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Alum Brian O’Donovan Remembered for Championing Celtic Music

As an on-air host on WGBH Radio, Brian O’Donovan ‘MA 82 hosted the weekly show A Celtic Sojourn, which explored traditional and contemporary music from around the Celtic world. (Photo courtesy GBH)

The Boston area is mourning the death of Brian O’Donovan, who attended Emerson as a graduate student and championed Irish music by hosting WGBH’s A Celtic Sojourn for 37 years.

Hosting the radio program led to O’Donovan being the creative force and host of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, a live stage holiday tradition for New England for more than 20 years.

Born in West Cork Ireland, Donovan died on Friday, October 6, after a long battle with brain cancer, according to WGBH. He was 66 years old.

O’Donovan came to visit Boston in 1980 for a three-week vacation…and he never left, according to RAMP (Radio and Music Pros). He then met singer Lindsay Henes at a live Irish music session in Brookline, and the two were married for 42 years, having four children, reported GBH.

While working for WERS producing music festivals and fundraisers in the early 1980s, O’Donovan worked toward a master’s degree in Mass Communication from Emerson.

In 1984, he was hired as a consultant for an Irish music festival being produced at Gillette Stadium (then namedSullivan Stadium for the family who founded and owned the New England Patriots). The Sullivans liked his work and hired him full-time to develop events programs, and through the years he booked acts such as Aerosmith, Madonna, David Bowie, and U2, reported GBH.

In 1994, after the Kraft family bought the Patriots, he became a vice president in charge of facilities management. He managed World Cup matches at the renamed Foxboro Stadium (now Gillette Stadium), and helped facilitate the creation of Major League Soccer, and was the general manager and chief operating officer of the New England Revolution.

In 1986, with his career in professional sports still in full swing, O’Donovan joined WGBH to host the weekly radio show, A Celtic Sojourn.

In a 2019 interview with GBH News, O’Donovan spoke about leading the Revolution while promoting music of Ireland on radio.  

“While I was leading events management at Gillette Stadium, people would often say to me, ‘There’s a guy on radio who has your same name.’ They couldn’t reconcile the two worlds: professional sports and an esoteric sub-stream music genre program on public broadcast,” O’Donovan said.

A Celtic Sojourn became a fixture on Saturdays in a three-hour show. That spawned the onstage production A Christmas Celtic Sojourn.

In 2017, Boston Mayor Walsh declared December 14 as Brian O’Donovan Day “in recognition of his contributions to immigrant communities in Greater Boston.”

“His passion for music and his sheer joy in sharing it was abundantly clear to GBH listeners, whether of his weekly show or of his spirited live events,” GBH President and CEO Susan Goldberg said in a statement. “In more than 35 years with our organization, Brian never met a stranger. His warmth to his colleagues, and his deep commitment to the mission of GBH, will be greatly missed.”

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