Bill O’Herlihy: fantastic broadcaster, a decent man and great fun

Tributes paid to late broadcaster Bill O’Herlihy

Eamon Dunphy with Bill O’Herlihy in 2010. File photograph: Collins.

Eamon Dunphy with Bill O’Herlihy in 2010. File photograph: Collins.


Politicians, colleagues and friends of the late Bill O’Herlihy have paid tribute to his good nature, professionalism and ability as a broadcaster.

The former RTÉ presenter diedon Monday morning aged 76.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of the death of O’Herlihy who he described as a good friend.

“Throughout his career in the media, Bill was a consummate professional, both in current affairs journalism and, latterly in sports broadcasting,” said Mr Kenny.

“In his role in RTÉ sport, Bill O’Herlihy was central to many of Ireland’s international sporting occasions and became a national treasure. He loved his work and his family, and never forgot his Cork roots, or lost his Cork accent.

“I will miss his friendship and support. He was the quintessential decent, kind and generous Irish man.”

O’Herlihy previously served as a media adviser to Fine Gael and was one of Garret FitzGerald’s advisers during his terms as taoiseach in the 1980s.

President Michael D Higgins described O’Herlihy as “the face of Irish sports broadcasting”.

“Beginning his career in journalism at the age of 16, over 60 years he made a remarkable contribution to journalism, politics, public relations, broadcasting and our enjoyment of major sports events,” said Mr Higgins.

“Extremely professional in every detail of his work and knowledgeable in his endeavours; however, it was his unique capacity for humour which he used to connect with diverse audiences, which made him so special.”

Eamon Dunphy, who worked with Mr O’Herlihy as a pundit on RTÉ, described him as the “the catalyst” for discussion surrounding sporting events.

“He made a massive contribution to the happiness and understanding of sport, to the happiness people derive from sport, for all the Olympic games, all the World Cups and all the great soccer occasions that he presided over,” an emotional Dunphy told RTÉ radio. “He was a fantastic broadcaster and a very nice man, a very decent man and great fun.”

Tánaiste Joan Burton said O’Herlihy was always surrounded by experts and pundits but his greatest talent “was to the represent the ordinary football fan and to make sure that even viewers who had a less in-depth knowledge of the game, would still find the coverage insightful and entertaining”.

Ms Burton said O’Herlihy was an excellent news journalist as well as an entertainer. She noted a TV report he compiled on loan sharks early in his career which uncovered some “inconvenient and uncomfortable truths and as a result, brought Bill into conflict with the authorities, both within RTÉ and in government”.

Frank Flannery, a lobbyist and former Fine Gael strategist, described O’Herlihy as “one of the true loves of my life”. He was “very sharp politically” and “an absolutely indomitable proud Cork man”, Mr Flannery said.

“I really loved that man, he’s an enormous loss,” he said, adding that O’Herlihy was “politically very potent, very powerful”.

“Bill would have been a huge force in current affairs, I have no doubt about that at all. A great, astute adviser. He almost treated sport as current affairs. That’s what made it so fabulously interesting.”

Former taoiseach John Bruton extended his sympathy to Mr O’Herlihy’s wife, Hilary, and his family.

“While others can pay more eloquent tributes than I can, to his genius as a broadcaster and entrepreneur, I remember his willingness to take a clear political stand in the early 1980s, while others, for perfectly understandable commercial reasons, kept their opinions to themselves,” said Mr Bruton. “This was brave, risky, and patriotic and it showed the true character of the man.”

A statement from the Irish Film Board remembered O’Herlihy, its former chairman, as a committed, good humoured and kind person.

“He was a great advocate for the Irish Film Board (IFB) and worked tirelessly to support the promotion and development of the culture of film and of the film industry in Ireland,” said the statement.

James Hickey, chief executive of the IFB, said O’Herlihy was a constant promoter of the work of the Irish Film Board, both in public and behind the scenes.

“He was wonderful company to be with and was always full of good humour and kindness with everyone he met. We will all miss him greatly.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the former broadcaster, who was a “huge figure in Irish sports”, would be sadly missed by many.

“He was a huge figure in the Irish sports and broadcasting worlds and is associated with some of the major sporting moments for this country.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said O’Herlihy was a “truly iconic” figure who had anchored “some of best sporting coverage in Europe and across the world, giving fond memories to families across the country”.

“He was a great advocate for sport and brought huge energy and commitment to his work...Bill was a very humorous, good natured personality and I know his passing will be an enormous loss.”

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys also paid tribute to O’Herlihy.

“Bill was a true gentleman,” said Ms Humphreys. “Bill was a superb advocate for the Irish film industry, and his presence will be greatly missed.”

“He will of course be remembered by people of all ages for his decades of work in sports journalism. The World Cup would not have been the same without Bill. His good humour, his wonderful manner and his excellent broadcasting skills were unparalleled.”