GAA commentator Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh dies aged 93

Kerry native spent more than 60 years broadcasting matches live before his retirement in 2010

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh has died at the age of 93. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The passing of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who has died just short of his 94th birthday in August, breaks the last link with the golden age of Gaelic games broadcasting when radio commentary was the chief medium through which hurling and football were followed on air.

For 72 years, between 1938 and 2010, he and Micheál O’Hehir, whose career ended in 1985, became the dominant broadcast voices of the GAA.

Born in Dún Síon, near Dingle in West Kerry in 1930, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s career lasted until his retirement in 2010 with Cork’s All-Ireland final win over Down and some weeks later, the international rules test between Ireland and Australia.

His bilingual rhapsodies on radio retained a strong appeal even during the television era. A student teacher in St Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra, he applied for a radio commentary test and, at the age of 18, impressed sufficiently to be asked to broadcast the 1949 Railway Cup football final.


He actually took part in RTÉ’s first television broadcast of the All-Ireland hurling final, alternating Irish language commentary with Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin doing English.

The unwieldy experiment was replaced a year later by O’Hehir broadcasting both radio and television commentary in English but Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh in 1964 took over what became an institution, the live television coverage as Gaeilge of All-Ireland minor finals.

He combined his broadcasting work with teaching from 1953 in St Laurence O’Toole’s, Seville Place up until 1981 when he retired from the classroom in O’Connell’s CBS in Dublin’s North Richmond Street to take up a full time post with Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh - in his own wordsOpens in new window ]

His love of education was lifelong. He accumulated degrees, including a first-class B Comm and for years supervised the annual Intermediate and Leaving Cert examinations taken by inmates of Mountjoy Prison.

His memoir, From Dún Síon to Croke Park, was published in 2004 and dedicated to the memory of Tyrone captain Cormac McAnallen, who had died earlier that year.

From O’Hehir’s retirement in 1985 until his own, 25 years later, Ó Muircheartaigh broadcast English radio commentary on all All-Ireland senior finals – a total of 55, including replays.

In an interview with the RTÉ Guide in 1963 he said that he preferred to broadcast hurling matches – “the game is quicker but it’s easier to fit in with the pattern of play.”

Writing in 1982, the great hurling writer Kevin Cashman had this to say: “Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh has never been less than splendid and may of his tours de force in Irish, especially in the halcyon days of the Oireachtas tournament, have equalled O’Hehir’s finest. If there is one who can prove that the dear dead days are not beyond recall, it is Ó Muircheartaigh.”

GAA commentator Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh has eaten many sandwiches in his lifetime. In 2015 he demonstrated how to make the perfect ham sandwich.

In the 1980s he forged further links with his Kerry home when asked by county chair Ger McKenna to train the Kerry players based in Dublin. It became a satellite operation and many from other counties dropped in to take part in the sessions in UCD.

Speaking to Paul Keane in the Irish Examiner three years ago, former Westmeath, Galway and Laois manager Tomás Ó Flaharta, also from West Kerry, recalled that involvement.

“The training itself was very different to the really tough stuff Mick O’Dwyer was doing with Kerry in Killarney, the long runs and all of that. With Micheál it was all short stuff, speedy stuff, snappy.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris led tributes. “It is with the heaviest of hearts that I today learned of the death of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh,” he said.

“The word legend gets used too often, but for Mícheál, it is almost not enough.

“His voice, his colour, his excitement, his love of sport, his turn of phrase were often as exhilarating as the action he was describing on the pitch as the audience held its breath for what Mícheál would say next.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin extended his deepest sympathies to the Ó Muircheartaigh family.

He described the late broadcaster as “iconic” and “an extraordinary knowledgeable person with an incredible attention to detail”.

Mr Martin added: “He had a beautiful voice and for many of us, immersed in sport as young children, it was the voice of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, particularly on radio, that brought to life even the dullest of games.

“From greyhound racing, to hurling and to football he’s a voice that we will cherish forever and I know his death is something that will be greeted with incredible sadness through the length and breadth of our country.”

Simon Harris, Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan have paid tribute to legendary GAA broadcaster Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who has died aged 93. Video: Bryan O'Brien

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also extended his sympathies, adding “I think everyone would agree the definition of family in Mícheál’s case is the whole country.

“He belonged to every household where that radio came in or that television signal came in. He was as much as part of the home as everyone else.

“And he’ll be sorely lost by so many people right across this country.”

There was also a reminder of his close relationships with players down the years in a statement from the Gaelic Players Association.

“He had a voice that conjured up magic; he created masterpieces with his words; and he enhanced memories for generations,” read the GPA reaction.

“To players, he was a true friend. Our deepest condolences to the family of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh.”

RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst praised his legacy.

“Speaking at the time of his retirement, Micheál said, ‘There’s only a while in everything. Sin mar a tá an scéal.’ His wisdom exemplifies his enormous modesty, as the truth is that Micheál was legendary for a reason. He captured the essence of his beloved sports and brought them to life for generations.

“His love for Gaelic Games was matched only by his love for the Irish language and his native Kerry, and his legacy stands proudly as a seminal contributor to sporting life and culture in Ireland, to the life of his language, and the life of the nation.”

In an interview with Dermot Crowe in the Sunday Independent on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Ó Muircheartaigh rounded off by saying:

“I always say to people who might be starting, you are talking to the people who are not there. And it is important to them to be fair and to give as much information as possible. You know, we are an inquisitive nation.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times