One of Ireland's most famous contemporary musicians is in Montana. Liam O'Maonlai is the University of Montana's Irish Music Concert Series final guest of the season.

In the 1980s, the Dublin musician formed Hothouse Flowers, a band with an international following. He's a Gaelic-speaking rock star with roots in traditional Irish music.

NBC Montana talked with O'Maonlai and UM's Irish studies director from County Cork. That's Traolach O'Riordain. We talked with the musician in the music building at the University of Montana.

O'Maonlai sat down at the piano and played and sang. He also took up a traditional Irish drum and started singing in Gaelic.

Similar instruments are found in native cultures across the world.

"I always like to honor the native people of a country when I play my ancestral music," said the musician.

He loves to improvise. He's a diverse musician, comfortable in rock or jazz and traditional music.

"I think when I play in a room full of people everybody is as important as I am," said O'Maonlai. "I'm just a conduit."

The rock star weaves tradition with the contemporary.

"It's a smorgasbord of music," said UM Irish studies director Traolach O'Riordain. "It basically defines the music scene in modern Ireland today."

O'Riordain describes the concert series as "fidelity to ancient Irish roots with flexibility to accommodate new sounds and forms."

"The Irish of Montana are unique," he said. They have a strong connection to their heritage.

O'Riordain teaches Gaelic at UM. It's a popular class. Young students learn the old Irish language. They hear music from the old country.

"Our tradition comes from the land," said O'Maonlai, "people working in rhythm with the land."

The Irish musician will perform at the University of Montana's Recital Hall Thursday evening at 7:30. He will also make appearances in Butte on Friday, Anaconda on Saturday and in Great Falls Sunday.

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