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Harpist who conquered world happy with Aran life

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Date Published: 15-Nov-2012

For a person who is adamant that she lacked ambition, Mary O’Hara’s life has been more action packed than most.

At the height of her career, the Sligo-born singer and harpist filled out venues from Carnegie Hall in New York to London’s Royal Albert Hall. She also fronted television series for BBC and ITV and featured regularly on The Late Late Show here at home. She spent over 12 years in a convent, entering in the early 1960s, after the death of her first husband Richard Selig. Years later, after she married her second husband, Inis Mór born Pádraig O’Toole, the couple spent several years in East Africa where he worked as a teacher.

She and Pádraig now live on Inis Mór and although she doesn’t sing any more, Mary certainly isn’t idle.

She has recently penned her autobiography, Travels with My Harp, a fascinating account of her life and music and just last week she was conferred with an honorary Masters from NUIG at its campus in her home town in Sligo.

She has also published her harp accompaniments in five volumes and gives presentations on these in Ireland, England, Wales, Australia, USA and Canada.

While she might not be so well-known among young people these days, Mary’s star was so high in the 1980s that she was immortalised by Christy Moore in his popular folk song, Lisdoonvarna with “Mary O’Hara and Brush Shiels together doing the Four Green Fields”.

Today, in her mid 70s, she’s a tall, upright woman, still glamorous, and her personality is an easy mix of determination and humour.

“Everything that has happened in my life, I’ve been thrown in at the deep end,” she says, agreeing with her husband Pádraig when he says “Mary tries to get out of most things”.

She became a professional singer and musician “by default”, she explains, recalling an episode from her youth that continues to amuse her.

“My sister Joan (O’Hara, the actress), was so concerned about my lack of a plan that I qualified as a beautician to satisfy her. But I did nothing with it.”

Joan then decided Mary should go to the College of Art in Dun Laoghaire, where “I had a great social life, but not studying”.

Mary, who began learning piano at eight, took up harp in her teens and quickly gained a reputation as a fine singer of Irish traditional songs, who accompanied herself on the harp, an instrument which had been in severe decline until she had helped to revive it.

As a result, Radio Éireann offered her regular work, which paid well. That led to invitations to perform countrywide, so by the early 1950s, the teenager’s career was becoming established, albeit accidentally.

 

Around the same time, Mary performed in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and was invited to participate in the official festival the following year. She also signed up to the Decca record label. It was a heady time for the young Sligo girl.

When she was 20, the BBC invited her to take part in a television programme in London, as a result of which she was given her own show, The Starlight Series, a primetime slot on Saturday night television.

There was also a brief spell modelling and studying ballet before music became the complete focus of her professional life.

Personally, things were going well too. By 1956, Mary was married to a young American academic and poet. Richard Selig was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford and an admirer of WB Yeats. They had met in Dublin through the poet Thomas Kinsella.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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