Boston area mourns death of Brian O’Donovan, ambassador for Celtic music and Irish culture

BOSTON — The Boston area is mourning the death of Brian O’Donovan, a longtime host of GBH’s radio show A Celtic Sojourn who also enjoyed a notable career in professional sports by working for the New England Patriots and for the New England Revolution.

O’Donovan, who celebrated Irish culture on his GBH radio program for over 20 years, died Friday at his home after a long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, according to GBH. He was 66.

“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 on Saturday. “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.”

O’Donovan, a married father of four and grandfather of two, was also known for his popular productions of “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” an annual event that included live music, dancing and storytelling, during which O’Donovan shared with the audience the Christmases of his childhood in Ireland.

Born in 1957, O’Donovan grew up in Clonakilty in West Cork. He was the second youngest in a family of nine children. His father was a butcher and his mother was a full-time homemaker, according to biographical information provided by GBH.

After graduating from the University College Cork in 1978, he moved to London and became involved with the Irish music scene there.

Two years later, he visited Boston and eventually moved to the Bay State. He met and married singer Lindsay Henes, whom he met at a live Irish music session at a Brookline pub. The two were married for 42 years.

O’Donovan began his radio career as a graduate student at Emerson College, where he worked on the college radio station WERS, producing music festivals and fundraisers.

In 1984, he began working as a consultant on an Irish music festival that was being produced at Gillette Stadium, which was named Sullivan Stadium at the time. He began working for the stadium as an events planner, and he booked several big-name performers including Madonna, Aerosmith, David Bowie and U2.

By 1987, O’Donovan was working as general manager of the newly-renamed Foxboro Stadium. In 1994, after the Kraft family acquired the New England Patriots, O’Donovan became the operation’s vice president, in charge of facilities management.

O’Donovan helped to secure the United States’ 1994 World Cup bid, and he went on to manage the World Cup soccer matches that were played at Foxboro Stadium and subsequently helped to create Major League Soccer. He ultimately became general manager and chief operating officer of the New England Revolution.

In a statement Saturday, Robert and Jonathan Kraft said O’Donovan was “universally respected by all who knew him.”

“We are deeply saddened to lose a dear friend in Brian O’Donovan,” the Krafts said. “Our entire family extends our sincere condolences to Brian’s wife, Lindsay, their children and grandchildren. You are all in our thoughts.”

“Brian was universally respected by all who knew him and had a warmth, intelligence, and joy for life that left an indelible mark on those around him,” the Krafts said. “While we all will remember Brian fondly for his decades on the Boston airwaves bringing A Celtic Sojourn into our homes and radios, we know that without his vision, soccer would not be where it is today in New England. Brian’s leadership helped us bring the FIFA World Cup to Foxboro for the first time in 1994, and then when our family became a founding partner in Major League Soccer the next year, Brian was the obvious choice to set the foundation for the New England Revolution as our club’s first general manager and chief operating officer.”

In 1986, he joined GBH to host a weekly radio show: A Celtic Sojourn. In a 2019 interview with GBH News, O’Donovan reflected on his life at that time.

“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.

The show became a fixture on Saturdays, expanding to a three-hour weekly show.

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

“Brian’s legacy is woven into the fabric of Boston and the city’s distinct Irish-American culture, and his influence will be felt for years to come, especially by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him,” the Krafts said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW