O'Mara, Stephen (1844–1926), bacon manufacturer, MP, and mayor of Limerick, was born 26 December 1844, eldest son among seven sons – including the opera singer Joseph O'Mara (qv) – and six daughters of James O'Mara (born O'Meara), of Limerick, bacon merchant, and Hanora O'Mara (née Foley). At the age of fifteen he joined his father's business, which cured and sold bacon from a premises in Roches St., Limerick. Deeply influenced by the effects of the famine on Limerick, he became involved in nationalist politics at a young age and was involved in the abortive Fenian rising in 1867. By 1871 the family was prominent enough for him to be a member of the Butt committee that helped to secure the election of Isaac Butt (qv) as MP for Limerick. A firm supporter of the home rule movement, he supported Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) from an early stage and in 1881 he was elected a town councillor (1881–90) for the Shannon ward of Limerick. In 1885 he was elected mayor of Limerick (1885–7), and refused to allow a civic welcome for the prince of Wales (the future Edward VII). The following year (February 1886) he was returned as a home rule MP for the Upper Ossory division of Queen's Co. (Laois). The success of his political career mirrored the fortunes of the family firm, which had become so successful that his brother Jim had moved to London in 1883 to act as agent for the company. However, Stephen O'Mara did not stand for reelection to Westminster in July 1886, due to increasing business commitments that necessitated his travelling abroad frequently. In 1901 he purchased a bacon factory in Ontario, Canada, and in 1906 he expanded the firm further through the purchase of Kehoe, Donnelly & Co (later renamed Donnelly's), bacon merchants in Dublin.
He remained a firm supporter and generous benefactor of the home rule movement and was briefly imprisoned in February 1889 for refusing to reveal what was said at a meeting of the Irish party. As a loyal supporter of Parnell he disapproved of the manner in which his leader was treated and left the party in 1890 as a result. In 1892 he became an alderman on Limerick borough corporation (1892–1908). He remained active in the background of the nationalist movement and worked for reconciliation between the two wings of the Irish party. His efforts were rewarded in 1900 when he was appointed a trustee of the funds of the reunited party under the leadership of John Redmond (qv). At the national convention the following year (1907) he spoke out against the limited provisions of the Irish councils bill.
Eventually turning his back on the Irish party, he formed the Irish Nation League with P. J. Little (qv) after the 1916 rising. The League was established to cater for those who were disillusioned with Redmond and his followers but were reluctant to support the doctrine of physical force. As head of the league he attended the Mansion House convention on 19 April 1917, and successfully assisted Arthur Griffith (qv) in resisting the attempts of Count Plunkett (qv) to sideline Sinn Féin as the largest organisation within the nationalist movement. Just prior to the election of 1918 he broke his lifelong ties with the Irish parliamentary party and voiced his support for Sinn Féin. A firm supporter of the Anglo-Irish treaty, when civil war was looming in 1922 he made a speech at a meeting of Limerick chamber of commerce in which he expressed his loyalty to the new regime and its leaders, and he urged others to do likewise. In 1925 he was elected to the senate of the Irish Free State and, despite his age, he took an active part in the debates of the house. He died 26 July 1926 in Limerick.
He lived at Hartstonge House, Hartstonge St., Limerick, and later (c.1909) at Strand House, on the river at Sarsfield Bridge, Limerick. The house was later demolished and the site occupied by Jury's Hotel. He married (1867) Ellen, daughter of Patrick Pigott, a publican of Limerick, and Nell Piggott (née Ebrill). They had seven sons, of whom the first two died in infancy, and five daughters, with four surviving to adulthood.
His fourth surviving son, Stephen Mary O'Mara (1883–1959), company director, trustee of Dáil Éireann funds and mayor of Limerick, was born 28 December 1883 in Limerick. He was educated at the CBS, Limerick, and Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare. On leaving school he joined the family firm, where he learned the business at the factory in Roches St. Despite the support of his father for John Redmond, he became a supporter of Sinn Féin at an early age. By 1920 he was managing director of O'Mara's Ltd, the factory based at Roches St. In March 1921 he became mayor of Limerick (March 1921–October 1923), his two predecessors having been murdered. Never failing to condemn the atrocities committed by the Black and Tans, he became a marked man. He travelled with a hand-picked bodyguard and rarely slept at his own house before the treaty was signed in December 1921.
In July 1921 he was appointed by Éamon de Valera (qv) to replace his brother James O'Mara (qv) as fund-raiser and special envoy to the USA. After raising thousands of dollars for the independence movement he was made a trustee of Dáil Éireann funds and became a lifelong friend to de Valera. When the latter received the news that the treaty had been signed in December 1921 he was at O'Mara's home, Strand House. Like de Valera, but unlike his father and brother, O'Mara opposed the treaty because he believed it was based on a lie.
On 18 February 1922 Liam Forde, commanding officer of the Mid-Limerick Brigade of the IRA, issued a statement repudiating the authority of the general headquarters staff and occupied a number of posts and public buildings in Limerick city. The provisional government ordered its troops to occupy as many positions in the city as possible. There were also two remaining battalions of the British army. O'Mara was faced with a situation where there were three different armed groups within the city. The standoff attracted the attention of Winston Churchill, who questioned whether Michael Collins (qv) was willing to fight to uphold the treaty. O'Mara stepped in and offered to mediate between the two factions. He eventually secured an agreement that saw both sides withdraw on 11 March. Despite these efforts violence broke out in Limerick at the end of June 1922 and on 18 July the city was taken by Free State troops. In December 1922 O'Mara was arrested and interned in Newbridge barracks for four months. He resigned as mayor on 4 October 1923 because he believed that the policies of the government would never lead to peace.
Although he did not enter active politics again he became a staunch supporter of Fianna Fáil from its foundation in 1926 until his death. After 1923 he devoted his time to expanding the family bacon business, largely through the purchase of factories at Claremorris and Donegal. He was also the driving force behind the flotation of the family firm on the stock exchange in 1938. The group was renamed the Bacon Company of Ireland with his cousin Jack as managing director and himself as chairman (1938–59).
He married (1910) Nancy O'Brien, daughter of Dr John O'Brien of Limerick. They had one adopted son and lived at Strand House, Limerick. Not long before he died de Valera appointed him (October 1959) to the council of state. He died 11 November 1959 at the Mater Hospital, Dublin.