been living in L.A. for about thirty years.

This week marks Ken's first trip to the Midwest, with his concert in Lincoln this afternoon, a concert in Omaha Tuesday night and a concert at the Nebraska Outback House in Sutherland on Wednesday night.

I've been to several Irish/Celtic performances over the years, but none have touched me on a soulful level the way Ken O'Malley's songs did.

With just a "Protestant" guitar (his words!) and a 1908 Gibson mandolin he bought on eBay, O'Malley delighted the audience in the intimate surroundings of the Johnny Carson Theater at the Lied Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln. His concert was a fundraiser to benefit the Angels Theatre Company.

Maybe it's because I've been spending so much time learning about my Irish ancestors and their lives in America that his music touched me on such an emotional level. I could shut my eyes and feel myself transported to the homeland of my ancestors, imagining the difficulties they experienced that caused them to board a ship and come to the United States in 1850. As he sang and played some of the traditional Irish folk songs, I could envision my ancestors listening to this style of music 160 years ago.

He performed songs from his albums, traditional songs and some that he composed. Among my favorites from O'Maille were City of Chicago, Mick Ryan's Lament, Westport Town, Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore, Heaven Knows, I'm a Rover and Homes of Donegal - well, actually, I like the entire CD! There were also several selections he performed from his CD with the Twilight Lords, Women of Ireland. I'll have some more favorites to add to the list from that CD if I ever stop listening to O'Maille.

He also told some stories about the songs and weaved some Irish history into the fabric of his performance. He was quite engaging, but as Lincoln audiences are a bit subdued, I hope that our applause was enough confirmation of our enjoyment of his music.

A trio of dancers from the Thunder on the Plains Project  also performed the traditional Irish step dance, accompanied by O'Malley on mandolin. That added even more to an enjoyable afternoon.

I would certainly encourage any genealogist to get out of the libraries and courthouses on occasion and take in some of the opportunities to experience some of the cultural heritage activities that come your way. After today's concert, I really believe that my Irish soul is a lot closer to the surface and I feel an even greater connection to my Irish roots.

Thanks to my long time friend, Jan, for introducing me to the music of Ken O'Malley.

Ken O'Malley's web site


  1. Sounds like a delightful way to spend the mid-point between two St Patty days! I love Irish music also. Thank you for the review, I will look him up.

  2. What a nice review. When you mentioned going to the concert on fb, I thought what a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Now I see you did have an enjoyable time and you were able to celebrate your Irish heritage.