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'A Celtic Christmas'

Tomáseen Foley's "A Celtic Christmas" returns for its 10th year at Medford's Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater. The popular show plays at concert halls from California to Florida, and from Texas to Michigan. Performances in the Rogue Valley, where Foley makes his home, will take place at 2:30 (nearly sold out) and 7:30 p.m. (plenty of seats) Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central, Medford. The Medford stop on the tour is the only one with two shows.

Foley is the second youngest of seven children and was born and reared on a small farm in the remote parish of Teampall an Ghleanntáin the southwest of Ireland. He has crafted his show "A Celtic Christmas" to take audiences back to the Ireland of his childhood in the 1950s. It is the night before Christmas, a time when neighbors gathered at each others' homes bringing with them their traditional musical instruments, their songs, their dances, their laughter and their stories.

Nights such as these — created and nurtured in the heart and by the hearth of small farmers, tradesmen, fishermen and laborers — gave birth to Ireland's rich cultural heritage.

This year's "A Celtic Christmas" will feature a special presentation of "Parcel From America," the story which brought national acclaim to the show and which the Oregon Cabaret developed into a musical. The story will be woven throughout the show.

A new addition this year is Marta Cook, winner of the World Championship Irish Harpist title at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in 2001, and the first recipient of the Peter and Margaret Nalty Memorial Trophy. She is considered one of the finest Irish harpists in the world, and is also a champion Irish step dancer.

A frequent prizewinner in both national and international competitions for traditional Irish dance, Cook began her dancing career with the McGing School in Cincinnati at the age of 8. Since then her dancing and choreography have been featured with Irish supergroups Altan and the Chieftains, and on the U.S. national tour of "The Magic of Ireland," and as a soloist and choreographer for the innovative San Francisco-based dance-theatre workshop Dance Brigade.

Back with the show for the fourth successive year is Kathleen Keane on fiddle, whistle, vocals and traditional Irish dance. Keane's music is featured in the films "The Titanic," "Backdraft," "The Road to Perdition" and "The Cinderella Man." Considered a child prodigy on the tin whistle, the Chicago Tribune nominated her as "one of the world's finest Celtic fiddlers." She studied Irish step dancing under Michael Flatley ("Riverdance," "Lord of the Dance") and went on to become a champion Irish dancer.

Music director and steel-string guitar player William Coulter won a Grammy in 2005 for a track he contributed to "Pink Guitar," a solo guitar compilation of Henry Mancini tunes. He has been performing and recording traditional Celtic and American folk music for 25 years. The most recent of his seven CDs on the Gourd Music label is his solo album "The Road Home."

Returning for the second year is Uilleann Piper Brian Bigley. From the age of 8, Bigley studied the traditional, rarely heard, uilleann pipes with Achill Island (County Mayo) piper Michael Kilbane with whom he also studied flute, whistle and low whistle. Bigley has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe and the UK. A world-class Irish step dancer, he competed in the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland in 2002 and in Killarney, Ireland, in 2003.

Foley notes that there is a human need to feel part of a community, like the one recreated in "A Celtic Christmas." "People really miss it," he says. When he began his show 12 years ago in Ashland, Foley was told that no one would sit and listen to a half-hour story. But they do. "It's part of our psyche," Foley says. "People have listened to stories for eons. We can't turn off all that heredity. We have to rekindle the flame of the hearth. To keep it kindled becomes more important every year."

Tickets cost $10-$26. See www.craterian.org or call 779-3000.

Marta Cook, winner of the World Championship Irish Harpist title at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in 2001 and a champion Irish step dancer, will join the performances of 'A Celtic Christmas' this year. - Photo courtesy of ??????????