IRISH PHOTO ARCHIVE

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Monday, 1 December 2014

Mary O’Hara

Mary O’Hara was a harpist and soprano singer who became internationally famous during the 1950s and 1960s. Many Irish singers that came after, such as Mary Black and Moya Brennan, have credited O’Hara for influencing their style.


O’Hara won her first competitive prize for singing at the age of 8. She made her first radio broadcast at the age of 18, and went on to travel the world as a headline act. She also in TV shows on the BBC and on the Australian ABC network.

However, O’Hara stepped out of the limelight when she joined a cloistered convent in England in 1962. She decided to join after her husband, the American poet Richard Selig, died shortly after their first wedding anniversary. But fate was to put O’Hara back into the public spotlight again. She was forced to leave the convent due to ill-health, and when she emerged, she discovered that her music and albums were still, if not even more, popular.

Three weeks after leaving the convent, O’Hara was asked to appear on TV again. As soon as people heard she was available again, even if reluctantly, the public demand for concerts and performances could not be ignored.


O’Hara married again, this time to a man who also had a background in the religious orders. Dr Patrick O’Toole had been a missionary priest, but was also a writer and university lecturer. He became O’Hara’s manager, but as they grew closer, he left the priesthood and they got married. His work took them to live in Kenya and Tanzania for a total of six years, another absence from the limelight for O’Hara.

O’Hara has since retired from performing, but continues to tour giving talks on her life and work. Her recordings will continue to act as a testimony to her musical talent, and she is also working on writing down her compositions for the harp, three volumes of which have so far been released.

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