Versatile journalist Bill O’Herlihy dies aged 76

Career spanned newspaper journalism, broadcasting, PR and ‘national handler’

Bill O’Herlihy at the launch of his autobiography in 2012, We’ll Leave it There So,  with his wife Hilary and his daughters Sally Conlon (left) and Jill O’Herlihy-Ryan. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Bill O’Herlihy at the launch of his autobiography in 2012, We’ll Leave it There So, with his wife Hilary and his daughters Sally Conlon (left) and Jill O’Herlihy-Ryan. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Bill O’Herlihy, who died yesterday aged 76, had a remarkable career as a newspaper journalist, broadcaster, PR consultant and political adviser.

A native of Cork city, he began his career in the reading room of the then Cork Examiner at the age of 16 and later worked as a subeditor with the Evening Echo. He subsequently went to work in news, features and sport.

O’Herlihy moved to RTÉ in the 1960s as a Cork-based reporter for the Newsbeat magazine programme. He was then asked to move to Dublin to join Seven Days, the station’s highly regarded current affairs programme.

He was able and versatile but his career stalled when the then Fianna Fáil government ordered a public inquiry into a programme he fronted on illegal moneylending, in which hidden cameras were used for the first time. It was seen at the time as an attempt by politicians to dilute the hard edge of RTÉ current affairs.

O’Herlihy was transferred to the sports department, before leaving RTÉ in 1973 to set up O’Herlihy Communications Group. Soon he would have the dual role of public relations consultant and broadcaster when RTÉ asked him to take on the role of presenter for major sporting occasions.

He went on to anchor coverage of 10 World Cups and 10 Olympic Games before his retirement last year.

His easy manner and humour, sometimes concealing the sharp professional, and his banter with fellow panellists such as Johnny Giles and Eamon Dunphy, made the programmes a huge success.

Close to Fine Gael, he was one of the “national handlers” who advised the party and taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald in the 1980s. A fellow “handler” was former Rehab chief executive Frank Flannery; the two presented an online current affairs show after O’Herlihy’s retirement.

Last year O’Herlihy said he did not have a problem lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry on the issue of smuggling. It emerged he had attended a meeting between the tobacco industry and Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ministers which was boycotted by the then minister for health Dr James Reilly.

O’Herlihy won a number of awards over the years and published a memoir. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the Irish Film Board.

He recovered from a heart attack in 1984 and major surgery for colon cancer in 2007. He is survived by his wife Hilary and daughters Jill and Sally.