Gillian Smith

The life-story of Olive Smith, founder of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, and one of the truly extraordinary Irish women of her generation, is combined in this book (by her daughter, Gillian Smith) with a fascinating survey of the development of classical music in Ireland in the second half of the twentieth century. Raised in a middle-class Presbyterian family, Olive Smith’s early involvement with the Girl Guide movement, her years on the administrative staff of Trinity College, Dublin, and her inherent musicality, all contributed in a significant way to the success of her pioneering role as a music organiser. It was as the prime mover behind the Bach Bicentenary Commemoration of 1950 that Olive Smith’s abilities first received recognition. At that time she was Treasurer of the Music Association of Ireland (founded in 1948). Always working under the auspices of that Association, she was encouraged to establish countrywide concerts known as Country Tours, to inaugurate the Coming-Out Recitals which launched many a performer’s career, to campaign for a National Concert Hall, and to develop a Schools’ Recital Scheme which brought live music into classrooms in every county. Her crowning and most lasting achievement was the creation of the Irish Youth Orchestra in 1970.


Gillian Smith is a pianist, harpsichordist and continuo player, whose career as soloist and chamber musician has spanned more than fifty years. A member of the New Irish Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of St Cecilia, she was also piano accompanist to the Choral Department of Radio Telefís Éireann. She founded the ‘Sundays at Noon’ concert series at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, in 1980, and organised these for many years. Twenty years of teaching piano, harpsichord and chamber-music at the Royal Irish Academy of Music have also greatly enriched her musical life. The writing of this biography of her mother, Olive Smith, fulfils a long-held ambition to bring out of relative obscurity a period of extraordinary richness in the development of classical music in Ireland.

'A book underpinned by a most admirable blend of readability and scholarly research – a rare combination. Olive Smith was endlessly tenacious, magnificently effective and central to the work of the Music Association of Ireland 1948-76.'  Dr Geoffrey Spratt

'An affectionate, absorbingly written, and meticulously researched tribute by the author to her remarkably gifted and public-spirited mother, to whom the musical arts in Ireland owe so much. A riveting read! ' Professor Gerard Gillen

'This is not only a fine biography. It should also provide a valuable resource to historians of music in twentieth-century Ireland.' Professor Barbara Wright

"Gillian Smith has combined exhaustive research with a most carefully crafted narrative to produce a book that's part social history, part chronicle of the cultural life a a country short on resources, finding its feet" Irish Independent

"Olive Smith's place in the early years of Irish feminism is assured through this account - often in her own words - of her insistence on acceptance and recognition in all walks of life, her dedication to family and her quest for honesty and integrity." Irish Times


ISBN: 978 1 9999970 45
Paperback with flaps
28 February 2019