“Charlie’s Angels” Star At City Hall Extravanganza
(Part 2)

With the Newpoint Players Charlie enjoyed similar success, winning the top accolade at the All-Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone. Some years earlier, a reviewer wrote: “I can’t understand how one so young can play this role with so much talent and understanding,” when reporting on Charlie’s performance in “Right Again, Barnum,” for which he won first prize at the Newry Drama Festival.

And, a few years ago, Belfast’s Grand Opera House enjoyed his rib-ticking performances in “Hotel Paradiso,” as tears of mirth streamed down their cheeks. Distinguished adjudicator, Gerhardt Redlick, in presenting him with another award, commented: “All Charlie needed was a moustache, to complete the Chaplin-like image.”

Meanwhile, drama societies at Glenn, Cloghogue, Burren and Camlough have availed of his unselfish services as actor, producer or compeer, in many cases helping them to win awards at various festivals.

In the early 60’s, Charlie produced and performed in the Meadow entry for the Newry Top Talent Contest. And what an abundance of talent represented that area, such as Paddy Hanna, Michael Cunningham and Brendan Carroll (singers) Paddy Fitzpatrick and Jack Shea (“a couple of dames”); Jimmy Crawford on banjo, Eleanor Toner (later Mrs Pat Jennings, with the Hilton Showband); Jackie Hearst, the brilliant accordionist; Josie Millar, Pat Brown, Bridie Haughey, Briege McCaul and Nesta McGivern.

Irish dance teacher, Sadie Fearon presented a talented team of Theresa and Cora Murphy with Donal Fegan and Dan McCaul; and the “Royalettes” were Maureen and Josephine Fegan, Nancy Murphy and Ann Moan. The accompanist was Alma Brown, with Jim McKevitt on drums.

After his marriage to the former Kathleen Smyth of Jerrettspass, Charlie moved to that area. And for many years, he staged and starred in plays and pantomimes in aid of Glenn Youth Club, first at Dromantine College, and later at Newry Town Hall.

During the 70’s, he compeered the successful series of “Finn McCool Banquets” in Newry’s Ardmore Hotel. Entertainers included Frank Carson, Josef Locke, Jimmy Young, Eileen Donaghy and Gloria Hunniford, along with local artistes.

In recent years, Charlie has been involved as actor and producer in a series of successful plays, including “Don’t Tell the Wife,” “The Widow’s Paradise” and “Second Honeymoon.” Other members of the cast include Edel and Rosaleen Sheridan, Catherine Farrell, Elizabeth Kennedy, Eilish Caffrey, Martin Smyth, Seamus Kennedy, Matthew Johnston and Pat Murphy.

But there has also been a serious side to this genial personality, having been Office Manager at South Down Auctions livestock mart, later holding similar posts at local meat factories. Chairman of Newry Musical and Orchestral Society for 18 years, he was also Business Manager of Newpoint Players.

Elected to Newry and Mourne district council in 1989, he concentrated on environment and agricultural issues. But it was as a member of the Arts Committee that his energy and enthusiasm raised the profile of music and drama. And the constant lobbying by people like Charlie ensured the provision of Newry’s fine Arts Centre.

But those 60 years of enjoyment for people in the region might never have happened had Charlie Smyth decided to pursue a career in soccer. Though small in stature, he had the heart of a lion. Lining out against some of the strongest defenders in the game, he always came out on top.

“Cheeky Charlie” was his nickname, while playing for Ballybot or Newry Celtic. He would dribble the ball up to an opponent, and with amazing style and artistry waltz past him towards the goal. Such were his talents that he was in great demand from teams in other leagues, - being linked with Newry Town and Dundalk. But he caught stage-fever, which is incurable!

Charlie could also have carved out a lucrative career, as a professional comedian or producer, like Frank Carson, Roy Walker, or Jimmy Cricket. But he was loath to leave home, family and a multitude of friends, to live out of a suitcase in hotel rooms. Nor does he regret a single moment of a phenomenal life, largely devoted to fund-raising for charity.

Incidentally, his father, Superintendent at the livestock market in Patrick Street, was a founder of Newry Town, having played for Valley Rangers, Damolly and Shamrocks. Among his teammates were Bob Turley, Mickey Short, Tony Carroll, Jack McAteer and Frank Mulligan.

Charlie Smyth (senior), who donated several trophies to the local league, was also a first-class billiards player, being secretary of St Patrick’s club on Merchants Quay. His mother was principal of Ballyholland school, while a cousin, Michael Forrest, composed the well-known Irish ballad, “The Felons of Our Land.”

One honour which Charlie Smyth (junior) has received, came in 1999 with the unveiling of his portrait, wearing the chain-of-office as Chairman of Newry and Mourne district council, in the presence of family and special guests.

Performing the ceremony in the Boardroom of the present City Hall, his successor Brendan Curran described Charlie as “a man synonymous with entertainment for over half-a century, who has made an enormous contribution to the arts in Newry and Mourne.

Detailing Councillor Smyth’s impressive record of service to the community, the Council Chairman said: “Charlie’s presence in the council chamber lightened many a serious moment. He has served the people as a public representative with the same dedication, understanding and humour that has brought so much joy and laughter into the humdrum lives of so many down the years. You have been blessed with a very special gift, being able to make people forget their troubles for those couple of hours, when they are enjoying your performance.

“This council considers it appropriate that your portrait should hang in the Town Hall, in recognition of the tremendous contribution you have made to the arts. And we have no doubt that you will continue to bring joy and laughter into our lives for many years to come.”

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008