Hugh O'Neill is featured in the "Top 100 Irish Americans" edition ofNew York's "Irish America" magazine
O'Neill began drawing and painting early, by the age of ten he was not only an accomplished artist but also a gifted musician teaching himself four different musical instruments.
Born into a hard-working-class family of eight he was expected to go to work as soon as possible. At the age of seventeen he obtained a job as a Government civil servant remaining only a few years in the dreary role of a clerical officer.
Pursuing his artistic passions he was accepted into the Honours Fine Arts Degree course at the well known UNIVERSITY of ULSTER in Belfast City. His impact and influence was immediate at the campus with one of the University's noted art historians referring to him as..."a gifted painting master".
With boundless energy and enthusiasm his name became synonymous with artistic talent, dedication and sincerity. During these productive University years O'Neill had the great fortune to be invited to Tom Carr's studio (who just recently passed away). One of Ireland's greatest painters whose work is well represented at Belfast's Ulster Museum, The Phillips Collection at Washington D.C., and other imminent collections around the world. Tom Carr's words and advice to him had immediate impact influencing O 'Neill's early colorist ideas. O'Neill was influenced by Irish painters such as Roderic 0' Connor, William John Leech and Paul Henry. In the second half of the nineteenth century there was an increasing tendency among art students to go to the Continent to study, especially Paris and Antwerp. Irish artists such as Roderic 0'Conor appear to have integrated completely with French culture and other French artists. O'Neill's thesis study at University was entitled "Painters of Peasants in 19th Century France"(available on request). The research drew him ever closer to his French heroes namely Jean Francois Millet, Charles Daubigny and Camille Pissarro. After graduating in 1985 he returned to France working for a period of time in and around the towns of Nice and Antibes. For artistic inspiration he would often visit the small town of Saint Paul De Vence where Matisse had lived and worked.
Returning to Belfast Hugh found himself frustrated by the political turmoil. Opportunities to exhibit were scarce in his native city and O'Neill contemplated moving to new pastures. This of course meant leaving behind the very source of his artistic inspiration which was the unique Irish landscape. At this very same period O'Neill's musical talents were well known in the North of Ireland and the work derived from this source provided a decent income. Hugh comments: "I remember those days with fond affection and trepidation, I traveled with the band to various venues through out the North of Ireland. The troubles were at their most intense; army roadblocks were everywhere.
Moving to the United States had always been on O'Neill's mind. However it did not take long before his artistic talents led him to top grade galleries and exhibitions. Within a couple of years his work was on display at galleries in New York, Washington D.C., and Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.