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U.S. Comhaltas leader Hugh Smith dead at 61

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

One of the stalwarts of America’s Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the world’s largest organization of Irish musicians based in Monkstown, Dublin, Hugh Smith died Jan. 16 of colon cancer in Long Island. He was 61 years old.

Born in Cavan and a longtime resident of New Hyde Park, L.I., Hugh Smith became North American Province Chairman of CCÉ in April 1997, succeeding Laois-born Bill McEvoy, who had served in that capacity for a quarter century. Smith also served for many years as chairman of the Mulligan-Quinn branch of CCÉ out of Mineola, N.Y., and was an officerand president of the Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk, andQueens counties.

Despite his illness, Hugh Smith continued to work tirelessly on behalf of CCÉ right to the end. "He was the quintessential organizer and leader, a man of deep commitment," said Paul Keating, Mid-Atlantic Regional Chairman of CCÉ, "and was the backbone of Comhaltas’ annual music-and-dance tours of North America. Hugh was always doing everything he could to bolster others in the organization, giving freely of his time and talent, both of which were considerable. He combined these very strong skills with a love of Irish traditional culture, and he’ll be greatly missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him."

My own impression of Hugh Smith, whom I met on a number of occasions at the Irish American Center in Mineola, was that he was a man who loved Irish traditional music, dance, and song with unstinting passion. Though reserved in demeanor, he struck me as someone who let his actions do most of the talking for him, and his many accomplishments on behalf of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann certainly spoke loudly and affirmatively, a testament to the power of quiet conviction and selfless hard work. He was a force for preserving Ireland’s traditions in America and ensuring their continued health even when his own health was failing.

A Mass of the Resurrection was said for Hugh Smith on Jan. 19 at Holy Spirit Church in New Hyde Park, N.Y., after which he was laid to rest in Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, L.I. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, two daughters, Phyllis and Theresa, and son, Thomas.

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