Ireland wrote in his memoirs of having had to earn his living as a boy of 16 alone in London. His engagements included playing at smoking concerts, sometimes accompanying Charles Coborn in Holborn.
Reports in late-nineteenth-century newspapers paint a picture of these smoking concerts, which were often lavish affairs with dining and entertainment, sometimes going on late into the night. The Beaufort Club Smoking Concert on Saturday 9 April 1892 was presided over by the Duke himself, and featured a number of music hall stars, among them the aforementioned Coborn. On Saturday 14 March 1896 there was a ‘record’ attendance at the Irish-themed smoking concert at the Savage Club: ‘There were several double encores, and the geniality which prevailed throughout was a notable characteristic of the gathering’ (Sunday Times, 15 March 1896, p. 5). At another event, on 28 January 1895, around 850 people attended the City of London Police’s New Year Festival and Smoking Concert in the Cannon Street Hotel. Often a number of different music hall singers were booked, but smoking concerts might also extend to orchestral programmes or performances focusing on a single singer, as in this Royal Amateur Orchestral Society meeting (The Times, 17 December 1900, p. 1):
And what of Charles Coborn (1852–1945)?
Best known for ‘Two lovely black eyes’, he had a long and successful career as a singer and entertainer. Originally a Victorian music hall star, his popularity extended into the twentieth century, as shown in this smoking concert report of 1913 (The Times, 24 December 1913, p. 8):
It is fascinating to imagine Ireland working as accompanist at such events, though there is little surviving evidence of this part of his career as a musician.