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Joseph O'Mara, the opera singer

Joseph O'Mara, the opera singer.
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From [P40/917]. Used with permission of [UL Archives].

Joseph O'Mara, the opera singer (see here),
born 16th July 1864, Limerick.
Tenor opera singer. Described as "the Irish Caruso".
Article on Crescent Alumni describes him as "the leading Irish tenor before the arrival of John McCormack".

He was educ Crescent College, Limerick, left 1880.
At about age 18 (i.e. 1882), largely through influence of schoolfriends, he thought he had a fancy for the sea. His father said: "Go ahead my boy; the sooner you go, the sooner you come back." He went to sea for 12 months. He returned "having seen as much as I wanted to in that time." [Crescent College profile].
He sang in St.Michael's Church choir, Denmark St, Limerick (near his home).

Opera career begins:
Joseph went to Italy to study opera. He studied opera in Milan under Signor Moretti, 1889-91.

He first sang in public when he got the part of Ivanhoe in production of the new opera "Ivanhoe" by Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan) at the new "Royal English Opera House" (now the Palace Theatre), London. "Ivanhoe" premiered 31 Jan 1891, with alternating casts. Joseph began as Ivanhoe 4th Feb 1891.
His brother Stephen had business in London and saw him perform. Letter of 26 Feb 1891 says: "I went to "Ivanhoe" last evening, and Joe has improved ever so much, his voice is clearer and fuller and the acting is simply perfect."
Some sources say he performed Ivanhoe there for 12 months until 1892. Other sources say "Ivanhoe" ended July 1891.

For 3 years he was chief tenor at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, near Covent Garden.
He was in pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, in Drury Lane.
In 1894 he had his first appearance as tenor in Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in Grand Opera. Chief tenor there also.
He starred as Lohengrin (the leading role, and leading Tenor role) in Wagner's "Lohengrin", with Sir Augustus Harris' Company, 1894-95.
He sang in Grand Opera in Liverpool. He was in pantomime, Aladdin, in the Prince of Wales, Liverpool.
He is listed as "musical artist", living London, at mar.

He mar 24 June 1896, Rathmines RC church, Co.Dublin [GROI] to Bride Power [Bridget, born 1873].
She was only dau of Michael Power, "manager of bacon factory", of Waterford. She was living Waterford at mar.

He sang for Carl Rosa Opera Company.
He is not listed at his father's funeral in 1899. He was probably abroad.
A recording of him survives from 1901.
He performed Maritana with the Moody-Manners Company in London, 1902. Leading tenor with them.
He starred as Don Jose (the hero and the leading Tenor role) when in 1903 the Moody-Manners Company performed "Carmen" at the Queen's Theatre, Holbeck, Leeds.
He starred as Romeo (the hero and the leading Tenor role) in Charles Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette".
He starred as Lieutenant Pinkerton (the villain and the leading Tenor role) in Puccini's "Madame Butterfly", 1904 or later.
He starred as Tannhauser (the leading role, and leading Tenor role) in Wagner's "Tannhauser".
Other operas he sang in included "Faust" and "The Jewess" and "Aida" and "Tosca".

He was granted Freedom of Limerick 1908.
Think this was the time when he sang from the balcony of his brother Stephen's house Hartstonge House to a huge crowd gathered on the street.
[Irish Independent, 30 Oct 1967] quotes Michael Rynne (then a child), who recalls how "Catherine Street - lit up from end to end by tar-barrels and torches - was packed by hundreds of people who listened in dead silence to that truly magnificent voice which required no microphone to carry it down towards William Street."
He used to visit his niece Mrs. O'Sullivan in Killarney, and a crowd would gather outside and he would sing.
His brother Stephen left Hartstonge House c.1909, definitely gone by 1910.
Plaque on Hartstonge House says Joseph lived there. Wonder did he live there for a time after Stephen left, in 1910-1919.
Cannot find the family in Ireland in 1911 census. No O'Mara is listed on Hartstonge St, which suggests Joseph did not live in Hartstonge House.

O'Mara Opera Company, 1912:
He toured the US.
On his return he founded O'Mara's Travelling Opera Company (or the O'Mara Opera Company Ltd) 1912. He was Managing Director and leading singer.
See poster advertising The O'Mara Grand Opera in May 1913. From here. Original from NLI.
He gave a free concert in Limerick 1916. See Drama and Variety in [McMahon and Flynn, 1996].
His company performed Puccini's "La Boheme" and "Madame Butterfly" at the Theatre Royal, Leeds, 1918.
Lived 43 Raglan Rd, Pembroke, Dublin. Listed there in [Thom's, 1919, p.1851]. Was not there in [Thom's, 1914, p.1829].
Living 43 Raglan Rd at dau Eileen's mar 1919.
His company performed Verdi's "Rigoletto" at the Theatre Royal, Leeds, 1921. See poster formerly here.
He sang in Australia.
He sponsored an annual "O'Mara Cup" at the Feis Ceoil.
Biography in [Thom's Irish Who's Who, 1923] lists him as living 6 Adelphi Terrace, London, W.C. (right in the heart, see map).
He was living "Glenmore", 14 Ailesbury Park, off Merrion Rd, Dublin, at dau's death 1925 and registration of death in 1926.
He sang on the first day Irish radio started, 1 Jan 1926. He sang "The Bard of Armagh". His brother Stephen (who died later that year) ordered the finest new radio from America so that a gathering of relatives and friends in Limerick could hear him.
He retired Mar 1926 [obituary]. He played "Lohengrin" again for his farewell performance when he retired.
His last public appearance was at concerts to celebrate 700 years of Dominicans in Limerick, Mar 1927 [Riordan, 1992].

Joseph dies, 1927:
He died 5 Aug 1927, at his house, "Glenmore", 14 Ailesbury Park, Dublin, age 63 yrs [GROI].
Oddly, he is simply listed as "Company Manager" on death cert.
See death notice, Irish Times, Saturday, August 6, 1927.
See obituary in Irish Times, Saturday, August 6, 1927.
Limerick city flag flew at half mast at the town hall. See item (and header) in Irish Times, Monday, August 8, 1927.
Funeral Mon 8 Aug 1927. He was bur Glasnevin Cemetery.
Private funeral. Messages of sympathy received from President W.T. Cosgrave and Bryan Cooper TD.
See funeral report in Irish Times, Tuesday, August 9, 1927.
See obituary in Irish Times, Saturday, August 13, 1927, p.4 and p.3.

Bride dies, 1935:
Bride is listed with address 18 Ailesbury Rd, Dublin, in her grave record.
She died 11 Sept 1935, "Verdella", Church Rd, Greystones, Co.Wicklow, age 62 yrs [GROI].
See death notice in Irish Independent, September 13, 1935.
Funeral 13 Sept, bur Glasnevin Cemetery.
See funeral report (and header) in Irish Independent, Saturday, September 14, 1935.
Joseph and Bride had issue:

  1. Eileen O'Mara, born 19th Sept 1897,
    see 1914 photo,
    living family home, 43 Raglan Rd, Dublin, at mar,
    mar 22 July 1919, St.Mary's RC church, Haddington Rd, Dublin, to Fonso Carton and had issue.
    See mar cert from here.

  2. Nora O'Mara,
    see 1914 photo,
    she wit Eileen's mar 1919,
    mar Dr. Bill Cussen [William R. Cussen, of Rathangan, Co.Kildare, think NOT Cusson],
    no issue,
    he registered his mother-in-law's death 1935, he is listed as living Church Rd, Greystones, Co.Wicklow,
    he died 1972,
    she died Oct 1984.

  3. Power O'Mara,
    born London, 21 May 1900,
    James Power O'Mara,
    "Power" was his mother's surname, it became the first name he was known by.

  4. Moya O'Mara,
    or Maïra, "Maire" on grave and death cert, "Maria" in grave record,
    born 1902, think NOT May 1903.
    There is a photo of her labelled: "our darling Moya, taken in Portrush Oct 1921, died ... from her heart-broken Daddy and Mammy".
    She died 7 Aug 1925, age 23 yrs [death cert],[grave],[grave record], NOT 6 Apr 1922.
    She died at "Glenmore", Ailesbury Park, Dublin, of TB. See death cert from here.
    She was bur Glasnevin Cemetery.

  5. Fr. Joey O'Mara,
    Joseph, Joe,
    born 4 March 1906, London. Think NOT May.

Sheet music cover of Joseph O'Mara's Song Successes in the new production Peggy Machree (1908).
From here. Original from here.




The song Ochone! When I Used to Be Young.
From the opera Shamus O'Brien (1895) by Charles Villiers Stanford.
Sung by Joseph O'Mara in 1901.
In public domain. From See MP3.


The song "Friend and Lover" by Landon Ronald.
Sung by Joseph O'Mara, 1902, London.
In public domain. From The First Opera Recordings, 1895-1902: A Survey. See



Left to Right: Michael Judge, Nora O'Mara, Kate O'Mara, unknown, Eileen O'Mara (born 1897), Dick Ray.
Kilkee, 1914.
See larger and full size.

The unveiling of the plaque on Hartstonge House to Joseph O'Mara in 1967.
Left to Right: Nora O'Mara, Ted Russell (Mayor of Limerick), Eileen O'Mara (now Carton), Jack O'Mara, "Mrs. F. Condell".
From Limerick Leader, 28 Oct 1967.
See larger and full size.




Sources yet to be consulted


Joseph O'Mara, the opera singer (pictures)

Joseph O'Mara, the opera singer (memorials)

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