Reference Code: IE 2135 P40
Title: The O’Mara Papers
Dates of Creation: 1843-1991 (predominant 1916-1959)
Extent and Medium: 30 boxes, 2 outsize boxes, 1 photograph box, 37 outsize items (1,000 files)
Name of Creator(s): O’Mara family of Strand House, Limerick; and O’Brien family of Boru House, Limerick.
Administrative and Biographical History: O’Mara’s Bacon Company was founded in 1839 by James O’Meara (1817-1899), who originated from the village of Toomevaara in county Tipperary. Having worked for some years in the woollen mills in Clonmel, he got a job as a clerk with Matterson’s Bacon Factory in Limerick and in 1839 founded O’Mara’s Bacon Company in his house on Mungret Street. It is said that he dropped the ‘e’ from his surname as he felt that O’Meara was too long for commercial purposes. James initially sold for Matterson’s but soon began to cure his own bacon in the basement of his house. As his business grew, he acquired dedicated premises for the purpose near the top of Roche’s Street.
In 1841, James O’Mara married Honora Fowley (d. 1878), who worked in the bacon business alongside her husband. A devoted nationalist, James was one of the early supporters of Isaac Butt’s Home Rule movement. He was High Sheriff of Limerick City in 1887, and acted as Town Councillor on Limerick Corporation at least from 1888 to 1898.
James and Honora O’Mara had 13 children, of whom the two eldest surviving sons, Stephen O’Mara (1844-1926) and John (Jack) O’Mara (1856-1919) were instrumental in building up the O’Mara’s Bacon Factory into a great success. The youngest son, Joseph (Joe) O’Mara (1864-1927) became a celebrated opera singer.
When James O’Mara retired from business his son John (Jack) O’Mara became manager of the O’Mara Bacon Factory. In the late 1880s, Jack was invited to Russia by Tsar Alexander III to provide instruction on bacon curing. He stayed in St Petersburg to supervise the construction of a bacon factory. In 1891, his father bought the rights of the Russian Bacon Company and the family imported bacon from Russia into London until 1903. James (Jim) O’Mara (1858-1893) acted as agent for O’Mara’s in London until his untimely death from heart disease. His nephew James O’Mara (1873-1948), son of Stephen O’Mara Senior (1844-1926), took over the agency and held it until 1914.
When John (Jack) O’Mara died in 1919, his younger brother Stephen O’Mara (1844-1926) became Managing Director of O’Mara Limited and remained in that capacity until 1923. Having entered into the family business at the age of fifteen, his great business acumen established O’Mara’s Bacon Factory as one of the most prominent commercial enterprises in Limerick city. He also purchased a bacon factory in Palmerston, Ontario, Canada, which was managed by his son Joseph (Joe) O’Mara (1878-1950) until the business was wound up in the 1940s.
Like his father, Stephen O’Mara was a strong supporter of Isaac Butt’s Home Rule movement and a member of the committee which secured Butt’s election for Limerick city in 1871. He later developed a close association with Charles Stewart Parnell and was elected Member of Parliament for Upper Ossory in Kilkenny South for the Irish Parliamentary Party in February 1886. When the Irish National League split from Irish Parliamentary Party in December 1890, O’Mara took the Parnellite side. He continued to act as trustee of the Party funds until 1908, when he resigned from his trusteeship. Towards the end of his life, his moderate political views became more radicalised under the influence of his sons James (1873-1948) and Stephen Junior (1884-1959). He had agreed with his son James’s decision to resign from the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1907 in order to join Sinn Fein, and personally supported the party in the 1918 General Election. Both Stephen and his son James were strong supporters of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty but were on friendly terms with Eamon de Valera who, it is said, spent the night at the O’Mara family home, Strand House, as the Treaty was being signed in London. In the 1925 election, Stephen O’Mara was elected as Senator to the Free State Seanad.
Stephen O’Mara was also a prominent figure in local politics. He became a Town Councillor on Limerick Corporation in the 1880s and was elected Mayor of Limerick in 1885. He was the first Mayor of Limerick to be elected on a Nationalist ticket. He also served as High Sheriff of Limerick city in 1888, 1913 and 1914.
Stephen O’Mara married Ellen Pigott in 1867, and the couple had 12 children of whom the eldest three died tragically of diphtheria in 1872. From c. 1909 onwards, the family lived at Strand House. Their third son, Stephen O’Mara Junior, was born on 5 January 1884. He entered the family business in 1903 when he travelled to Canada to work in the bacon factory established by the O’Mara family in Ottawa. In 1923, he became Managing Director of O’Mara Limited and created numerous employment opportunities by establishing bacon factories in Claremorris, County Mayo, and Letterkenny, County Donegal, in the 1930s. The three bacon companies were amalgamated in 1938 and formed into the Bacon Company of Ireland. Stephen O’Mara Junior remained the company’s chairman until his death in 1959. In 1987, the Bacon Company of Ireland merged with Hanley of Rooskey and Benesford UK (Castlebar) with assistance from the Industrial Development Agency Ireland (IDA) to form Irish Country Bacon. Shortly afterwards the old O’Mara factory in Limerick was closed down. It was subsequently demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park.
Throughout his life, Stephen O’Mara Junior played a prominent role in both local and national affairs. Unlike his father and elder brother James, Stephen was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty but in a conciliatory manner. He was prominently identified with the Sinn Fein movement after the Easter Rising. He was one of Eamon de Valera’s strongest supporters and a member of his Fianna Fail Party since its formation in 1926.
When George Clancy, Lord Mayor of Limerick, and his predecessor Michael O’Callaghan were murdered by the British military forces in March 1921, Stephen decided to stand for election and became Mayor. He was re-elected in 1922 and in 1923 but resigned before the expiration of his term of office.
In 1921, Stephen O’Mara Junior was selected to go to America as Special Envoy appointed by Dáil Éireann to the United States to oversee one of the country’s biggest fundraising drives to finance the first Dáil and was made Trustee of the funds. The funds-drive was terminated following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Considering himself as the exchequer to the Irish Free State, O’Mara refused to hand over the collected funds to the pro-Treaty administration which resulted in his imprisonment in 1922-1923. He had also been imprisoned for seven days in 1921 for refusing to pay a fine of £10 for non-compliance with a military summons.
The bulk of the money collected during the Bond Drive was left in various banks in New York and remained untouched for a number of years. In 1927, following legal action between the Irish Government and Eamon de Valera, a court in New York ordered that money outstanding to bond holders must be paid back. Having anticipated such a ruling, de Valera’s legal team invited bond holders to sign over their bonds to de Valera, for which they were paid 58 cents to the dollar. The monies so accumulated were used to launch the national daily newspaper The Irish Press. Stephen O’Mara served on the paper’s Board of Directors until his resignation in 1935.
In 1932, Stephen O’Mara was once again sent to America on a mission involving the various consular and diplomatic offices maintained in the country by the Irish Government. Two years later, he was appointed a member of the Commission on Vocational Organisation, on which he served until 1943. In 1959, he was created a member of the Council of State following de Valera’s inauguration as President of Ireland. Stephen O’Mara died less than two months after his appointment, on 11 November 1959.
Stephen O’Mara Junior married in 1918 Anne O’Brien, third daughter of Thomas O’Brien of Boru House, and the couple had an adopted son, Peter O’Mara. Anne’s youngest sister, Kate O’Brien, became one of the most prominent novelists in 20th-century Ireland and a voice of the Irish middle class. For a detailed biographical account of Kate O’Brien’s life and career, please refer to the introductory notes contained in the finding aid which accompanies the Kate O’Brien Papers (P12).
Immediate Source of Acquisition: The O’Mara Papers were donated to the Library by Clare Hannigan née O’Mara in two deliveries on 22 July and 5 September 2013, except for items 939-940 which were donated by Donough O’Brien.
Content and Structure
Scope and Content: The O’Mara Papers comprise predominantly business and personal records created and generated by Stephen O’Mara Junior (1884-1959) in the course of his life. Material relating to his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings is perfunctory.
The business records cover mainly correspondence in O’Mara’s capacity as director of O’Mara’s Bacon Company and later as director of the Bacon Company of Ireland and do not encompass all operational aspects of the business. However the material provides an interesting view of the bacon industry in early 20th-century Ireland and its gradual decline from the 1930s onwards.
The personal records cover O’Mara’s political career, including his three terms as Mayor of Limerick from 1921 to 1923; the second Bond Drive to the United States, his subsequent imprisonment in 1922-1923 and the ensuing court case of 1927; and his later political involvement, particularly his role as a founding director of The Irish Press. His personal correspondence is extensive and illustrates O’Mara’s prominent role in the family as a provider of employment opportunities for the younger generations and as a generous source of financial support in times of hardship. Other material of note includes extensive correspondence and architectural drawings relating to Strand House, New Strand House and Ivy Bank House, homes of the O’Mara family.
One of the most significant aspects of the collection is material relating to the O’Brien family of Boru House, particularly the private correspondence of the novelist Kate O’Brien with her sisters, brother-in-law and nephew. The letters illuminate O’Brien’s method of writing, the creative process behind each of her novels and the ups and downs of her career as author. They also reveal her complete lack of financial acumen, her tendency to live wildly beyond her means, and her lifelong dependency on the fiscal good will of Anne and Stephen O’Mara. Of Kate O’Brien’s private life the letters reveal almost nothing, demonstrating a high degree of circumspectness and a tendency to compartmentalise various aspects of her life. The one rare exception is correspondence relating to her brief marriage and its aftermath in 1922-1925 which, while not revelatory as such, exposes a more vulnerable aspect of Kate’s personality.
The O’Brien material also contains correspondence to and from lesser known members of Kate O’Brien’s family, including her parents and her brothers Tom and Eric who died in 1918 and 1920, respectively. A small number of items relate to Michael O’Brien who died in institutional care in 1923. The identity of this individual has not been ascertained but he could possibly be Michael Alphonsus O’Brien who was born between 1888 and 1889 and is claimed to have died in infancy. Also of interest are letters from Austin Clarke to Anne O’Brien in 1916-1917 written in the early stages of the poet’s literary career, which reveal the fragility of his search for expression and sense of identity.
The material also comprises an extensive photographic record of the O’Mara and O’Brien families particularly in the 1920s and 1930s.
System of Arrangement: The papers have been divided into three series: business records (concerning the Irish Bacon Company), family records (concerning the O’Mara and O’Brien families) and photographs. The business records have been further divided into sub-series according to their form (correspondence, accounts etc.) and thereunder chronologically by date. The original order of these records, wherever discernible at the time of acquisition, has been retained.
The family records have been arranged chronologically by generation and thereunder according to their form or the activities they relate to. Material relating to the O’Brien family has been listed under Anne O’Mara née O’Brien. Correspondence has been listed by recipient except for letters to and from Kate O’Brien which have been all grouped together and listed in chronological order in order to facilitate more streamlined research. The original order of records, wherever discernible at the time of acquisition, has been retained.
Conditions of Access and Use
Conditions Governing Access: Unrestricted access to most items. Some files contain personal information relating to people living or presumed living and are closed or partially closed to protect individual privacy. These files have been identified in the descriptive catalogue. Requests for access to Kate O’Brien’s letters are considered on a case by case basis due to GDPR issues.
Conditions Governing Reproduction: Standard copyright regulations apply to all items. For photocopying or reproducing material, please consult with the staff.
Language/ Scripts of Material: English; some letters in French, Italian, Latin, and Irish.
Related Units of Description: For additional material relating to Kate O’Brien, see P12 (The Kate O’Brien Papers) at Special Collections and Archives Department, Glucksman Library, University of Limerick (http://www2.ul.ie/pdf/57753018.pdf). Manuscripts of Kate O’Brien’s published works are held at the McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. For a digital finding aid to this collection, see http://files.library.northwestern.edu/spec/o%27brien.pdf. The National Library of Ireland holds drafts of some of Kate O’Brien’s plays and short stories with related correspondence (http://catalogue.nli.ie/Collection/vtls000793596).
Material relating to the O’Mara family can be found in the National Library of Ireland, Dublin, among the James O’Mara Papers, the Frank Gallagher Papers, and Joseph McGarrity Papers, and in NUI Galway among the Mary Rynne papers (see http://www.calmhosting01.com/NUIG/CalmView/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=P133%2f1).
© Special Collections and Archives, Glucksman Library, University of Limerick