Family Fortunes: Entertainment runs in the bloodline of Brian Magowan

After a lifetime in the industry, Carolyn Smyth found her family’s showbiz roots

‘The astonishing thing for me was what my 12 first cousins had to tell me’

‘The astonishing thing for me was what my 12 first cousins had to tell me’

 

There I am – aged 62 and exhausted from a lifetime of working in the entertainment business. A singer, a BBC Radio 2 Music Producer and then programme maker and manager of radio operations at big sports events. Retirement beckoned, and a magic ended; a career that had no meaningful beginning.

My Irish dad had died aged 44 in 1963. My mother’s behaviour in the aftermath caused a 55-year family rift. I’d always known I must have Smyth family out there somewhere and the compulsion to find them was overwhelming. A message on a genealogy website elicited a phone call response two years later;

“Hello, my name is Sean Smyth. I think I’m your cousin.”

A warm squaring of the circle you will agree, but the astonishing thing for me was what my 12 first cousins had to tell me.

We were the grandchildren of Irish silent film actor, Brian Magowan, who’s three biggest films, Knocknagow, Willy Reilly and His Coleen Bawn, and Irish Destiny had all been digitized and are still shown at Irish Film Festivals worldwide.

News cuts from the time, tell of his singing ability of 'one of the finest voices in Ireland'

He was born James (Jim) Joseph Smyth in (probably) 1888. He first showed his face to the world in Belfast, Dublin, Cavan, Meath or Kilkenny. The reasons for the confusion has its roots in his long involvement with the Republican movement – none of the existing records are consistent, but his army records gave up some surprising facts

From 1923; “Captain Smith (sic) was thoroughly trusted by General Collins and was frequently of service in providing places for accommodation. It might also be mentioned that as film producer, he was particularly responsible for taking the “ Loan” pictures – this was a Republican fund raising short directed by John McDonagh and “starring” General Michael Collins.

News cuts from the time, tell of his singing ability of “one of the finest voices in Ireland”. A photo of the Palestrina Choir taken in 1904 sees him, as a teenager, singing alongside the Irish tenor John McCormack. There are also reports of his concert work including one that commends him for his part in a local pantomime “ . . . and Jim Smyth was hilarious as the Dame.”

So, here I am at 72, having become researcher and archivist for us Smyth’s and having discovered the huge extent to which my genes are responsible for who I am. It feels rather good to know where I came from.

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