When cows fly

First slide

The name Flying Cows of Ventry is steeped in mystery. Tim Walthall, who along with twin brothers James and Jeff comprises the local Irish band, is cagey about the name's roots and keeps its origins a secret.

"If I tell you, I'd have to kill you," he joked.

While the flying cow part of the name is secret, Ventry refers to the village in County Kerry on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. It's where they got their start playing Irish music publicly nearly 20 years ago.

The "Cows" are all members of diocesan parishes. Tim, the main vocalist and banjo player, is a parishioner of St. Ann Church in Arlington. Jeff plays guitar and belongs to St. John the Beloved Church in McLean. James is the fiddle player and is a parishioner of St. James Church in Falls Church.

They're all members of the Edward Douglass White Council of the Knights of Columbus in Arlington where James is the past grand Knight and Tim is vice president of the Columbus Club in Arlington - the corporation that manages the council property. The group has played at numerous council functions.

Two of the three "Cows" have other jobs: Tim is a lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington and James is an optometrist in Annandale. Jeff, formerly a graphic artist, now concentrates on music, playing at several venues with other bands.

Their musical history goes back to high school, but it wasn't Irish music they played - it was rock and roll.

Tim eventually became interested in the Irish side of the English/Irish family. Their mother's maiden name was Burke and she introduced him to Irish music.

Tim went to law school in Boston and got an appreciation for Irish groups like the Clancy Brothers, who are credited with raising the visibility and popularity of Irish music.

In 1995, they were on a two-week family vacation to Ireland and walked into Paidi O'Se's Restaurant in Ventry with their instruments and played for tips and drinks. The manager of a local radio station, Raidio na Gaeltachta, heard them and offered the boys an opportunity to perform on air. They did, which got them noticed and led to more opportunities to play. Tim said the most famous gig was at Gus O'Connor's Pub in Doolin, County Clare.

Tim said the locals embraced them and their music.

"The Irish as well as the other tourists loved us," said Tim. "Even to this day, Irish coming to the states remark upon the authenticity of our music. We've played several times at the Irish Embassy and were the band of choice for many years of the D.C. Rose of Tralee pageant."

The band has two CDs: "Celtic Ruminations" and "Bovine Inspiration."

Age is slowing the Flying Cows of Ventry down a bit. Tim is 63 and James and Jeff are 61.

"We play just once a month, and all day on St. Patrick's Day," said Jeff.

The group plays at Auld Shebeen in Fairfax, and the shows start at a respectable 7 p.m. and wrap up at 9:30 p.m. It's just the three "Cows" on a small stage. Occasionally they bring friends to play with them.

How do three brothers get along playing music together for all these years? Jeff said things are good, but occasionally differences arise.

"Playing with family is interesting," he said. "(At times) we could have been called the 'Fighting Cows of Ventry.'"

But after all the years of playing together the bond is strong and the "Cows" still fly - albeit just once a month for an early set.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013