Many folk musicians can claim Irish heritage. But Patrick O’Hara’s connection to the Emerald Isle is more immediate than most.
His parents emigrated from Ireland’s County Mayo to the United States in the 1960s, eventually settling in Cambria. Although he’s spent his entire life in America, O’Hara, 51, said he’s never lost sight of his Irish roots.
“A lot of it’s about legacy — me wanting to reflect on and research and find out more about my heritage,” the Atascadero man explained.
O’Hara and his 18-year-old son, Atascadero High School senior Michael O’Hara, share songs and stories from Irish history as the folk band Young Ireland. They’ll take the stage locally for two benefit concerts, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
On Sunday, Young Ireland performs with guitarist Patrick Pearson and cellist Bob Liepman at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre to raise money for French Hospital Medical Center’s Hearst Cancer Resource Center in San Luis Obispo. Pearson will also join the band for a March 18 show at the Pewter Plough Playhouse in Cambria benefiting the Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County, which helps economically disadvantaged students.
Both causes have special meaning for Patrick O’Hara, whose mother, a teacher, died of cancer.
“March 18 would have been her birthday,” he said. (Young Ireland isn’t just performing free of charge; the band also plans to make separate donations to the two organizations.)
A wealth advisor and partner at San Luis Obispo financial planning firm Wacker Wealth Partners, which is presenting both concerts, O’Hara grew up in Vermont and studied economics at Stanford University. He and his wife, Cal Poly landscape architecture professor Christy Edstrom O’Hara, moved from Los Angeles to the Central Coast with their four children in 2002.
Patrick O’Hara named Young Ireland after a 19th-century Irish nationalist movement that led a failed uprising in 1848 during the Great Famine. He started writing a screenplay about the movement, but realized he could tell his story just as effectively through song.
A musical approach made sense to O’Hara, who began playing guitar at age 8. (He also plays mandolin and bodhrán, or, Irish frame drum, and is experimenting with fiddle and penny whistle.) He recruited his youngest child, Michael, then 12, to join him onstage as a singer.
The father-son duo debuted as Young Ireland in 2010 and held its first public performance in March 2011 as part of the Songwriters at Play concert series.
Since then, the O’Haras have performed across California, touring the East Coast and Ireland in recent years. They recorded a six-song EP in 2012 and released a full-length live album, recorded at The Monkey House nightclub in Berkeley, in 2014.
Although Young Ireland takes its name from a political movement, “We’re not a political band,” O’Hara said. “It’s more about (sharing) the history and telling the stories about the struggles and the pains and the triumphs and the joys of the Irish people.”
According to O’Hara, the band performs a mix of original ballads and traditional songs reflecting more than four centuries of Irish history, starting in the 1600s. A typical concert might include such familiar favorites as “Danny Boy,” “The Dawning of the Day” and “Galway Bay,” as well as lesser known anthems like “The West’s Awake.”
“Almost every song gives us an opportunity to tell about Irish history,” O’Hara said, describing Young Ireland’s performance style as “a fine blend of storytelling and music.”
That said, he stressed that Young Ireland’s music won’t only appeal to those with Irish roots.
“The immigrant story … resonates with a broader group,” he said.