Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh obituary: GAA commentator whose voice was central to the All-Ireland championship

For more than 50 years, Ó Muircheartaigh’s radio commentaries, in Irish and English, were as rich in language as they were keen in observation

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh during his last All-Ireland final as a commentator for RTÉ Radio in 2010. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Born: August 20th, 1930

Died: June 25th, 2024

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh was a Gaelic games commentator whose voice was as much a part of the All-Ireland championship as the teams that competed in it. His radio commentaries, in Irish and English, charted the fortunes of hurling and football teams from the four provinces for more than 50 years, and were as rich in language as they were keen in observation.

He saw his first All-Ireland final in 1948, when Cavan’s footballers beat Mayo. The following year at Croke Park he took part in a trial for a commentator to broadcast the occasional match in Irish. He was successful and was offered the job of broadcasting the Railway Cup football final on St Patrick’s Day. To prepare, he sat in with Michael O’Hehir in the commentary box at a National League game. O’Hehir, in his opinion, “did more to promote Gaelic games than anybody else and jumped his fences without the encumbrance of an ego on his back”.


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His debut as a commentator was deemed to be a success, and he was delighted with the fee of £6. His next commentary was of the Oireachtas hurling final when Tipperary held off the challenge of Laois.

Born on August 20th, 1930, in Dún Síon, Dingle, Co Kerry, he was one of eight children of Timothy Moriarty and Catherine (née Quinn). Educated in Dingle, initially at the Presentation Convent and later by the Christian Brothers, he completed his secondary education at Coláiste Íosagáin, Baile Bhúirne, Co Cork. In September 1948 he began a teacher-training course at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. He qualified from St Patrick’s in 1950. After a brief stint as a substitute teacher, he secured a temporary teaching post at St Laurence O’Toole’s CBS, Seville Place, Dublin. There, the pupils included the young Luke Kelly, who was “mad about football”.

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, and his daughter Doireann, commentating on the Galway-Kerry All-Ireland final at Croke Park in 2000. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Inpho

As a young man in Dublin, Ó Muircheartaigh played football with the Geraldines club. He enjoyed greyhound racing at Shelbourne Park and Harold’s Cross. And in contravention of the GAA’s rule 27 he attended rugby internationals and saw the likes of Jack Kyle and Karl Mullen in their prime. Likewise, despite the ban, he savoured the delights of prohibited “foreign” dances. “It was a good day for the GAA when the ban was abolished,” he said years later.

Having studied at night for a BA degree at University College Dublin, he graduated in July 1952. He was awarded a HDip Ed in 1953. That year he also secured a permanent post at O’Connell’s CBS, North Richmond Street, transferring to secondary teaching in the mid-1960s. He broadcast his first commentary in English from Killarney in 1956 when Cork pipped Kerry by a point in the Munster football championship. He was particularly impressed by the performance of 19-year-old Mick O’Connell, then embarking on a long and distinguished playing career with Kerry.

The Wexford hurling team that emerged in the 1950s also impressed him, and they remained his “favourite hurling team of all time”. Nevertheless, he regarded the Tipperary team of the late 1950s and early 1960s as the best hurling team he ever saw, just ahead of the 1970s Kilkenny team. He rated Kerry’s team of the 1975-86 as the best footballing side he saw, ahead of the Down team of the 1960s, Dublin of the 1970s and Galway’s three-in-a-row team of the mid-1960s.

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh in 2007. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

In 1962 the GAA agreed to live television coverage of championship games on condition that 50 per cent of the commentary was in Irish. Ó Muircheartaigh was appointed as the Irish commentator, sharing the broadcast with Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin. However, the joint commentary was not popular with listeners, and it was decided that from then on commentaries on minor matches would be exclusively in Irish, with Ó Muircheartaigh at the microphone.

That arrangement continued until the mid-1980s, after which Ó Muircheartaigh broadcast many commentaries in English. One of the most memorable of these was the All-Ireland hurling semi-final replay in 1998. Clare were leading Offaly by three points when the referee whistled full-time with 2½ minutes to go. The game had to be replayed and Offaly won convincingly.

In 2015 Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh demonstrated how to make the perfect ham sandwich for a summer feature in The Irish Times. Video: Bryan O'Brien

Golf and dog racing were his other great sporting passions. A member of Grange Golf Club, he played on most courses in Ireland as well as many others overseas. He was a member of the Barton Club team that enjoyed a good run in the competition. “Our greatest asset was an extraordinary ability to win matches with bad golf.”

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He had an interest in greyhounds from childhood and in later life was an owner. He enjoyed some success as co-owner of Unique Reward, the winner of several quality races, and, mixing business with pleasure, presented Night at the Dogs for RTÉ Radio. He interviewed Prince Edward, a fellow owner, for the programme at Wimbledon greyhound track in 1990 on the occasion of the English Derby semi-final.

Retired commentator Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh at his home in Co Kildare in 2020. Photograph: Alan Betson

An Irish language enthusiast, he helped to found Scoil Oilibhéir in Blanchardstown, and he was later elected national president of the Gaelscoileanna movement. Appointed to Bord na Gaeilge, he became chairman in1992 and was reappointed in 1996. His approach to the use of Irish was simple: “Use whatever you have of it rather than talk about it.” He also recognised the uses of English, an “especially useful” language.

In 1981 he gave up teaching to become Clár Reachtaire, Raidió na Gaeltachta, with responsibility for current affairs and sport. A director of the National Lottery, he was also chairman of Guaranteed Irish. He was conferred with an honorary doctorate by NUI Galway, and in 2004 his autobiography, From Dún Síon to Croke Park, was published.

He is survived by his wife, Helena (née McDowell), sons Aonghus, Cormac, Éamonn, and daughters Doireann, Éadaoin, Neasa, Niamh and Nuala.