SM020: Travels With My Harp Volume 2

Travels With My Harp Volume 2 (with DVD) by Mary O'Hara

Cover Image: Travels With My Harp Volume 2 by Mary O'Hara

As in Volume 1 of Travels With My Harp (Afghanpress, 2006), the accompaniments in this Volume 2 are suitable for piano and for pedal or lever harp but they were specifically written or adapted for the latter. Since making my first singing radio broadcast in Ireland at the age of sixteen, I accompanied myself on the Irish harp. Over the years my repertoire expanded to include songs from other parts of the world. This volume, Travels With My Harp Vol. 2 offers another spriniding of my favourite songs - songs I have performed many times in concert, on radio and on television, recorded on LP and CD.

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For details of accompanying DVD please click here

Also by Mary O'Hara


Travels With My Harp - see Composers Notes below
1 Kitty of Coleraine  (Traditional - Irish)
2 Danny Boy (Traditional - Irish)
3 The Uist Cattle Croon (Traditional - Scots Gallic)
4 The Spanish Lady  (Traditional - Irish)
5 Song For a Winter’s Night (Gordon Lightfoot)
6 Come Lord (Mary O‘Hara)
7 The Fairy Tree (Irish Art song)
8 Oró Mo Bháidin (Traditional - Irish)
9 I Know My Love (Traditional - Irish)
10 The Song of Glendun (Irish Art song)
11 Tally Ho! - An Maidrin Rua (Traditional - Irish/Mary O‘Hara)
12 A New Year Carol (Benjamin Britten)
About These Accompaniments - see Composers Notes below
My Harp
- see Composers Notes below

Composers Notes

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As in Volume 1 of Travels With My Harp (Afghanpress, 2006), the accompaniments in this Volume 2 are suitable for piano and for pedal or lever harp but they were specifically written or adapted for the latter. Since making my first singing radio broadcast in Ireland at the age of sixteen, I accompanied myself on the Irish harp. Over the years my repertoire expanded to include songs from other parts of the world. This volume, Travels With My Harp Vol. 2 offers another spriniding of my favourite songs - songs I have performed many times in concert, on radio and on television, recorded on LP and CD.

It has been said that the Irish harp is the closest of all instruments to the human voice and I only ever used the harp as an accompanying instrument. The harp’s role for the self-accompanist is to enhance the singing without drawing undue attention to itself. All along, my aim had been to keep my harp accompaniments simple without being dull, interesting without being fussy or drawing attention away from the actual song. I memorised my harp accompaniments and never wrote them down. Now at last I’m committing them to paper.

Over many years I performed my songs on stage and in my television shows. As any professional singer will tell you, one’s interpretation of songs evolves over time and likewise the accompaniments. My recordings of the songs in this book were made at different times, sometimes part of live performances, and what is on the various recordings may not always in every detail accord exactly with what appears on paper here. I’ve avoided over-burdening the user with too many directions. Singing and the interpretation of songs is a personal matter, best left to the individual singer to work out on his or her own. My own interpretation can be heard on my recordings or, in this case, on the separate accompanying DVD.

Of the hundreds of songs I have recorded, fewer than a third are with harp accompaniment only. Most are with harp, piano and flute - my regular concert line-up - and many with orchestra. For this book, I’ve selected a cross section of the songs I sang with the harp only.

To help you understand these songs more fully, some knowledge of the songs’ backgrounds may be helpful. I have included three very popular Gaelic songs in this volume, The Uist Cattle Croon (Scots Gallic), Oro Mo Bhaidin, and An Maidrin Rua. I have used a free English translation but the actual original Gaelic versions are at the back of the book. I resisted the temptation to use phonetic spelling because nowadays it is so easy to get the exact sound from a CD or, in this case, from the accompanying video. I have not altered the original melody. Should you want music and Gaelic together, email me at and I will send you the song as a .PDF or .sib attachment.

Kitty of Coleraine - on her way to the fair in Coleraine, Kitty bumped into Barney who upset, not only her equilibrium but also her pitcher of milk. But soon Kitty turned the mishap to her own advantage, proving that there are times when it pays off to cry over spilt milk.

Danny Boy - possibly the best known and most loved Irish song in the English-speaking, world. Danny Boy uses the melody of the original Gaelic song “Maidin i mBéara (Morning in Béara), which I learnt at school. It is said to be the song of a father whose son is setting out for war. Handel is supposed to have said that his fame would have been assured if he could claim to have written just this one song ever.

The Uist Cattle Croon - one spring morning in Dublin when I was about 19 years old, Radio Eireann handed me this song and asked me to have it ready for the next programme. They told me that Calum MacLean of the School of Scottish Studies and an authority on everything Scots-Gallic, was in Dublin and willing to coach me in the authentic pronunciation. Meeting Calum that morning opened up for me a new area of work which involved my going to the Outer Hebrides to collect Scots-Gallic songs. This eventually led to my performance at the Edinburgh International Festival in “Pleasures of Scotland” and was to be the start of a wider audience for my work at the newly established BBC TV.

The Spanish Lady - from medieval times there was much trade between Ireland and Spain and perhaps that’s why a ‘Spanish’ lady could be associated with someone exotic, even eccentric. There is very little definite knowledge about this song or its provenance but the words tell their own story.

Song For a Winter’s Night - I toured extensively in Canada and this is the first Canadian song that entered my repertoire. It reminds me of cold snow and warm hearts.

Come Lord - originally an Advent hymn meant to be sung a capella in choir. The words were written by a member of my Stanbrook community and I set them to music. It was after I had left the monastery that I turned it into a song with the harp. While the rhythm of the accompaniment is strictly adhered to throughout, the song itself, as it were, floats on top (except for Bars 13 & 14), as you’ll hear on the accompanying DVD - quasi senza tempo - (the vocal line being sung quite freely).

The Fairy Tree depicts a happy alliance of Christian belief and acknowledgement of the equally invisible fairy world - the supernatural and preternatural hand in hand. In Irish history, Oliver Cromwell is an horrific figure who massacred whole communities of Irish for no reason other than they were Catholic. Like the fairies themselves, the ‘Curse of Cromwell’ became part of Irish mythology and song.

Óró Mo Bháidin - the Irish ‘currach’, derived from the more primitive coracle, is still a popular fishing canoe used along the rugged west coast of Ireland, especially on the Aran Islands. In skilled hands it is exceptionally easy to carry on land or manoeuvre in water. It is made of canvas stretched over a light-weight frame of laths and coated with tar. It uses from two to eight oars and sometimes a sail. The song is an occupational song with the oarsmen singing to the rhythm of their work. The singer in this song is very fond of his currach.

I Know My Love - At her wit’s end to know how to hold on to her ‘arrant rover’ young man, the singer suddenly hits on a sure-fire solution ........

The Song of Glendun - this is an Irish art song, a poignant love song that speaks for itself.

Tally Ho! An Maidrin Rua is a hunting song, a dialogue between a very confident, cheeky little fox and an irate farmer. The original was bilingual. It was written just over two hundred years ago when the population of Ireland was exchanging its Irish (Gaelic) language for English as Ireland’s spoken language. The tune first appeared in Bunting’s Collection of 1792 and Thomas Moore based his song “Let Erin Remember” on the melody.

A New Year Carol - beloved of harpists - first captured my imagination while I was at Stanbrook Abbey. I immediately included it in my repertoire of ‘God Songs’. I loved its strange medieval words, which are beautifully wedded with Benjamin Britten’s music. I’ve heard it claimed that the “seven bright gold wires” refer to harp- strings.

I have now been retired from singing for some years and I have hung up my harp for good but I hope these harp accompaniments of mine will give you some pleasure and that you’ll find them useful in your work.

Travels With My Harp
Photograph of Mary O'HaraTen years ago Mary O'Hara packed in her singing, crated her harp and, with her husband, took off for Africa. She felt life had been good to her and that it was time to retire and do something different with her time. The African period is now over and she is once more back in her Berkshire cottage. Her harp, idle over those years, has been restrung and she has decided to put on paper some of those songs and accompaniments that had so delighted her audiences during her years of singing and harp playing.

This was not the first time Mary OHara hung up her harp and went silent. She did the same almost 33 years previously after the premature death of her young husband. She entered a strict Benedictine order of nuns and stayed there for 12 1/2 years till eventually her physical health broke down forcing her to leave.

She emerged to take up her singing career where it left off, adding twelve more long playing albums (and CDs) to the seven she had recorded before embracing monastic silence. In due course she went on to wider success and acclaim, having her own TV series on the BBC and on ITV in the UK. She toured extensively, collecting plaudits wherever she went and giving concerts in places as diverse as the ancient Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens and the major concert halls of the English-speaking world - Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, The Sydney Opera House ....  She has even had a play written about her. It played for ten weeks to packed audiences in Sydney, Australia and is currently (2007) playing at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne. She also found time to write three best- selling books, one of them her autobiography.

Mary O’Hara has now retired from the concert platform for good but she still continues to delight her audiences with witty stories and reminiscences from her days of Travelling With Her Harp. Her presentation, punctuated with short video-bursts from the past, traverses the significant events of her life’s story. In retrospect she can now identify and comment upon the ‘invisible plan’ that gave meaning and unity to the different phases of her life and in her own inimitable way she captivates her audiences just as she once did in the concert halls of Europe, Australia and North America. Her droll story-telling skills are as evident here as they ever were on the concert stage.

In her presentation, Mary O'Hara talks about her upbringing in Ireland in the 1950s - her childhood in Sligo, her schooling, how she took up playing the harp and how she became a successful stage, radio and TV personality not just in her native Ireland but also in the United Kingdom through BBC TV.

She describes her marriage to the young poet Richard Selig, then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford - their life together in New York and her devastation at his premature death. This decided her to leave the world of music and enter a strict enclosed order of Benedictine nuns for what she believed to be for the rest of her life. She talks about what life in the monastery was like and how eventually she had to leave. Emerging from monastic seclusion to a renewed and even more successful singing career, she reflects on the trappings of show business and discusses the spiritual and commercial forces that shaped her music and her view of life.

She illustrates all this with slides and poignant video excerpts culled from her various television appearances. She talks about her books, especially her autobiography, published 25 years ago and which she is currently updating. She concludes with some thoughts on her recent six-year sojourn in Africa, getting a taste of a very different type of life.

This songbook is one of two volumes of harp accompaniments entitled Travels With My Harp that emerged as a result of a presentation Mary was invited to give at the World Harp Congress held at University College Dublin in the summer of 2005. By popular request, volume 2 is accompanied by a DVD. Further volumes are planned. For more information see contact details:

Cover painting: Brigid Marlin

My Briggs Harp in retirement at RivendellMy harp (pictured here) has travelled with me all over the world from the Yukon and Labrador City to the far reaches of New Zealand and Africa and much in between. I have played it in all the major concert halls of the English-speaking world and it has never let me down. When I was leaving New York shortly after I was widowed in 1957, I got rid of my double-action Erard concert harp and, from then on, only ever used my Irish harps. These were specially made for me, around 1953, by Henry Briggs, an Englishman living in Scotland and making Irish harps.

The old Irish harps were all wire-strung. The harper plucked the strings with very long nails and for that reason a particularly unkind punishment for a harper was to have his nails cut. All harpers were men. They used their harps as accompanying instruments for their songs or for reciting poetry, which was a very popular activity in Gaelic culture. At various times in the history of Ireland much of the material used by harpists would not be considered politically acceptable and for that reason, harpists were not ‘flavour of the month’ among government supporters. At various periods harp playing was proscribed, harps officially burnt and harpists jailed for inciting rebellion.

Nowadays, most harp strings are made of gut or nylon and are plucked with the finger tips instead of with the nails. Also, unlike in the old days, harp playing is no longer the exclusive preserve of the men of Ireland, nor is it any longer considered a treasonable offence to play the harp. Instead, the harp has finally achieved the proper recognition it has long deserved.

Ironically, it was an English monarch who first established that respectable symbolic connection between Ireland and the harp. Henry VIII in the 16th century used the harp as a symbol of Ireland, and towards the end of that same century, his daughter, Elizabeth I, had the harp minted on the coins of Ireland. The custom of representing Ireland with the harp design gradually gained acceptance thereafter and in the 17th and 18th centuries many of the Irish mercenary armies abroad used the harp as their distinguishing badge. At the turn of the 18th century, the poet Thomas Moore, popularised the harp, perpetuating it as a symbol of resurgent Irish nationalism.

Today, the harp is the most widely recognised symbol of modern Ireland. It appears on all official state documents, as well as on the presidential flag and on Irish Euro coins.


My thanks to the many people who have encouraged and helped me with the preparation of these song books: Professor David Watkins, Sheila Larchet, Deirdre Kelleher, Dermod McCarthy, Moira Stern - to name but a few. I want to thank particularly Alan Tongue, my former BBC TV producer who meticulously examined all my arrangements. I also want to thank Rena and Cailean Maclean for help with my Scots Gailic.

Library Information

Composer/Arranger: Traditional & Various / All arranged Mary O'Hara
Instrumentation: Irish Harp
Level: Intermediate
Format: Sprial Bound  + DVD
Size: A4
Total Pages: 44
Weight: 206gm (inc DVD)
ISMN: Not issued
Our Ref: SM020
Publisher: Mary O'Hara
Edition/Year: First Edition 2007
Origin: UK
Cover Illustration: Bridget Marlin

Sample page

Sample of the music