Irish music fans mourn the loss of radio host Brian O’Donovan


By Brett Peruzzi, Managing Editor

A longtime champion of Irish music and culture in Boston through his WGBH radio show, Brian O’Donovan died of cancer in October.Photo/Meredith Nierman courtesy of WGBH
A longtime champion of Irish music and culture in Boston through his WGBH radio show, Brian O’Donovan died of cancer in October.
Photo/Meredith Nierman courtesy of WGBH

BOSTON – When Brian O’Donovan, longtime host of the WGBH radio show “A Celtic Sojourn” died in October, the loss left a gaping hole in the Boston Irish music scene and beyond. But what many of his listeners didn’t know was that he also had a long career in the world of professional sports and event management.

Passion for Irish music

O’Donovan, 66, was a native of County Cork in Ireland who moved to the United States in the early eighties after visiting Boston on vacation in 1980. He died from glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer. He joined WGBH in 1986 to host an Irish music radio show, which eventually was expanded to three hours and was a mainstay for the station’s

Saturday afternoon programming. He hosted the show for a total of 37 years, and for over 20 years he also hosted and produced “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” a live stage production that featured music, dancing, and storytelling.

“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,” said Susan Goldberg, WGBH’s president and CEO in a statement released by the station. “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.”

Executive at Gillette Stadium

In 1984, O’Donovan worked as a consultant on an Irish music festival at Sullivan Stadium in Foxborough, the predecessor to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. He was later hired by the Sullivan family, then owners of the stadium and the team, to be the stadium’s general manager. Over the next decade he brought the facility to international prominence, as it hosted events ranging from the expected NFL games to soccer World Cups and concerts by high-profile musical acts like U2, Madonna, and David Bowie.

Following the acquisition of the Patriots by the Kraft family in 1994, O’Donovan became the stadium’s chief operating officer, a role he held for several years before taking on an expanded role in business development at WGBH, developing partnerships with other organizations.

The goodness of people

In September 2022, O’Donovan publicly announced that he was suffering from terminal brain cancer.

“My kind of attitude generally has been to take every piece of life and every experience as the gold nugget that it is,” he told Jim Braude of WBGH’s talk show “Boston Public Radio.” When you get a diagnosis like this, you need to really think about making the most of whatever time you have left.”

“The amount of kindness that has come to me through this dark diagnosis really strikes me,” he explained. ”The goodness of people. Please think of that, that there are people out there that are ready to help you,” he said.

In September 2023, only a month before his death, O’Donovan released a statement announcing that due to his illness, live productions of “A Celtic Sojourn”―which were held not only at Christmas time but St. Patrick’s Day as well―would be paused until further notice.

“Your involvement in and support of A Celtic Sojourn has been a constant source of inspiration and strength, and I thank you for it,” said O’Donovan. “May the echoes of our music continue to resonate in your hearts, and may the warmth of our shared experiences keep you company through life’s journey.”



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