Popular broadcaster who brought Irish to the people

Liam Ó Murchú: February 10th, 1929 - June 28th, 2015

Liam Ó Murchú, who has died aged 86, was widely known as a TV broadcaster and author but will be best remembered as a champion of the Irish language.

His unstinting efforts to promote Irish have been acknowledged by President Michael D Higgins, who said he had worked tirelessly to support it "both in front of and behind the camera". He also became assistant controller of programmes and assistant to the director general of RTÉ.

Born in Blarney Street on the north side of Cork city, he was educated by the Christian Brothers, who fostered his love of Irish.

Yet, as seen in the following passage from his memoir Black Cat's Tales, there was a yawning gulf between the dreams of his boyhood days and his subsequent love affair with Irish.


Cowboy heroes

“St Mary’s Parish Hall stood at the junction of roads at the top of Shandon Street on the north side of Cork. It was the big venue for us youngsters in those days, with our great heroes, Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Hopalong Cassidy, up on the white screen at fourpence a time; and with the fallout even better as we galloped home down the hill, walloping the hell out of our backsides in pursuit of Red Indians.”

Most of all, Ó Murchú will be remembered as the presenter of Trom agus Éadrom (heavy and light) a highly popular TV variety show broadcast bilingually by RTÉ in Irish and English.

In the course of its 10-year run from 1975 to 1985, he popularised the language so effectively that he made people who had either little Irish or none at all somehow believe they did have the language.

He little cared if some academics tended to look down on his use of simple phrases such as "bualadh bos" – when asking the audience to clap – because in 1964 he had been specifically recruited as RTÉ's Irish language officer with a view to changing its perceived opposition to Irish, ranging from antipathy to sabotage. That is clear from the account given by historian and broadcaster John Bowman in Window and Mirror, a history of the station's first 50 years from 1961 to 2011.

Before taking up the post, Ó Murchú had sought advice from his friend and mentor Francis MacManus, novelist and head of features in Radio Éireann, who warned him that “no one in authority wants the Irish language”, adding “they’ll pretend they do and pay lip service and make all sorts of public statements but in the end they’ll do nothing.”


Advising him that his position would be “impossible”, MacManus said “one crowd will devour you if you don’t do something; the other crowd will devour you if you do.”

As a child, he had been a bright student, winning a scholarship to the North Mon and going on to attend UCC, where he studied literature but left after a year to join the Civil Service as a clerical officer. Later turning to writing, his works were published in Ireland, Britain and the United States.

Harbouring political ambitions, Ó Murchú became legal adviser to the minister for health, Sean MacEntee, and later to Charles Haughey.

But failing to convert his screen popularity into votes, his bid to win a Dáil seat collapsed when he ran as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the 1982 general election in Cork North Central. He polled only 4.5 per cent of the vote.

In 2002 he received an honorary degree from UCC. In retirement he wrote an article every month for the weekly family magazine Ireland's Own.

Predeceased by his wife, Margaret, he is survived by their eight children, Veronica, Noelle, Des, Enda, Brian, Colmán, Éadaoin and Úna.