Olive Smith actively nurtured music in Ireland, specifically classical. She also helped organize the country’s youth orchestra and had massive participation in the undertakings of the Music Association of Ireland (MAI). Gillian Smith, her daughter, a musician as well, pays tribute by writing Olive Smith’s biography entitled “A Musical Visionary.” The book focuses much on Olive Smith’s support and contribution to Ireland through music.

Love of Music

Olive Smith’s passion for music is evident as early as her academic years in Trinity College Dublin. She became a member of the Philharmonic Society and the Dublin Oratorio Society.  She earned her MA and BComm degrees at Dublin and in 1931, became an Assistant to the Registrar. She was granted an honorary degree in 1978 in the same institution, for her assistance in music. She also led choirs, namely the Culwick Choral Society and her choir, The Olivian Singers, doing conducting duties.

Olive Smith, composers Brian Boydell and John Beckett (seated), conductor Otto Matzerath and Liam Gogan of the National Museum – assessing the Ferdinand Weber harpsichord in 1950.

State of Music

Smith was much involved with the affairs of the MAI, starting from its creation up to the time she gradually disengaged herself from the association after having been active for 30 years. The discussion o Smith’s musical work also paints a picture of the state of music in Ireland from 1948 t0 1978. The author included some selection of Olive Smith’s actual notes from the meetings of the association as well as the written communication of the members. Some incidents tested Olive Smith’s organizational and leadership skills. One example would be the incident where the British national anthem was played rather than that of Ireland.

Gillian Smith pointed out that the focus of the book was the establishment, growth, and issues surrounding MAI.

Edgar Deale and Olive Smith in a production of The Mikado, produced by members of the Culwick Choral Society, in Rathgar, Dublin, in 1941.

Campaigns for Music

Olive Smith involved herself in large musical projects. During her participation in MIA, she organized events such as Country Tours, Coming Out Recitals, and School Recital Schemes. Country Tours concerts aim to promote music in the countryside where the Coming Out Recitals aided the introduction of many budding musicians. The School Recitals Scheme helped introduce classical music in classroom settings.

Olive Smith and the New London String Quartet (Erich Gruenberg, Lionel Bentley and Douglas Cameron) at Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo, while on an Irish tour in October 1954. 

It was also notable in the book Smith’s hands-on involvement and the problems she encountered while raising funds for a National Concert Hall. She recognizes the need of starting musicians to hone their skills and thereby envisioned to form an orchestra. How the group began and grew are described in the book. Past members also shared their own experiences during their inclusion in the group.

The establishment of the Irish Youth Orchestra would be the most notable contribution and legacy of Olive Smith to the Irish people and the musical community.

She became an essential part of Ireland history through her rigorous work in making classical music a vital part of Irish music.