‘A little bit of Newfoundland’: The Irish Descendants are always happy to take a piece of their home province out west

Con O’Brien (left) and The Irish Descendants perform during the summer of 2023. The group will be in Prince Albert on Tuesday, March 12. -- Photo by Erin O.

The Irish Descendants hit the road for between 70-80 shows each year, but wherever they are in Canada, there are always a few expatriate Newfoundlanders to make them feel at home.

The Canadian folk music group stops in Prince Albert on Tuesday for a performance at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre, and band leader Con O’Brien expects to see more than a few East Coast transplants in the crowd.

“It’s always a treat,” O’Brien said. “We have, especially in parts of the west, so many Newfoundlanders and people from the East Coast who live there and have made their homes there. For us that helps out a lot because we get a little bit of a hometown audience looking for a little bit of back east.”

The Irish Descendants are practically a Newfoundland institution. The group began touring in the early ‘90s, and became so popular they were chosen to perform for the Queen at Newfoundland and Labrador’s 500th-anniversary celebrations.

O’Brien said they started out performing the type of music you’d play with friends and family, and they’ve tried to maintain that intimate atmosphere as the stages and audiences have grown.

Sometimes they do that literally, such as last October when they performed at the Festival of Small Halls in Ontario.

“You get to do something that you really, really, really are proud to do, and that you really enjoy doing: affecting people in different ways with your music,” O’Brien said. “(We) spread the news about where we’re from and talk about our part of the world for a few minutes. That’s really a rewarding thing to do.”

The group’s touring schedule hasn’t returned to the typical 100 or so shows a year they played before COVID hit, but they’re used the extra time to get back in the studio. The Irish Descendants will celebrate 35 years of music in 2025, and plan to commemorate it with a specialized box set of fan favourites.

When they started recording 35 years ago the band would use a friend or family member’s basement. As the band grew, so did the recording studios, but technological innovations mean the band’s recording sessions have gone back to their roots.

“We’ve gone into some of the biggest studios in the country, in Toronto and Halifax and here (Newfoundland) … but nowadays, you can almost record on an iPhone now,” he said. “It’s gone completely back the other way.”

Prince Albert is the lone Saskatchewan stop on the band’s six-city prairie tour. O’Brien said fans will expect to hear certain songs on Tuesday, since the performance falls less than a week St. Patrick’s Day. He said the band looks forward to bringing “a little bit of Irish” to the crowd.

“We’ll do our best to tell our story and make sure that people who are fans of the band are happy,” he said. “People who have never heard us before come out looking for a good time with some great, great musicians and great singers. It’s a little bit of Newfoundland for an evening.”

The Irish Descendants perform at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Tuesday, March 12. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office, or online at www.earc.ca.