O’Hara: What’s in a name?

Members of O’Hara clan include archbishops, writers and movie stars. By Shauna O’Halloran.


Variants: Ó hEaghra

Hailing from County Sligo, O’Hara’s are decendants of Eaghra, once Lord of Luighne (an ancient territory in province of Connacht) and member of household of Ollum, King of Munster. Eaghra died in 976, but O’Hara clan remained an important sept, and held their ranks as Lords of Luighne (today called Leyney) until 17th century, and held lands in Sligo up until as recent as 19th century.

Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh

By 14th century, clan had divided into two distinct septs, led by two chiefs known as O’Hara Buide (yellow, or fair, presumably referring to his hair) and O’Hara Reagh (rough-faced) and center of septs were held at village of Ballyharry (from ‘Ballyhara’). As landlords, O’Haras held over 20,000 acres (8,000 hectare) of land in Sligo, and at one time a branch migrated north to County Antrim, where there were numerous marriages between O’Haras and great families of area. Descendants could be found there in later years under name O’Haran or Haren. Today, most O’Haras are still found in Sligo and Leitrim.

Of famous O’Haras throughout history, there have been a number of Bishops, including Bishop William O’Hara, first bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania after whom there is a school named and John Francis O’Hara , Archbishop of Philadelphia who was named Cardinal by Pope John XXIII. James O’Hara, an entrepreneur, served as one of General Washington’s supporters throughout American War of Independence, and was credited with development of business in Pittsburgh and the development of West.

In more recent years, celebrated bearers of name include John O’Hara, distinguished short story writer and novelist whose works include Appointment in Samarra and Butterfield 8 (latter was made into an Oscar winning movie, starring Elizabeth Taylor). O’Hara, who wrote regularly for New Yorker magazine, died in 1970.

Screen icon Maureen O’Hara, star of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Miracle on 34th Street and classic The Quiet Man, was born Maureen Fitzsimons in Dublin. After training at famous Abbey Theater, she was scouted and taken to London for a screen test with actor Charles Laughton, which led on to fame and fortune. At height of her career, Maureen was described as one of world’s most beautiful women, and enjoyed in particular a sparkling on-screen chemistry with John Wayne in five feature films they made together between 1948 and 1972. Today, she resides in County Cork and has opened Maureen O’Hara Foundation Museum near her home in Glengarriff.

Perhaps most famous O’Hara of all, however, is fictional character of Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivien Leigh in Hollywood epic, Gone with Wind, based on book by Margaret Mitchell. Scarlett is spoiled daughter of a rich plantation owner who finds herself battling dire poverty during American Civil War.


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