From Dún Síon to Croke Park is the autobiography of Ireland’s best-known sports commentator, Micheál Ó’Muircheartaigh. He has been commentating on Gaelic games for over 50 years and his voice is instantly recognisable to anyone with even a passing interest in the GAA [Gaelic Athletics Association]. This book tells his life story, from his birth in the Kerry Gaeltacht in August 1930 up to the present day.
Born Michael Moriarty, he attended secondary school at Coláiste Íosagáinin Cork, where he indulged his other great passion, the Irish language. At this point, he switched to the Irish version of his name, by which we all know him today.
His book could just as easily be titled ‘A chat with Micheál Ó’Muircheartaigh’ , his writing style is that similar to his speech. His stories pour out in an easy rambling fashion, much like the flow of a conversation from one topic to the next. He progresses at a rapid pace through his earlier years, and is more inclined to dwell on more recent times, which is possibly a weakness in the book.
Putting the GAA interest to one side, it is reasonable to guess that someone who was born in 1930 and lived through such changing times in Ireland would have interesting if not valuable insights into life at that time. It would seem to be an ideal stage for a natural storyteller like O’Muircheartaigh. A more detailed description of his childhood and early youth would have added a great deal to the book, and we could probably have survived with one less greyhound story to make room?
He could also have gone into a lot more detail in his wish list for the GAA, which he outlines in the closing pages. For example, the writer suggests that the GAA needs to take a stronger stance against alcohol abuse, but does not elaborate. He says they should do more to promote the Irish language, but doesn?t make any specific suggestions. He has a captive audience, but chooses not to take advantage of this circumstance to make his points more clearly. This is unfortunate. Any man who has seen as many games and been as closely involved in the GAA as he has, should by his very nature be worth listening to and should have many valuable contributions to make.
To get the other negative point out of the way, the book is not exciting. Rightly or wrongly, we think of Micheál Ó’Muircheartaigh as a man who can broadcast on the sending of a postcard, and have his listeners hanging on desperately to hear in which corner the stamp is to be placed. This is his gift: an ability to transmit a sense of excitement and enthusiasm for whatever he is watching, over the airwaves.
It is not an ability that necessarily translates to the written word. Raymond Smith, Paul Kimmage, Tom Humphries and Con Houlihan are just some of the writers who can make an event seem more exciting on paper than Micheál Ó’Muircheartaigh can. Their words can convey the beauty of seeing a footballer kicking a point from the sideline, 50 metres out from goal, or the elegance of a hurler pulling overhead on a low-flying sliotar, and sending it hurtling to the back of the net. Of course this is not a fair comparison, as these other men are all full-time print journalists. We’re not fair though, and Ó’Muircheartaigh’s outstanding success in his chosen field (where he outshines everyone else) leads us to these unrealistic expectations.
For all that, From Dún Síon to Croke Parkis a very enjoyable read. The author has a clear sharp memory and his account of All-Irelands past is fun to read. His vivid recollections bring back memories and will no doubt spawn several “do you remember when Player X scored that goal for County Y?” conversations in pubs all over Ireland. He is modest too, and points out more than once that he is merely relaying the great deeds of others, not performing them himself.
He covers a massive amount of games in considerable detail. He steps outside his GAA boundaries and tells us of trips to Ryder Cups, horse races, and of course dog races. Micheál Ó’Muircheartaigh conveys details as one might remember directions to the local shop. While this leads to the problem outlined above, there is no sense that he is trying to impress. He is not being arrogant, boasting about his amazing powers of recollection. Neither is he name-dropping, despite a copious volume of names to drop. He is merely telling stories about people who happen to be famous for certain things.
Ó’Muircheartaigh’s easy-going sense of humour comes across clearly in his book. Not that he indulges in telling jokes as such, but in the self-deprecating tales he tells, such as the story of the time he drove to Dundalk in the snow to put money on a couple of greyhounds, or even his account of how he first came to work for RTE [Radio Telefis Eireann -Ireland’s State broadcaster]. Each candidate was to be tested on his ability to commentate for radio. To make the test more accurate, the examiners were locked away and could not see the actual game. Young Micheál quickly realised that he only knew one player from either team, but knew him (and his friends, family, club etc) quite well. Abandoning the reality on the pitch, he proceeded to ad-lib the commentary and build the whole game around this one player, making him the focal point for all the action.
If you are not a fan of Gaelic games, this book will not convert you. At €35 for the hardback edition, neither is it a bargain. On the other hand, if you follow Gaelic games then you will most likely get something from this book. It won’t be a thrilling edge-of-the-seat account of one game after another; it won’t be a detailed memoir of life in Ireland through the last 70 years; it won’t be a behind the scenes look at life as a broadcast journalist. It will be an enjoyable read; it will be accurate; it will be amusing, interesting and entertaining. It will be a few hours spent chatting with Micheál Ó’Muircheartaigh. That should be enough.
All commentators have their quota of humourous remarks. The following is a selection of some of Micheá¬ Ó’Muircheartaigh?s more colourful moments on air:
?In the first half they played with the wind. In the second half they played with the ball.?
?… and Brian Dooher is down injured. And while he is, I’ll tell ye a little story. I was in Times’ Square in New York last week, and I was missing the Championship back home. So I approached a newsstand and I said ‘I suppose ye wouldn’t have the Kerryman (Paper) would ye?’ To which, the Egyptian behind the counter turned to me and he said ‘do you want the North Kerry edition or the South Kerry edition?’… he had both…so I bought both. And Dooher is back on his feet…?
?Anthony Lynch, the Cork corner back, will be the last person to let you down ? his people are undertakers.?
?I saw a few Sligo people at Mass in Gardiner street this morning and the omens seem to be good for them, the priest was wearing the same colours as the Sligo jersey! 40 yards out on the Hogan stand side of the field Ciaran Whelan goes on a rampage, it’s a goal. So much for
?Colin Corkery on the 45 lets go with the right boot. It?s over the bar. This man shouldn’t be playing football. He’s made an almost Lazarus-like recovery from a heart condition. Lazarus was a great man but he couldn’t kick points like Colin Corkery.”
?1-5 to 0-8.. well from Lapland to the Antarctic, that’s level scores in any man’s language.?
?Teddy looks at the ball, the ball looks at Teddy?
?He grabs the sliotar, he’s on the 50…… he’s on the 40…. he’s on the 30………. he’s on the ground?
?Pat Fox out to the 40 and grabs the sliothar, I bought a dog from his father last week. Fox turns and sprints for goal. the dog ran a great race last Tuesday in Limerick. Fox to the 21 fires a shot, it goes to the left and wide….. and the dog lost as well.?
?Sean Og O Hailpin…. his father’s from Fermanagh, his mother’s from Fiji, neither a hurling stronghold.?