Listening to Irish sports announcer a great cultural experience

Ireland's premier sports announcer shocked Irish sports fans when he declared that this Sunday he will broadcast his last All-Ireland Final. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who is 80, has been bringing Gaelic games to life for 60 years.

Ó Muircheartaigh (Moriarty in English) is Ireland's answer to Vin Scully. Only, whereas Scully is often described as lyrical, Ó Muircheartaigh is musical. Listening to Ó Muircheartaigh {photo} describe the action in a Gaelic football or hurling game is very like listening to traditional Irish music.

I can remember the first time I ever heard Ó Muircheartaigh. It was the 1980s and I just stumbled onto WFUV's live broadcast of the All-Ireland football final. I knew nothing about the game and, in truth, I had trouble following the details of what Ó Muircheartaigh was saying, but the sound of his voice was magical.

I was captivated as he called the play on the field without interruption: his voice rising and falling as the excitement waxed and waned. Occasionally, randomly and without warning he switched to his native Irish (Gaelic), which only enhanced my enjoyment. Whenever the players took a breather he'd take the opportunity to tell us something about one of the 30 athletes: what he did for a living, his hometown, his parents, brothers, sisters and, even grandparents. You got the idea that Ó Muircheartaigh knew everyone in the country (and he probably does).

Having lived here a long time I can now follow the action when Ó Muircheartaigh is calling it, except during those snippets of Irish, which I still enjoy. In fact, as has been said by others this week, listening to Ó Muircheartaigh on the radio is often superior to watching as he had that ability to make a pedestrian contest sound like an event you'd dearly have loved to have witnessed personally.

Oh, and that's another thing about Ó Muircheartaigh. He's strictly radio. Like Scully, Ó Muircheartaigh learned his trade in the days before TV. I don't know if he ever tried his hand at a television broadcast, but I can't imagine that would have worked. His words and the sound of his voice could transport you and seeing the image on a television set would only distract you and ruin the experience.

It's a sad day for fans of Gaelic games, but if you have never heard Ó Muircheartaigh you can listen tomorrow at 10:30EDT through (& on WFUV and probably other stations across America). It will be more than worthwhile.


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