FAMED FOR ITS FICTION
We meet singing star MARY O'HARA
16th AUGUST 1980
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CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS The Delightful Dolphin Special Non-stick Griddle Offer
Golden-voiced folk-singer Mary O'Hara, a former nun who has resumed her singing career, is visited by Caryl Brahms
Serial: Gift of Aphrodite Short Story: Mardi Gras Serial: Last Night at Paradise
10 18 24
KNITTING Striped short-sleeved Jersey Chunky-knit Jacket
COOKERY Spreads and Sandwich Fillings
FASHION Two-piece Border Print Suit Pattern Size Wise
HOME Decorating with Shells
Stars 2; Beauty 14; Man-Who-Sees 34; Gardening 40; Robins 45; Matron 46; Canon R. C. Stephens 51; Health 54; Mary Marryat 63. © IPC Magazines Ltd., 1980
HEN first I met Mary she was running—Mary O'Hara, the lady who sings to the Celtic harp, or to be exact to the three Celtic harps. They stand in her music room in a kind of Prince-of-Wales-feathers arrangement. She was running away from the cottage door down her narrow, honey-scented hall, so that my first impression of Mary was of a disappearing back. When I took leave of her, some hours later, she was jumping to reach some late autumn roses, growing high up the wall of her Wiltshire cottage, for me. The night was dark, so Mary was holding a storm-lamp; she did not set it on the ground, but jumped with it, so that the light seemed to be leaping, almost dancing with her. We had spent an evening of gaiety—a lot of laughter sandwiching some thoughtful, deeper talk—for perhaps a couple of hours only, but long enough for me to like and respect this ageless, lightly moving woman who seemed both youthful, yet wise beyond her years, this popular and distinguished folk-singer who retired from the world after five years of widowhood to spend the next twelve and a half years in a monastery (it seems that nuns of the Benedictine Order enter not a convent, but a monastery). After two bouts of severe illness, "Sister Miriam" jumped, as the saying goes, over the wall, only in Mary's case she insists that she did not "jump over the wall". "It has appalling connotations, for it means to escape, whereas I left slowly and with the blessing of my superiors." She followed the star which sang and danced before her. Soon she was, April-like, to run full of joy through the rain and into the sunshine. This is Mary as I see her, cool yet compassionate, a trifle wild in the Irish way of it, yet strict: "Order is heaven's first law," she wrote in a note to Continued overleaf
Radiant Mary O'Hara, "Music Maker and Dreamer of Dreams", expresses her love of life in glorious song.
OUT OF TOWN continued
me; still totally a child of God with an inner certainty that it was the Divine Will which sent her back to the world to play and sing and still to pray. She is one of the fortunate few who can acclaim themselves, in the words of Fitzgerald, the Irish poet: "We are the Music Makers And we are the Dreamers of Dreams." Mary O'Hara, who for a time was Sister Miriam, meditating in Worcestershire Cloisters ("Meditating in Cloisters sounds as though I did nothing else all day long," she chides), is now a recording star under the Decca and Chrysalis labels, and, with her new album, "Tranquillity", the Warwick label. She is also a woman of high courage. We cannot doubt that it was Irish pluck that brought her back to a world which still holds wonder for herâ€” wonder, and friends wherever she goes and bars of raisin and nut milk chocolate, bath salts, books, and admiring audiences. ("Oh! I'd loathe to believe that anyone would think I came back for admiring audiences and bath salts!") We cannot doubt that it was a hard-fought spiritual journey which sent Mary running through the rain in Oxfordshire. Poets write songs uniquely for her to sing, strange delightful songs. One I like particularly is by that fine, contemplative Oxford poet, Peter Levi, who wrote in a relaxed and amusing mood: THE SNAIL // you're a snail it's a slow procedure God doesn't promise too much to feed yer If you're a snail it's a great advantage To live in a garden with decent plantage. If you're a snail you've a curious vision Beetles and frogs view it with derision But eyes on a stalk are a great advantage To live in a garden with a decent plantage Peter was best man at Mary O'Hara's radiant marriage to Richard Seylig,
another Oxford undergraduate poet, whom a contemporary once described as the handsomest man he had ever seen. Mary and Richard met through mutual friends in Dublin and straight away fell in love, married and lived happily in an "ever after" which they both knew could last only until the fatal disease which Seylig had contracted should claim him. Their ecstatic life together lasted only for a handful of monthsâ€”fifteen, to be exact. But Mary Seylig is above all a survivor; and it takes courage to be that. To be aware of the weather-vane in
Mary's personality is to grasp that she is living two lives at opposite points of the compass, and understand what makes her run onwards, ever onwards. We can see how the light alternates with the shade in her. We find an instant friendliness, yet we are at the same time warned not to presume; to observe, as it were, but not to touchâ€”the roses are not for us to pick, but to be given as Mary's benediction. We cannot help loving her, but somewhere along the line the wind could change and blow us back to the keeping-our-place and formal relationship.
Readers will be delighted to know that MARY O'HARA's own book "The Scent of Roses" is to appear in September. Published by Michael Joseph, price E6-SO.
A kaleidoscope of some of the many moods of Mary O'Hara.
She told me over an incongruous supper in an ambitious restaurant a few miles from her cottage, "God is a joy. You have to go forward to receive life at His hands". Receptivity to Mary is not a matter of waiting patiently for a state of plastic grace to be handed over to her. She needs to run out to meet and welcome it. The fascinating dichotomy in Mary is reflected in her cottage. The white walls and feeling of spare space are the half that is the former nun ("I hate the expression ex-nun")- The flowers that fill great jars and vases were presented to Mary O'Hara, the star, and represent the other side. Posters that have pleased her are flung up on the walls of her music room; and in her bathroom is a conglomeration of objects that have amused her. She can be still without embarrassment, very much her own woman, or be bright and scintillating. And all the time I felt she was waiting—would it be for a second marriage? Widows who have been happy in their marriage often elect to marry again. Or was she waiting only to be rid of me and my impertinent questions—an attitude which I could understand perfectly—but the roses she gave me in parting suggested that she had not minded them. Indeed, she answered swiftly, brightly and with considerable candour. I was not surprised to hear that her favourite classical composer was Bach, for in his music one finds perfect neatness, balance, as well as consolation and the contemplation that so many natures need. I like to think of Marv with her arms flung 5 wide, running, running forward to meet <§ what the future holds for her, welcoming it as she welcomed me. There is now a Mary O'Hara club. For details, write to Sarah Hook, West Moors, | Wimborne, Dorset BH22 OJD, enclosing a stamped, addressed envelope.