Jimmy O’Hara ‘had music flowing through his veins’

The late Jimmy O'Hara.
The late Jimmy O'Hara.

Irish traditional music has struck a poignant note with the O’Hara family in Limavady, whose father has been honoured with the establishment of a new organisation.

Jimmy O’Hara died in April 2013 when he was 77. He was a well known Irish traditional musician, having played at weddings, funerals, sessions and festivals far and wide. As was said at his funeral, when you heard Jimmy O’Hara was playing, you knew it would be something special.

Daddy would probably say there were plenty of other people far more worthy of the honour

His family - widow Goretti and children Sarah Maria, Joseph, Helen, James and Eoin - say they are incredibly touched their father and his talent has been honoured through The Jimmy O’Hara Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Roe Valley.

“Daddy had music flowing through his veins, and his playing is such a huge part of our memories of him. It’s such a lovely thing to have a lasting tribute that will help spread his love of Irish music and, hopefully, introduce it to a lot more people within the area,” said Jimmy’s daughter, Helen.

“Everyone wants their loved ones to be remembered after they’re gone and we feel very honoured that daddy will be remembered in such a fitting way.”

Jimmy’s son, Eoin, explains the idea was the brainchild of a friend of their father, Brian McNicholl, who is heavily involved within the local traditional music scene and organises the annual Eddie Butcher festival in the area.

“Brian thought it was a shame the area didn’t have any Comhaltas representation, and a few months ago he contacted my family and asked if we had any objections to him establishing a branch of Comhaltas in memory of my father, and, of course. we didn’t,” said Eoin.

Helen said the family had no idea Brian was planning to open a branch in the town, “let alone name it after Daddy, and, needless to say, we were over-the-moon when he asked if we thought it was a good idea”.

The siblings believe their daddy would be humbled by the honour.

“We’ve laughed many times imagining what daddy would say about CCE Roe Valley being named after him. He was so modest about his own musical abilities that sometimes it seemed he was the only person who didn’t know how incredibly talented he was,” said Helen.

“He would probably say that he didn’t deserve to have his name used, or that there were plenty of other people far more worthy of the honour, but I think that’s what people really warmed to about him. He never played for applause or praise, he played because it was what he loved to do.”

According to Eoin, his father said it was when he was a young lad his father came back from a trip to the Ould Lammas Fair with a mouth organ as a gift for him and his brothers and sisters.

“They all played it, and I think that was when the O’Hara’s first discovered that there was quite a lot of talent in the family. From then on he, and many of his brothers, played in various groups including the Finvola Showband in the ‘60s,” said Eoin.

Jimmy O’Hara was known far and wide for his talent, in particular playing the fiddle and the flute.

“He loved traditional Irish music and it made up a lot of what he played in bars and at sessions, but he also played at countless weddings and funerals over the years, and would learn to play pretty much any tune that took his fancy, If you walked into our house at any time of the day, there was a good chance he would be playing something,” said Eoin.

“He played too many instruments to name them all, but the ones I remember him most for were the fiddle, flute, accordion, and tin whistle. 
He was the kind of person that if you handed him an instrument that he had never come across before, he would have been able to get a pretty decent tune out of it within a few minutes. I remember a few years before he died he bought a saw, and sat outside in the sun polishing the metal for hours on end. None of us had a clue what he was doing, until he took out a fiddle bow and used it to play ‘Danny Boy’ on the saw. That pretty much summed him up.”

Eoin and Helen are involved in the Comhaltas, and hope it will attract strong interest from all the local community. Classes start on Thursday.

“On January 28th, our first classes in tin whistle and traditional singing (in English) will begin, running for eight weeks up until Easter. Later in the year we plan to offer a wider range of instruments including the fiddle, bodhran, and banjo,” said Eoin.

“The classes are open to absolutely anyone over the age of seven, regardless of experience or background, and we have been really pleased to see a large number of adults signing up to make the most of this opportunity to learn a new skill, and get involved with traditional Irish music.”

Anyone interested in taking up lessons in singing or tin whistle can contact us via Facebook www.facebook.com/jimmyoharacce/ or email jimmyoharacce@gmail.com.

Cost is £25 for 8 lessons.

“We would like to say a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who has supported us so far, and to the local community for being so enthusiastic and welcoming of the new branch,” said Helen.

Brian McNicholl said: “The Eddie Butcher Festival was running a night every year in memory of Jimmy O’Hara called ‘Jimmy’s Session, but we wanted to do more in his memory as he did so much for everyone. He was a humble man. He always turned up when asked, and was an amazing musician. We thought the best way to remember our dear friend was to give him an eternal memory .”