Mary O'Hara (born 12 May 1935) is an Irish soprano and harpist from County Sligo. She gained attention on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her recordings of that period influenced a generation of Irish female singers who credit O'Hara with influencing their style, among them Carmel Quinn, Mary Black, and Moya Brennan. In his autobiography Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour (2002), Liam Clancy wrote how her music inspired and influenced him and others of the Folk Revival period.
O'Hara won her first competition, Sligo's annual Music and Drama singing competition, at the age of eight, and made her first radio broadcast on Radio Éireann before she left school at the age of 16. She went on to perform at Edinburgh International Fringe Festival with the Dublin University Players, BBC's Quite Contrary and The Ed Sullivan Show, before she starred in her own BBC television series. Her first recording contract was with Decca Records. Part of her extensive music career included spending a considerable amount of time on the Aran Islands collecting folk music and acquiring fluent Irish.
She was introduced to American poet Richard Selig by Irish poet Thomas Kinsella and she married Selig in 1956. She moved to the United States with him. Selig died of Hodgkin's disease 15 months after their marriage. O'Hara continued to tour and record for four years.
In 1962, she became a Benedictine nun at Stanbrook Abbey in England, where she stayed for 12 years. Her wedding band was melted down and made into a ring to celebrate her profession of solemn vows as a member of the Benedictine Order in 1967.
O'Hara's initial rise to a high-profile was repeated in 1974 when she left the monastery for the sake of her health, found that her musical reputation had grown during her time in the cloister, and returned to performing. In a matter of months, she became one of the biggest international recording stars to come out of Ireland.
The title of her autobiography, The Scent of the Roses, is taken from one of her favourite songs by Irish poet Thomas Moore. Her other books include Celebration of Love, and the coffee table book, A Song for Ireland.
She continued her singing career for a further 16 years, retiring from performing in 1994. In 1985, she remarried, to Dr Pádraig O'Toole, who was instrumental in the development of her career from 1974. They spent six years in Tanzania where her husband taught at the Tanzania School of Journalism, at the University of Dar es Salaam. A musical play about her life, Harp on the Willow by John Misto, was a great success in Australia in early 2007. Mary O'Hara completed five volumes of her harp accompaniments, and still travels, giving talks at locales such as the Yeats International Summer School, Sligo (2007), the O'Carolan Festival, Keadue, County Roscommon (2008), Northern Lights Harp Festival, Ottawa (2009), New York University (2009), and Boston College (2009). The Burns Library at Boston College houses her papers, and held a "Mary O'Hara" exhibition ending 30 April 2010.
Mary O'Hara is the daughter of Major John Charles O'Hara, an officer in the British Corps of Royal Engineers, and his wife, Mai (née Kirwan). One of O'Hara's nephews is playwright/author Sebastian Barry, one of the sons of her sister, actress Joan O'Hara.
Influence in modern culture
O'Hara's recording of "Óró Mo Bháidín" is sampled in Passion Pit's 2008 single "Sleepyhead" and Sub Focus' song "Safe in Sound" from the album Torus. The melody is also used in Chris de Burgh's A Spaceman Came Travelling as part of the chorus.
- "Catholic Weekly biodata on Mary O'Hara". Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Eugene Register-Guard - Google News Archive Search". News.google.com.
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- "Mary O'Hara's official website, ibid". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- O'Hara's final vows at Stanbrook Abbey; news.google.com; accessed 14 March 2014.
- "Official Mary O'Hara website" (PDF). Maryohara.co.uk.
- "Handmusic website". Archived from the original on 14 July 2009. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- O'Hara, Mary (4 February 1985). Celebration of Love: A Collection of Favourite Prose and Poetry. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 9780340373231 – via Google Books.
- "Mary O'Hara - Travels With My Harp". Maryohara-travelswithmyharp.co.uk.
- "Harp On The Willow | Ensemble Productions". Australianstage.com.au.
- Sims, John (30 October 2016). "Mary O'Hara - travels with my harp". Maryohara-travelswithmyharp.co.uk. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
Mary and her husband Padraig now live on the Aran Islands, off the west coast of IrelandCS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Aran-born missionary, teacher and devoted husband". The Irish Times. 21 November 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Ricorso: Digital materials for the study and appreciation of Anglo-Irish Literature". Ricorso.net.
- Folk Harp Journal - Issues 24-27 1979 My admiration for Mary O'Hara has increased steadily since I first heard her singing and accompanying herself on the Irish Harp in the album, SONGS OF IRELAND, Tradition (JLP 1024), twenty years ago. "
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 405. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.