independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Texas trad goes down a storm

The San Antonio Comhaltas Session Players performing in Flaherty's last Thursday. Photo: Marian O'Flaherty

THE RAFTERS chimed and the roof was lifted in Tigh Tábhairne Uí Fhlaithbheartaigh last week as some amazingly accomplished traditional musicians, who travelled all the way from San Antonio in the heart of Texas, brought their musical stylings to the popular Dingle public house.

The San Antonio Comhaltas Session Players caused quite the stir as they performed and played en-masse in Flaherty's for a four-day stint as visitors to the pub literally encountered a wall of sound as they entered to find a veritable trad orchestra of bodhráns, guitars, banjos, double bass, flutes, fiddles and accordions, tempered with high flying spurts of Irish dancing and singing.

Cultivating their craft in the heart of the Texan desert, the group's Irish dancing director, Mullingar ex-pat Tom Macken, explained to The Kerryman how the group came to be in Dingle, in their second trip to the West Kerry town in two years.

"This group has been around a long time," he said.

"Jim Fox got the dancers and musicians together round about 1982 and he, along with An tAthair MacAodhagáin, founded the group in San Antonio.

"In 1986 we went to the Fleadh Cheoil in Listowel and won so we became a branch of Comhaltas."

Professional musician Jim Fox has been instrumental in driving the Irish music revolution in San Antonio which, at a six mile drive from Dallas or El Paso, is arguably one of the last places that you would expect traditional Irish music to flourish.

Trad managed to find an oasis in the San Antonion desert, however, and as a consequence people of all backgrounds have congregated there to learn traditional music, study Irish dancing, Irish singing and even to learn how to speak the Irish language.

"What you see now in our group is the result of many hours of dedication," Tom added.

"There is great diversity – our musicians come from many different backgrounds; Hungarian, Mexican-American and German - however they all have one thing in common, their shared love of traditional Irish music."

The San Antonio Comhaltas Session Players, who went down a storm in Dingle during their four day stint last week, also played for President Michael D Higgins in Áras an Uachtaran last year but the group were intent on returning to Dingle in 2013, and in particular to Flaherty's on Bridge Street, which Tom described as their Irish 'HQ".

"We are out in the middle of nowhere in the heart of Texas and when we come to Ireland all we want to do is meet musicians and play with them; we were only in Dingle for two days last time so we made sure we had more time this year," Tom added.

Publican and musician Fergus Ó Flaithbheartaigh told The Kerryman that the San Antonio Comhaltas Session Players were a class apart in terms of precision and execution.

"They are supremely talented and highly accomplished musicians, and it was a pleasure to welcome them to Dingle," he said.

"They bring back the way sessions used to be played in pubs; a sense of comhluadar where everyone settles in together for the evening to sing and play together. It was an honour to have them here for the week."

The San Antonio Comhaltas Session Players head to Cork before returning to Texas where they play every Thursday night in their local Pizza Italia restaurant.

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