I am a professional singer, author, and broadcaster. In fact, I have worn many hats, but as I always say – I am a singer first.
Last year when the pandemic hit, all performing work ceased. My response was to start my literary YouTube show WRITER’S BLOCK, specialising in interviewing the authors of novels, memoirs and other texts. I am growing it slowly but I’m really enjoying working for myself. Guests so far have included authors, actors, singers, dancers and composers, such as Murdoch Mysteries author Maureen Jennings, actor Richard Chamberlain, Alison Arngrim (Nellie in The Little House on the Prairie), actress Kate O’Toole, songstress and comedienne, Dillie Keane and many, many more.
Thankfully, I was no stranger to live-broadcasting and trained with Glenn Kinsey, Pozitiv Productions, the United Kingdom’s foremost television and media trainer for the first time in 2004 and went back for more punishment in 2005, on both occasions training at, Millbank Studios, Westminster, London.
In my youth, I threw myself into theatre, concerts, and some TV, directly from school, picking up small roles as a P.E. Teacher in RTE’s Fair City, or being featured in small roles in movies such as After Midnight, The Commitments and Angela’s Ashes. But by that time, I was already a classical concert singer and felt I wanted to sing internationally. To do that, I needed languages, and so, France came calling.
Although singing in France, I pretty much ‘fell’ into corporate language coaching in Paris, and this prompted me to later become an ‘Educating Rita,’ signing up to the Open University in the UK, and starting a full-time BA degree in literature aged 33, and later awarded a second degree, an MA (Merit) in English Literature, while at the same time amassing various other post-grad qualifications required by The British Council.
I was passionate about English literature, almost as passionate as I was about singing, and this eventually pushed me to become an author in 2017, publishing EIRE’S WWI WAR POET, followed by a teenage memoir, TEHRAN CALLING – and I am currently writing my first murder mystery MURDER AND MEAD – The Lady Grace Mysteries.
But it all started in 1965, in a hospital called St. Kevin’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, where I was born to my lovely mum Ursula and dad Donal, on 3rd August, 1965. I am a Dubliner, but I grew up as an aviation brat, in an aviation family that moved country way too often due, in the main to my dad’s career. Donal O’Gara, an avionics engineer, could be stationed abroad for years at a time and once his first 6 months were completed, could send for his family, Ursula Boylan (an artist), my younger sister, Adrienne and me, the eldest. Consequently, in my youth, I was no stranger to travel.
My teens were really exciting. Following various stays in Africa, we found ourselves in Iran just as the revolution was gaining pace and years later, following my mother’s death in 2017, I was prompted to write the memoir about my family’s double escape from Tehran, titled TEHRAN CALLING. My mother, sister and I escaped in August, 1978 but my father didn’t get out until January 1979. Both escapes were terrifying, and it was only after the death of my second parent, that it dawned on me just how unique it was to have not only one, but two escapes in the family. I just had to write the book which pretty much wrote itself, completing it in 3 months.
My life as a professional singer began in Ireland in 1985, but, I had been in training as a singer from the age of 6.
In 1986, aged 21, I left for France where I sang in the famous restaurant, Kitty O’Shea’s in Paris, this time singing not classical music but more Jazz and Irish folk. While singing there, I was asked to consider becoming a language instructor and corporate trainer for the Berlitz school of languages Paris. At the time, I had no degree and couldn’t understand my friend’s persistence in asking me to apply, but soon discovered that there was a serious shortage of instructors and so articulate actors and singers were being approached for training. 1990 was just around the corner and in Business terms, French companies needed to get English ready and fast, but the demand for teachers far outweighed supply. It occurred to me, that there was an upside to this change in direction, FREE FRENCH CLASSES! So, I agreed to train.
Berlitz sent me off on some wonderful contracts. My first, was a contract to instruct the artistic director, chorus, visiting opera singers, ballet dancers and administrative staff at the Paris Opera house, which for me, was as close to a veritable fly on the wall documentary experience into life in an Opera House in the 1980s as you could imagine, (this before fly on the wall documentaries came to be). A very daunting experience for a 22 year-old but as an artist, intriguing and educational.
My next big contract was at Arianespace, the European Commercial Space Transportation Company, instructing space satellite Engineers and launch control personnel in English, and preparing them to work with their NASA counterparts. Now this was Rock’n Roll, I loved all things space. I attended many a launch from French Guiana. My father was so proud ….and jealous at the same time. I continued with similar contract for 4 years, but I was a singer first and I returned to full-time performing in 1989 in Spain, working with such people as Swedish Grammy Award Winning Jazz pianist Claes Crona with whom I continue to collaborate. I performed in many shows with members of the Black and White Minstrels. I shot several pilot TV series as an actress, and would later train in film production at Coin Film School in Andalucía, Spain.
In 1990, back in Ireland, I successfully auditioned for the famous Irish singing group, based out of Bunratty Castle in Ireland, called the Bunratty Castle Entertainers. This is an extremely high- profile music and theatre establishment, the oldest medieval banqueting centre in the world, and the place where this city girl and globe trotter reconnected with her Celtic identity – something that would remain awakened in her for years.
The Bunratty Castle Entertainers (who continue to perform) deliver 2 shows a night, 9 months of the year, always tour on their off months, and in my day had the honour of performing at official events attended by the Irish President. In Ireland, this lifestyle is the closest a variety performer will ever get to rep. It was JFK in 1963, who made the Bunratty Castle singers famous, by them performing songs from the Bunratty Castle programme while acting as his welcoming committee at Shannon airport and performing for him both at Dublin airport and at the American ambassador’s residence in Dublin during his 1963 visit, only weeks before his assassination.
This was followed by invites to the White House by John F. Kennedy himself, President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Richard Nixon and in my time with them, Tip O’Neil and Ted Kennedy. By the 1990s The Bunratty Castle Entertainers were well established a, ‘The World Famous Bunratty Castle Entertainers,’ Eire’s troupe of elite Irish singers. With them I visited US major cities for St. Patrick’s Week. I performed with them on stage and on US and European TV Networks, often in the early 1990s. Regular visits were to Radio City Music Hall, and appearances at the famous The Sky Club, on the 56th Floor of the Metlife Building as well as sharing the bill at New York Mayor’s St. Patrick’s Day Ball, at the New York Hilton. In Ireland, as a Bunratty Castle soloist, I performed for the entire cast of Murder She Wrote, where we happily threw The Sheriff, Ron Masak, in jail. I also sang for Robert Loggia, Terry Wogan and his Celebrity Golf Tournaments, Franky Vaughan and many many more.
In 1995, I returned to Spain, which became my permanent base, singing professionally from there and all over the world. Around this time, I trained in sound and editing at Coin Film Studios while also acting in English and Spanish TV Pilots and TV series being shot there. I was also performing in Marbella’s exclusive jazz clubs, Rudy’s in Puerto Banus and Gibraltar’s theatres, and British Naval Base.
Work was going well, particularly regarding castings for TV commercials. I began to sing as Miriam St. Lawrence, and recorded my first album under this name singing mainly from the musicals, in particular, West Side Story, but in 1996, my then husband expressed a wish to move to the UK and so rather reluctantly I agreed to go. My life as a working singer would have to go on hold – I knew I would have to rebuild. I was now a very small fish in a very large pond.
In 1999, I fell back on my teaching and spent almost 6 years working happily as a teacher at Stafford House International 6th Form College in Canterbury (now CATS Canterbury), as both a language teacher and later Head of Music, Film, Theatre and Media Studies.
I decided to train in London as a television presenter with Glenn Kinsey, the CEO of Pozitiv Productions, who specialises in on-camera coaching for both new and experienced TV presenters, hosts, journalist reporters and, these days vloggers. By then I had well and truly returned to the arts, but this time it would be back in Ireland. By then my marriage had ended, both my parents were very ill and I myself fell gravely ill 2005 aged 40. My planned return to Ireland was now a necessity.
It took some years to become work fit once more, and by then questions loomed. Did I really want to go back into that highly toxic world of International teaching? I was feeling the pull back to performing but ignored it until 2009 when I started producing and performing in concert shows again and from 2012 worked often with eminent Irish composer Michael Holohan.
These days, I am focused solely on arts.
Necessity they say is the mother of invention but I would suggest it’s the mother of ‘reinvention’ too.
In 2019, I decided to relaunched my singing career as ‘The Celtress’ reconnecting with my Irish Celtic identity, linking back to my Bunratty Castle medieval singing past, and blending my love of Classically Celtic, Jazz and Folk music. I also, began writing my 3rd and 4th books and have an MA in Literature with diplomas in Fantasy and Mystery writing genres.
As I age, my need to perform and write has increased. This is neither vanity nor narcissism, but simply something that has come easy to me and that I still enjoy. I feel very at home recording my show WRITER’S BLOCK on YouTube, where spending time in the company of my lovely guests, not only keeps me sane in this pandemic, but teaches me much.