Jamie O’Reilly SongNotes: Last Rose of Summer, Mary O’Hara

March 8 is International Women’s Day!
SongBirds Series: Tough Broad & Tender Lasses


Jamie O’Reilly brings her new program Tough Broads & Tender Lasses: Song of Resilience,to Chief O’Neill’s Pub Thursday, March 24 at 7 PM, in honor of Women’s History Month. Accompanied by John Erickson piano, Jamie honors the 20th century chantuese — women who met adversity and struggle with tenacity and vigor — leaving behind classic songs and stories. Among those featured are singer and harpist Mary O’Hara, who strongly influenced Jamie as a young singer starting out in 1980s Chicago.  


A Note from Jamie
March, 2022
SongNotes: The Last Rose of Summer
Singer Mary O’Hara

On International Women’s Day, as Irish History Month begins, I offer this song as the unthinkable goes on: war rages in Ukraine. Russia, the oppressor offers no mercy. The men stay and fight. Women and children seek safety.  Who will bury the dead?  The Irish, too, suffered at the hands of the oppressors for centuries. Their bold, courageous spirits rebounding time and again. Their music, art and literature are our solace and inspiration.  

I first learned The Last Rose of Summer from the sheet music my Aunt Dorothy gave me. Lyricist Thomas Moore set it to an Irish melody “The Young Man’s Dream,” in the early 19th century.  Dottie’s sheet music, published in 1900, was arranged as a parlor song, an Anglo-Irish interpretation for voice and piano common at the time. The Last Rose of Summer was heard in Flotow’s 1844 opera Martha. And it is referred to in Joyce’s Ulysses.  

Listen to The Last Rose of Summer Jamie. vocals, Peter Swenson, guitar here:

Jamie O’Reilly 1983, Jennifer Girard Photography

I first performed The Last Rose of Summer in music school at DePaul University and later at a reception for Galway’s Cultural Emissary to Chicago at the University Club in 1982. That evening, Mary O’Reilly (no relation), who helped found the Irish American Cultural Center in Chicago, heard me sing this and other Irish Art songs. Struck by the authenticity of my interpretation of this repertoire (and avoidance of what she called the”hackneyed” folk-tunes most American singers covered), Mary began to bring me LP records and sheet music of Irish singers and composers. “You could get alot of work,” she insisted. Among the records was Songs of Ireland by harpist Mary O’Hara, the sublime soprano. Mary’s story compelled me: a beautiful woman with a romantic story, who went from singing sensation to falling in love, to widowhood, to the convent, and then returned to an exciting life of performance and travel. 

Mary O’Hara’s mastery of phrasing influences me to this day. Her diction is superb. Her pitch-true acapella renderings of the repertoire were a guide to me, a fledgling performer just making my way in the musical scene.

Mary O’Reilly asked me to be the featured soprano for Chicago’s John McCormick Centenary Concert at Orchestra Hall in the summer of 1984. By then I’d started the Irish band Jamie O’Reilly & the Rogues, sung in clubs, at festivals, theaters, and swanky hotels at banquets for all things Irish. I was ready. Friend and fellow-musician Wayland Rogers coached my set for the Orchestra Hall gig. I particularly remember Wayland suggesting I sing the vocal run at the end of the verse with a melisma on the phrase “Oh, who would inhabit.”  Singing it the way Mary O’Hara, or my own Aunt Dorothy would have. Of the several Irish songs my late sister Beth Ann performed years later, I thought The Last Rose of Summer was her finest.

Thus kindly I scatter
    Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
    Lie scentless and dead.

Listen to Mary O’Hara sing The Last Rose of Summer


 The Last Rose of Summer
Poem by Thomas Moore; traditional melody

‘Tis the last rose of summer,
    Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
    Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
    No rose-bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes
    Or give sigh for sigh!

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one.
    To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
    Go, sleep thou with them;
Thus kindly I scatter
    Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
    Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
    When friendships decay,
And from love’s shining circle
    The gems drop away!
When true hearts lie withered,
    And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
    This bleak world alone?

Jamie O’Reilly, Vocals
Peter Swenson,Guitar
Recorded at WFMT Studio, 1984
Anne Hills, Producer
Rich Warren, Engineer
J. O’Reilly Productions