The Park City Institute will present Celtic Nights "The Emigrants Bridge" at the Eccles Center on Feb. 15. The performance tells the story of the
The Park City Institute will present Celtic Nights "The Emigrants Bridge" at the Eccles Center on Feb. 15. The performance tells the story of the Irish who came to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of GFD Productions)
Celtic Nights, one of Ireland's premiere performance groups that will bring its new show "The Emigrants' Bridge" to the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts this weekend, is on a mission to entertain and educate, said the show's creator, director and producer Michael Durkan.

"There is always a logistical challenge of trying to get the messages and stories across, but at the end of the day, we're producing entertainment," Durkan said to The Park Record during a telephone interview from Dublin, Ireland. "We have to be conscious to not make the production too somber, but make what the people see on stage relate to them in some form or another."

The group is currently on a 52-date tour, and Park City's stop is tonight, Feb. 15.

"We go back to the states every 14 to 18 months and we try to create something new and interesting every time we go back," said Durkan, who also produces other Celtic-based productions such as Gaelforce Dance and the Magic Tenors. "Because there is such a back catalog of Irish music, Celtic music and Celtic stories and song, we find the whole history is an interesting place to start."

"The Emigrants' Bridge" tells the story of the early Irish who came to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"Everyone from Ireland arrived by steamer ships," Durkan explained. "The bridge, in effect, was theses boats.

"In fact, it didn't matter whether you were coming from Ireland or from Poland, because everyone went by ship back in those days," he said. "So that's part of the storyline — the ships were the bridge to the New World, a better life and prosperity."

The narrative really catches the audiences' attention because the show's cast uses both song and dance to tell the stories.

"What we do with this production is show how the music from Ireland and Scotland has transferred into bluegrass, country and western and Appalachian music," Durkan said. "Although the music came from this part of the world, [it] has intermeshed with sounds that have come out with the evolution of music over there.

Celtic Nights "The Emigrants Bridge" will feature an evening of Irish arts such as step dancing. (Photo courtesy of GFD Productions)
Celtic Nights "The Emigrants Bridge" will feature an evening of Irish arts such as step dancing. (Photo courtesy of GFD Productions)
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The performances also show the United States has evolved over there as well.

"The first person from Ireland to come through there was a young girl named Annie Moreland," Durkan said. "She was only 15 years of age and we tell her story, but we also tell stories of others who have come over in a more general sense."

For example, songs such as "My Love Is in America," which basically tells the story of a person who has to stay in Ireland when their loved one travels to America, and "My Grandfather's Emigrant Eyes," told through a grandchild's eyes, are essential to relaying these tales.

In addition to the songs and dancing, the performance features some projected graphics that set the tone.

"You can kind of get the message straight away there," Durkan said about the historic scenes. "A lot of research has gone into the program."

The research has proven helpful to the cast when audience members approach them after a performance.

"Many people who were granddaughters of grandsons of those who came across the oceans and through Ellis Island have told us their stories," Durkan said. "In some cases, we awake people's interest about where they came from. Maybe someone hasn't thought about their ancestry line or heritage and then they are spurred to check it out."

The cast has been asked countless times about how someone would go about finding ancestors in Ireland, Durkan said.

"The Irish government has a great site to go if people want to do some investigating," he said. "Keeping family records was very much a part of the Irish way of life when it came to births, baptisms, Christenings, weddings and funerals.

"These records were mainly kept in the churches and presbyteries and councils around the country," he said. "It's very rewarding for us to let them know this."

Another thing Durkan noticed was that those who don't have Irish roots have been spurred into action.

"We have noticed in every place we play, it doesn't matter where people in the audience are from, whether they are of Celtic origins or of Italian origins, they all get that message," he said. "I suppose we're giving something to the audience that they can take home and pass onto their children or grandchildren."

The Park City Institute will present Celtic Nights' "The Emigrants Bridge," at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $69 and are available by visiting www.ecclescenter.org.