The Story of the O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat
The O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat was first held on October 30-31, 2004, at the Springhill Retreat Center in Richardson, Texas. More than 140 students of all ages gathered to learn traditional Irish music on a variety of instruments taught by teachers mostly from the Dallas area. The enrollment was far greater than what was expected, and the turnout demonstrated a strong interest in Irish music throughout Texas and the Southwest region.
Indeed, Irish music has been played and enjoyed in Dallas pubs and festivals for many years, going back to the early ‘80s when a handful of bands formed and played regularly at places like the NFL Bar, George Wesby’s Pub and the Cedar Pub. Its popularity increased locally as the North Texas Irish Festival and the Southwest Celtic Music Association were formed to promote the music. But unlike in other major cities in other parts of the country, Irish trad music here has been mostly locally-grown and self-taught. There wasn’t much emphasis on the teaching and the understanding and appreciation of the roots of Irish music. That all was about to change, thanks in part to the influence of one man.
Historically, Irish music is passed down from generation to generation, but in Dallas, as with other communities in Texas and surrounding states, players of an older generation weren’t available to fulfill that call. Enter Jim O’Flaherty. Jim was born in Listowel, Ireland and came to America at the age of 18, eventually to find work as an airline pilot. He played the tinwhistle, flute, concertina, fiddle, and uilleann pipes. Jim was the father of 10 children, all of whom played musical instruments, and he was careful to teach them the music of his homeland. Living with his family near Denton, Texas, Jim made his home into a place where local players of Irish music regularly gathered for potluck suppers and the sharing of tunes. His “sessions” were always eagerly anticipated and served to unite the small Irish music community in North Texas.
As a tribute to Jim who passed away in 2001, a Dallas musician named Ken Fleming organized the O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat in 2004. The retreat focuses on the teaching of traditional Irish music on fiddle, flute, whistle, harp, uilleann pipes, tenor banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, bodhran, guitar, button accordion, piano accordion and Anglo concertina. Singing in English and Gaelic are taught along with enrichment classes pertaining to music history, session etiquette, music arrangements, learning resources, and more. Dancing classes are also offered along with several ceilis held during the retreat. A number of the instructors are internationally-acclaimed performers and teachers many of whom are brought over from Ireland.
After its successful first year, the retreat moved in 2005 to larger facilities at Hoblitzelle Camp and Conference Center in Midlothian, Texas and again in 2012 to the more expansive Lakeview Camp & Conference Center in Waxahachie, Texas. In 2014, the retreat returned to Camp Hoblitzelle after it underwent extensive renovation and added more classroom space. With increasing enrollment from outside of the region, the retreat is now ranked internationally with other camps like Augusta Irish Week, Catskills Irish Week and Swannanoa Celtic Week.
Traditional Irish Music Education Society (TIMES)
The O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat is produced by the Traditional Irish Music Education Society (TIMES), a non-profit corporation based in Richardson, Texas. All of the retreat managers and operations staff are volunteers and receive no pay. The organization’s purpose is to be a resource for those wanting to learn and play traditional Irish music. As a result, the wonderful tradition of passing on the music of Ireland to new generations has been launched, a legacy of Jim O’Flaherty’s accomplishments during his life.
TIMES arranges music exhibitions in public and private schools, records instructional CDs, publishes music books, organizes group sessions (gatherings of musicians playing tunes together), underwrites instrument purchases for students in need, offers musical scholarships, and organizes two internationally respected music camps each year — the O’Flaherty Irish Music Youth Camp and the O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat.