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Mary O'Hara papers

Collection IM-M175-2009: Mary O'Hara papers


  • 1898 - 2012
  • Majority of material found within 1954 - 2012

Scope and Contents

The Mary O'Hara papers document the performances, public career, and personal life of Irish soprano and harpist Mary O'Hara. The collection highlights her early rise to fame in the 1950s until her entrance to Stanbrook Abbey in 1962, as well her return to her music career in 1974 until her retirement in 1994. O'Hara was married to the American poet Richard Selig from 1956 until his death in 1957, and her selected personal correspondence with him as well as some of his manuscripts are part of this collection. In addition, these papers include some notebooks and artwork from her time as a nun at Stanbrook Abbey (1962-1974).

The collection consists primarily of business and personal correspondence. It also includes audio recordings, performance scripts, publicity materials, literary manuscripts, sheet music, diaries, photographs, ephemera, and subject files. There are also electronic records and a few pieces of art and artifacts, including O'Hara's first professional harp.

Publicity materials include press releases, clippings, concert and tour schedules, ephemera, fan club newsletters, journal articles, posters, programs, fliers, and unpublished articles. Photographs include prints, slides, transparencies, and contact sheets. Subject files comprise published articles, photographs, and notes on subjects of interest to O'Hara. Scrapbooks are fragile and compile newspaper clippings that are duplicated in Series IX, Subseries B.


Language of Materials

Items in this collection are predominantly in English with some Irish, French, Dutch, German, Greek, and Japanese.

Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research. Some audiovisual materials and electronic records may not be immediately available due to formatting issues. Unpublished sound cassettes are restricted; request digital use copies instead. O'Hara's scrapbooks closed due to fragility. Personal correspondence with Adrian Hastings and Deirdre Kelleher is restricted until 2025.

Copyright Restrictions

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note

Mary O’Hara, Irish soprano and harpist, was born in 1935 in Sligo, Ireland. She 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 Sligo Feis Ceóil at the age of eight and appeared on her first broadcast on Radio Éireann before she left school 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 – Songs of Erin (1957), Love Songs of Ireland (1958), and Songs of Ireland (1958). She also recorded one track for The Folk Tradition in 1960.

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 – her autobiography, The Scent of the Roses (1980), a coffee table book, A Song for Ireland (1982), and an anthology of her favorite readings, Celebration of Love (1985). In 1985, she married Dr. Padraig O’Toole. Following her retirement, she and O’Toole lived in Africa for six years where he taught at the Tanzania School of Journalism and 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.

O’Hara’s nephew is playwright and author Sebastian Barry, son of her sister, the late actress Joan O’Hara.

She currently divides her time living on the Aran Islands and in Spain.


“Mary O’Hara.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 9, 2013.'Hara.

Mary O’Hara official website. Accessed September 9, 2013.

O'Hara, Mary. The Scent of the Roses. London: Michael Joseph, 1980.

_____. Travels With My Harp. London: Shepheard-Walwyn Ltd., 2012.


43 Linear Feet (55 containers)


This collection documents the performances, public career, and private life of Irish soprano and harpist Mary O'Hara. The collection consists primarily of business and personal correspondence. It also includes audio recordings, electronic records, sheet music and song lyrics, publicity materials, literary manuscripts, diaries and notebooks, photographs, subject files, and artifacts.


This collection is arranged in thirteen series: I. Art and artifacts; II. Audiovisual materials; III. Correspondence; IV. Diaries and notebooks; V. Electronic records; VI. Literary manuscripts; VII. Performance scripts and related materials; VIII. Photographs; IX. Publicity materials; X. Printed materials; XI. Scrapbooks; XII. Sheet music and song lyrics; XIII. Subject files.

Correspondence is further divided into three subseries: A. Business correspondence; B. Fan mail; C. Personal correspondence.

Performance scripts and related materials are divided into three subseries: A. Albums and repertoire; B. Live musical performances; C. Television and radio.

Printed materials are divided into two subseries: A. Music books; B. Other books.

Publicity materials are divided into nine subseries: A. Biographical notes and press releases; B. Clippings; C. Concert and tour schedules; D. Ephemera; E. Fan club newsletters; F. Journals; G. Posters; H. Programs and fliers; I. Unpublished articles.

Sheet music and song lyrics are divided into two subseries: A. Sheet music; B. Song lyrics.


Gift of Mary O'Hara and Padraig O'Toole, 2009-2013.

Related collections

Richard Selig Papers, 1935-1962 (MS Am 1658). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Additional papers of Richard Selig are at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Separated Materials

Published works associated with this collection have been transferred within the Burns Library and can be found in the Boston College Library catalog.

Mary O'Hara Papers
1898-2012 (bulk 1954-2012)
Deanna Malvesti
October 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States
617-552-2465 (Fax)