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 it demonstrated a strong interest in Irish music throughout Texas and the Southwest region.
For many years, Irish music has been played in Dallas pubs and festivals. But unlike other major cities in other parts of the country, the music has been mostly locally-grown and self-taught. In fact, the beginnings of Irish music in this area date 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 there wasn’t much emphasis on the teaching of Irish music.
Historically, Irish music is passed down from generation to generation, but in Dallas as with other communities in Texas and surrounding states, there weren’t players of an older generation fulfilling that call, with the exception of Jim O’Flaherty. Jim was born in Listowel, Ireland and came to America at the age of 18. He played the tinwhistle, flute, concertina, fiddle and the uilleann pipes. An airline pilot, Jim had 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’s home regularly became a place where beginning Irish players gathered for potluck and the sharing of tunes. His “sessions” were always eagerly anticipated and served to unite the traditional 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. The retreat focuses on the teaching of traditional Irish music on fiddle, flute, harp, uilleann pipes, tenor banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, bodhran, guitar, piano, accordion and concertina. Singing in English and Gaelic are taught along with enrichment classes pertaining to music history, session etiquette, music arrangements, learning resources, and more. 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, we are very excited to return to the beautiful Hoblitzelle campus due to extensive renovation and expanded meeting space. With increasing enrollment from outside of the region, the retreat is now ranked internationally with similar music camps in America such as the 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 consequence, there are now the makings of that wonderful tradition of passing on the music of Ireland to new generations just as Jim O’Flaherty accomplished 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.