HE held a nation spellbound, said the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford, at the funeral yesterday of Michael O'Hehir, the pre eminent voice of GAA broadcasting since 1938.
Two Irish voices this century are unmistakable: Michael O'Hehir and John McCormack, said Dr Clifford. In Corpus Christi Church in Home Farm Road yesterday they played Ave Maria and Pan is Angelicus.
The church was full of large framed men, some now a little stooped. The longest journey to Dublin was made by Mick O'Connell from Valentia Island. Another Kerry football legend, Jerome O'Shea, was there. So was Kilkenny's Eddie Keher and Roscommon's Gerry O'Malley and Dublin's Tony Hanahoe.
Michael O'Hehir's other great love - horse racing - brought out trainer Jim Drapier and jockey Christy Roche and officials of the Irish Horseracing Authority. Peter O'Sullevan, with whom he shared Grand National broadcasting duties for many years, was there.
Dr Clifford said in his tribute that Michael O'Hehir had come to broadcasting in a more slow moving and somewhat austere Ireland. He captivated a growing radio audience with his melodious voice which frequently expressed the passion he felt for Gaelic games. Through him, the Artane Boys Band spread its beautiful music through the homes of Ireland, said Dr Clifford.
He recalled the broadcast in 1947 from the Polo Grounds in New York, the only time the All Ireland football final was played outside Ireland. The match was between Cavan and Kerry and ran to extra time. O'Hehir pleaded successfully with his Radio Eireann masters to extend the broadcast so that listeners could hear the outcome of the game. Cavan won.
In the church yesterday was a member of that Cavan team, the former Fianna Fail minister, Mr John Wilson.
Dr Clifford recalled another broadcast when O'Hehir was less successful in gaining extra time. Tipperary and Cork were playing in a Munster final and the sides were level at full time. The referee decreed that extra time would be played, but Radio Eireann ended O'Hehir's commentary and announced it would now broadcast, as scheduled, a short story in Irish. The upshot of this decision, said Dr Clifford, was an immediate decline in interest in the Irish language in two Munster counties.
The President, Mrs Robinson, attended the funeral. The former Taoiseach, Mr Albert Reynolds, was present. The GAA was represented by its president, Mr Jack Boothman, and director general, Mr Liam Mulvihill.
RTE colleagues included Mr Tim O'Connor, head of sport, broadcasters Fred Cogley, Michael O Muirceartaigh and Ger Canning.
The Requiem Mass was concelebrated by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Desmond Connell, Dr Clifford and priests of the archdiocese of Dublin.
The chief mourners were Mr O'Hehir's wife, Molly, sons, Tony, Michael and Peter and daughters, Mary and Ann.
The coffin was draped in the GAA flag and was taken for burial in Fingal Cemetery.