Micheál comes from the Ó Muircheartaigh family back in Dunshane. He was educated locally in the Presentation Convent and by the Christian Brothers in scoil na Mainistreach.
Shortly afterwards he was called to Coláiste Íosagáin which was run by the De La Salle Brothers and which was, at the time, the choicest college in Munster. It was his time in Ballyvourney, however, that made the biggest impression on him. Again he was immersed in the ancient Irish language and his self-confidence and self-respect increased greatly.
As a gentle and kind young man who was faithful to his own values, he was ready now to take on Dublin and St. Patrick’s College of Education. He trained as a teacher and then received a second degree in the University College. He was a brilliant teacher and he had an innate ability to teach.
It is often said, and it is true, that the skill sets of the good teacher are transferable and portable. In the case of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh this proved exceptionally valid. The good teacher has the innate ability to transmit, to imagine, to empathise, to describe. How well, indeed, he brought all of those instinctive talents, those intuitive gifts, to bear as the leading sports commentator of our generation and of our time.
The art of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh is a harmony of all those features. There is the high gift of language, busy and filled with the remembered voices of his childhood, his father and his mother who died early in his life, his Aunt May who came home to them to look after the house, his brothers and sisters, the neighbours, the Coffey and the Sheridan families and Con Riordan of course. This was his inheritance of voice and sound and feeling. On match days this is what Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh brings to us, from within that deep well, the well of learning and poetry, from within that treasury of his narrative idiom – top class storytelling.
This is another language. It is richly textured, full of long vowel sounds, the hammering of consonants, the rush and tumble of the words across the threshold of our hearing.
Seán Ó Ríordáin, the Ballyvourney poet, counted these characteristics in his poem Ceol Ceantair.
Chuala sé an ceol i gcainteanna Dhún Chaoin.
Ní hiad na focail, ach an fonn
A ghabhann trí bhlas is fuaimeanna na Mumhan.
He heard the music in the talks in Dunquin
Not the words but the melody
That permeates the blas and the sounds of Munster
In his commentary Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh never seeks to define. His purpose is rather to describe. The inclusive capturing of the mood, the exchanges of the action, the frame and mounting of the occasion, the surge of the play, the pulse and beat of its every movement. And it was then that he was at his best. For here he was without peer or rival.
His voice sang out the song of every game, verse on verse. Sequence on sequence he intrigues to entrance us. Young and old, his appeal transgressed all boundaries. He made the world a small place. He gathered us all in. He beckoned home the exile. He paid tribute to the missionaries in the African bush. He evoked the parishes and townlands from which our heroes came. His was the voice stone around which we huddled. And yet there was more. The wondrous glosses or gluaiseanna that he provided, the seanfhocail and proverbs, explanations from scripture, plays and poetry and John B. Keane and The Field and the Bull McCabe and his son, Tadhg.
And all of this was done without visual aid or high definition or 3D perspective. It was done with the sheer intensity of poetic fervour from a man who loves the game and saw its virtue in every movement. For that poetic fervour we have no complete or satisfactory explanation. We can never say exactly of what it consists. This we can say, his voice resonated with the soul of a nation. It was evocative of our culture, of our identity and of ourselves.
Were we to seek in the literature or in the annals a reference that might fit best this occasion, an expression of our admiration and affection for Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, I think we would go to Seán Clárach McDonald, the poet from Charleville, and to the great anthem of Munster, the grandeur and defiance of our people called out in An Giolla Mear.
Marcach uasal uaibhreach óg.
Gas gan gruaim is suairce snua.
Glac is luaimneach luath i ngleo.
Ag teascadh an tsluaigh is ag tuargain treon.
Sé mo laoch mo Ghile Mear.
Sé mo Shaesar, Ghile Mear.
Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin.
Ó chuaigh i gcéin an Gile Mear.
Noble, proud young horseman
Warrior unsaddened, of most pleasant countenance
A swift-moving hand, quick in a fight,
Slaying the enemy and smiting the strong.
He is my hero, my dashing darling.
He is my Caesar, dashing darling.
I've had no rest from forebodings
Since he went far away my darling.