Hughes grew up in Belfast and completed his studies with Charles Wood at the Royal College of Music, London, in 1901. In 1903, he was a founder member of the Irish Folk Song Society of London and co-editor of its Journal. From 1911 to 1932 he was the music critic of the Daily Telegraph. Hughes was an active folk-song collector and collected more than 1,000 melodies. Many of these able arrangements deserve high merits for their impressionist qualities. His most important volumes were the Irish Country Songs which appeared in 1909, 1915, 1934 and 1936.