In Memoriam | Brian O’Donovan, an ambassador for Celtic music and Irish culture, has died

October 12, 2023

By Chelsea Merz
Photo Caption & Credit: Brian O’Donovan hosting “A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn,” March 16, 2019 / Tim Rice,

Brian O’Donovan, the longtime host of GBH’s radio show A Celtic Sojourn and the creative force and host of “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” which has been a holiday tradition for New Englanders for over 20 years, died on Friday at his home after a long battle with cancer. He was 66.

The cause of death was complications from glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer.

“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,” Susan Goldberg, GBH’s president and CEO, 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.”

During his productions of “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” — an annual mix of live music, dancing and storytelling — O’Donovan transported the audience to the Christmases of his childhood in Ireland. He recounted the rituals that were sacred to his family, even if they applied to “fairly mundane things,” such as who got to light the Christmas candle on Christmas Eve, or who got the first cup of “Van Houten’s” hot cocoa.

“Christmas was just full of always, an important time for the always things in life, the things that you expect to happen every year,” he said.

Brian O’Donovan was an “always” in his own right. You always expected to hear him on the radio on Saturday afternoons. You always expected him to take to the stage around the holidays.

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