Mary O’Hara, who was born in Sligo in 1935 and was reared in Harbour House in Finisklin, went on to international stardom as a singer and harpist with a pure soprano voice.
Born in Sligo, Mary O’Hara achieved fame 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, Maire Brennan, Ann Breen and Mary McGonigle, amongst others.
In his autobiography “Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour”, Liam Clancy writes about how the music of Mary O’Hara inspired and influenced him and others of the Folk Revival period.
Mary married American poet Richard Selig in 1956 and moved to America with him where her stardom continued to grow. When Selig died 15 months after their marriage, O’Hara continued to tour and record for four years before eventually joining a monastery in England in 1962 where she lived for 12 years.
Her initial speedy rise to fame was repeated in 1974 when she returned to performing and in a matter of months she become one of the biggest international recording stars to come out of Ireland.
Her autobiography “The Scent of the Roses” is still available as is her book “Celebration of Love”. Her coffee table book “A Song for Ireland” is a collector’s item which is sadly no longer available.
O’Hara continued her singing career for a further 16 years retiring from performing in 1994. Late 1985 she married again, to Dr. Padraig O’Toole, who was instrumental in the development of her career from 1974. They recently spent six years in Tanzania, where O’Toole taught at the Tanzania School of Journalism (U of Dar es Salaam).
A musical play about O’Hara‘s life called “Harp on the Willow” was a great success in Australia in early 2007. Mary continued travelling and giving talks “Travels With My Harp”, including a talk at the Yeats International Summer School in 2007.