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O'Hara, Mary, 1935-


Biographical Note

Born in 1935 in Sligo, Ireland, Mary O'Hara began singing at an early age and first learned to play the harp from Máirín Ní Shéa for a school pageant. She won her first singing competition at the age of eight and appeared on her first broadcast on Radio Éireann at the age of sixteen. In 1955, she rose to greater fame when she performed at the Edinburgh International Festival of the Arts and was featured on the cover of Irish Digest. Also that year, poet Thomas Kinsella introduced her to the American poet Richard Selig, whom she married in 1956. Fifteen months later, Selig died of Hodgkin's disease. O'Hara continued to perform for four years, releasing three albums. In 1962, O'Hara entered Stanbrook Abbey, where she remained as a nun for twelve years. In 1974, she returned to her musical career and garnered much international acclaim until her retirement in 1994. During this second span as a performing artist, O'Hara released eighteen albums, hosted a series of radio and television programs, and wrote several books. In 1985, she married Dr. Padraig O'Toole. Following her retirement, she and O'Toole lived in Africa for six years where they both worked with children with AIDS in Dar es Salaam and street children in Nairobi. In 2005, O'Hara began giving a series of talks entitled Travels With My Harp, which resulted in five published volumes of harp music, accompanying CDs, and a revised and updated autobiography. In 2007, Harp on the Willow, a musical play about O'Hara's life, premiered with much success in Australia.

Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Identifier

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Jean Heitz collection of Mary O'Hara


This collection documents Irish singer and harpist Mary O'Hara's musical career and early retirement years in Tanzania with her husband Padraig O'Toole through their correspondence with friend and neighbor in England, Jean Heitz. Heitz also collected and kept clippings, ticket stubs, publicity materials, fan club mailings, and photographs relating to O'Hara.

Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research.

Dates: 1975 - 2009; Majority of material found within 1981 - 2002

Mary O'Hara papers

Abstract Papers documenting the musical career and personal life of twentieth-century Irish soprano and harpist Mary O'Hara. Materials include a comprehensive set of audio and video recordings of performances and interviews. The recordings are complemented by set lists, scripts, and O'Hara's annotated sheet music, as well as her first professional harp. Business management is conveyed through contracts, correspondence, and publicity materials. Photographs are principally professional head shots and...
Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research. Audiovisual recordings and born-digital content have been digitally copied from source media; all original media were retained, but may not be played due to format. Digital use copies can only be accessed in the Burns Library Reading Room. O'Hara's scrapbooks are closed due to fragility. Personal correspondence with Adrian Hastings and Deirdre Kelleher is restricted until 2025.

Dates: 1926 - 2011; Majority of material found within 1954 - 2007