The Irish have a magnificent way to celebrate the Epiphany. It is called “Nollaig na mban” and it translates from Gallic to “Women’s Christmas.” Some say it is the one day of the year that the men give the women the day off. But it is much more than that.
“It is a time of celebration and recognition of women for all the hard work that they have done preparing for and throughout the Christmas season,” explained Kelly Hernandez, who helped organize the event and is Coordinator of Pastoral Care and Small Groups at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Ann Arbor. “Women leave household duties and the care of children with their husbands and gather, typically in the local pub, to celebrate.”
Celtic Band Roane Performs at Saint Francis of Assisi
This year at Saint Francis of Assisi, a special treat occurred on the Epiphany. The Celtic band Roane performed for Nollaig na mban.
“We especially loved playing for the Women’s Christmas, as it is a traditional Irish celebration that we had not had an opportunity to celebrate before,” explained Mary Lynn Gottler, performer and president of Roane LLC. “Father James is very dear to us and we were more than happy to come and visit him and offer our music to the lovely women of the St. Francis congregation. The hospitality at St. Francis was wonderful and a true blessing to us. We followed the visit with a pint and a burger at Connor O’Neal’s, and the day was complete!”
Father James Conlon is a priest at St. Francis of Assisi’s parish and from Ireland. Father Conlon also sang an Irish folk song at the event.
“Roane specializes in Celtic, Maritime, and American Folk—with many pieces going back a few hundred years—giving each piece our own unique interpretation and style,” described Gottler. “We also write and perform our own original music, such as ‘The Bard,’ ‘Libertalia,’ ‘Gypsy Soul,’ and ‘In My Own Skin’. We are looking to do more of our own music, but will likely also continue to delve into ancient pieces that we can bring our own style and present to our audiences. Grace especially has a desire to perform traditional pieces in Irish Gaelic Preservation and pride in our Irish heritage is important to all of us and performing in Irish is part of that.”
At the Women’s Christmas, Roane played traditional Christmas music like “Silent Night” as well as many Celtic tunes. Grace is another band member.
“I am Gracie’s mom, first and foremost, Luke’s Mom-in-law,” stated Gottler. (Luke is another band member). “I joined the band shortly after its initial formation, coming up on seven years ago.”
All the members of the band are: Mary Grace Stearns (“Gracie”, Mary’s Daughter, Luke’s wife); Mary Lynn Gottler (Gracie’s Mom, Luke’s Mom-in-law); Luke Stearns (Gracie’s husband); Nora McCabe (“adopted in our hearts”); Bruce Macartney (“our newest member and dear friend”); and Mary Lynn also shared an interesting story about how she joined the band.
“I came home one day to find Nora and Gracie rehearsing music in the kitchen,” described Gottler. “When I came in the house they looked like something terrible had happened and said to me, ‘we have a problem and we need your help’. I was quite relieved to find out that it was only that their third vocalist had cancelled on them last minute and they had scheduled to play a fundraiser for a friend the following day. I laughed because I hadn’t performed in over twenty years. Nevertheless, they knew I knew the music and I sat down for a quickie through each piece so I’d know which part to sing and off we went. After the performance, the kids decided I needed to stay, and despite my initial embarrassment at being “more mature” than my bandmates, I decided I was having too much fun to give in to better judgement. So here I am in Roane and having the time of my life with the people I love most.”
The start of the band has a unique story as well. Grace and Luke, married June 16, 2018, began dating at the end of their senior year of high school. Grace began sharing her love of Celtic music with Luke, who was quite a successful lead vocalist and writer for his own Death Metal band, “Sinner Messiah”.
Aside from their interest in one another, both had a strong interest in their Celtic roots, history, and music. Soon, Luke and Grace began writing music together. Along that same time in the Fall of 2011, Grace and Nora met in the Chamber Singer’s choir at U-M-Flint. Nora had a passion for music, history, and all things Celtic that made the two fast friends. They were approached to play for St. Patrick’s Day at a local bar and decided to call themselves the “Blarney Bards.” But the name didn’t last beyond that first gig.
Irish and Celtic Connections
“We decided that the name Roane evoked our passion for all things Celtic and of the sea,” described Gottler. “A ‘Roane’ is a Celtic water spirit who is a seal, which sheds its skin and takes the form of a human on the land.”
Roane has even performed in Dublin and has great story about the classic Danny Boy.
“When we were in Ireland in 2015, we headed to O’Donaughue’s in Dublin on our first evening there,” described Gottler. “This is a famous pub, frequented by artists such as the Dubliner’s and the Chieftans and the walls were lined with posters and photographs of all of the famous Irish performers and groups who had entertained there over the years. It was amazing! The pub itself was quite modest, small and a bit grubby to say the least. But the music was wonderful. We were anxious to join the session that evening and asked permission to share a song. With permission, we joined and when it came time for us to have a turn, we decided to share an American maritime tune first called, ‘Sugar In the Hold’. They loved it! When the next opportunity for us to share a song came round, the group traveling with us hollered out for ‘Danny Boy.’”
She continued with her story.
“Certain that it was the last piece on earth that they would want to hear, we hesitated, but the guys at the session said to go ahead and so we did. Well, they loved it and the man leading the session said, ‘Don’t ever be ashamed to sing Danny Boy!’ That was our first evening in Ireland. We traveled all around from Dublin south and around the west coast, ending in Galway. It was the trip of a lifetime and we sang our faces off at every opportunity, including busking on the streets in Galway. It was terribly difficult to leave Ireland, and we so long to return. We made good friends and amazing memories there that will last a lifetime. We would love to perform at a festival or two there in the future. If that happens, we might never come back!”
The band has performed all around the state as well.
Further Roane Performances
“Roane has performed all over Michigan at festivals, concerts, bars, and parties of all kinds,” described Gottler. “Roane is a fun-loving, family band and we so enjoy performing together and sharing our love of all things Celtic with others, bringing our stories into the present. We hope to see many of our new friends from St. Francis at our upcoming shows. What a great bunch!”
Roane’s upcoming schedule includes:
Feb. 22—Nordic Fire Festival
March 14— Fenton Community Center—Winter Concert Series
March 16— Apple Mountain Resort
March 17— Possible return to St. Francis for a St. Patrick’s Day Mass!
April 6— Raven Cafe, Port Huron
May 31— Raven Cafe, Port Huron
July— Tall Ships Celebration, Bay City
August-September —Michigan Renaissance Festival
October—Celtic Sowen Celebration, Kearsley Park, Flint
December—Celtic Christmas Concerts to be Announced!
Other Saint Francis of Assisi Cultural Offerings
“St. Francis of Assisi Parish Community is blessed with a great array of different cultures and we have been greatly enriched by the sharing of various traditions and celebrations,” described Hernandez. “Some others include, Pasterka (a Polish shepherd’s Mass celebrated with the bishop), Our Lady of Guadalupe, Candlemas (Día de Candelaria), and more. We hope to continue celebrating these wonderful Feast Days and invite all to join us.”
Saint Francis is also hosting a “Racial Justice Film and Discussion Series” in February. On February 5 is “The Story We Tell” (Sociology of Race) and on February 12 is “The House We Live In” (Politics of Race.) All are welcome!