In a Word... Mícheál

Happy birthday to a Kerry legend

Today marks the 92nd birthday of legend that is Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, a name that strikes terror into the hearts of foreign nationals faced with its pronunciation. Among the rest of us, it inspires just affection.

That applies even to people from the many counties vanquished by his native Kerry in All-Ireland finals, as were we Rossies in 1946, 1962 and 1980. Which defeats, no doubt, he too revelled in. Even in Roscommon, Lord, we do not grudge Mícheál those three fine victories.

Who could hold a grudge against a man who raised the skill levels of Gaelic games commentary to that of a high art? One can but bow before such easy fluency while narrating a high-speed game. As in: “Pat Fox out to the 40 and grabs the sliotar. I bought a dog from his father last week. Fox turns and sprints for goal… the dog ran a great race last Tuesday in Limerick. Fox, to the 21, fires a shot – it goes to the left and wide… and the dog lost as well.”

Awesome, as the Americans say.

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Or this: “Teddy McCarthy to Mick McCarthy, no relation. Mick McCarthy back to Teddy McCarthy, still no relation.” And this: “The stopwatch has stopped. It’s up to God and the referee now. The referee is Pat Horan. God is God.”

It was 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope who said that “true wit is nature to advantage dress’d, /What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d”. In other words, the best writers make memorable what is already familiar to us all. That’s Mícheál. But it’s his blending of story with exquisite timing that makes him outstanding.

As in this: ”...and Brian Dooher is down injured. And while he is, I’ll tell ye a little story. I was in Times Square in New York last week and I was missing the Championship back home. So I approached a news stand and I said, ‘I suppose ye wouldn’t have the Kerryman would ye’. To which the Egyptian behind the counter turned to me and he said, ‘Do you want the North Kerry edition or the South Kerry edition?’ He had both – so I bought both. And Dooher is back on his feet… .”

Happy birthday, Mícheál. Thanks for enhancing our lives.

Mícheál, Irish version of Michael, from Hebrew; meaning “gift from God”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times