Hewson, George Henry Philips (1881–1972), organist, composer, and teacher, was born 19 November 1881, youngest among ten children of Edmund Hewson and his wife Caroline (née Page). In 1888 he joined the school and choir of St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin. He showed an early aptitude for playing the church organ and was mainly self-taught. As a student he honed his skills playing at various Dublin churches (Stillorgan, Clontarf, and Zion) and in 1902 was appointed assistant organist and choirmaster at St Patrick's. He attended TCD (BA 1905, D.Mus. 1914) and while still a graduate student was made librarian and sub-organist at St Patrick's (1906). He was appointed organist at the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle (1907), and then organist at Armagh cathedral (1916) before succeeding Charles Marchant as organist and master of choristers at St Patrick's (1920–60). He managed to combine his church duties with an academic career, and was made professor of the organ at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (1920–62), professor of music at TCD (1935–62), organist to TCD chapel choir (1927–60), conductor with the university choral society (c.1920–1938), and hon. secretary of the Hibernian Catch Club (c.1920–1955).
The cultural life of Dublin disintegrated in the 1920s and there were few places where the public could listen to orchestral music. During this bleak period Hewson gave organ recitals at various venues in Dublin. These concerts were well attended and had an almost universal appeal, since he played well-known pieces by Bach as well as newer and more experimental works by Harwood and Howells. He soon attracted large congregations at St Patrick's and would often end a service with his own rendition of a symphony by Tchaikovsky or Dvorak. One of his most bizarre, yet enjoyable, anthems consists of Joseph Addison's words ‘The spacious firmament on high’ set to the music from Wagner's Die meistersinger. He composed music for memorial services for George V in 1936 (‘He asked life of thee’) and W. B. Yeats (qv) (‘Sunset and evening star’) in 1939. Between 1920 and 1960 he published at least 11 compilations of his works including Crossing the bar (1928), Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (1931), Gigue in G minor arranged for two pianos (1951), and Church hymnal (1960). His work ‘Let us now praise famous men’ (originally composed for the centenary concert of the university choral society in 1937) has remained popular. He had a wide and adventurous repertoire, which ranged from traditional Irish airs to the most modern and experimental, and was able to stretch the limits of the church organ. His playing was all the more remarkable given that one of his legs was a few inches shorter than the other, which caused problems in working the organ pedals.
For much of his career as choirmaster he lacked the funding necessary to attract first-rate singers. In 1927 he made an arrangement with TCD so that twelve boys from St Patrick's would sing in chapel (for a payment of £30). He resigned as conductor of the university choral society in 1938 owing to the dwindling numbers at rehearsals. His strong reputation in Dublin meant that he was asked to take on more work than he could manage. In 1938 he wrote to the university choral society to say he would have to cut his commitment to two rather than three concerts a year. Sensitive to accusations that he might be viewed as a prima donna, he wrote ‘I hesitate to put more suggestions, as I fear I might be looked on as a dictator’ (TCD. M. Soc/choral/1/1/12). At the Royal Irish Academy of Music he sat on the board of studies and encouraged new talent, such as the composer Gerard Victory (qv), and only retired from teaching there in 1967 (when he was 86). He was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Organists (1945), a vice-president of the Leinster Society of Organists (1951), and an honorary fellow of TCD (1962). During the 1930s, when he was at the height of his powers, his compositions achieved a national reputation and he was one of the few composers of note in Ireland in the period 1920–50. But since the 1960s his original music has been viewed with a much more critical eye and he is now best remembered for his arrangements, his encouragement of music in Irish secondary schools as a serious academic subject, and his contribution to the musical life of Dublin for half a century.
In 1909 he married hi first wife, Cecil (d. 1922), who gave birth to a daughter Vivien in 1911. He married secondly (1929) Mabel Anne Home, daughter of S.S. Home of Dublin, with whom he had two daughters, Betty (m. Wilfrid Weir, d. 1949) and Heather Home (d. 1995). Mabel, who was well known as an actress and singer, died unexpectedly in September 1949 in Cork where she was playing with the Illsley-McCabe company at the Opera House. Heather Hewson was a noted performer on the Dublin theatre and concert stage and was chorus master with the Rathmines & Rathgar Musical Society. George Hewson died on 21 November 1972 in Dublin. The organ room at the RIAM and a scholarship have been named after him. Photographs of Hewson with the choir of St Patrick's cathedral are held at the cathedral school.