Interview by Bairbre Meade
Ireland, September 19, 2019
Meade: So, may as well begin by saying my name is Bairbre Meade and I am interviewing Michéal Ó Muircheartaigh, who is a commentator in Ireland but I think most notably he is known as the voice of the Gaelic Games, so I think it’s quite suitable that you should be the voice of Ireland. And for anyone listening, the Gaelic Games are traditional Irish sport—how would you describe them?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, they never existed before  ’cause there was a very strange law, ’twas in operation maybe for three hundred years, maybe more: That it was illegal for anybody in England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland to be involved in sport. [It wasn’t illegal] provided there were only two [persons] involved, but if you went to three, sport was not allowed. So then that law was repealed in I think maybe 1855, around the famine times, so it took a little while then before different sporting organisations grew up, like the Gaelic Games, Irish football, hurling would be another one of them—the ladies version would be camogie—football, soccer, rugby, tennis. Little by little organisations were founded to promote different sports, so that’s why the GAA [the Gaelic Athletic Association] started in 1884. They came together, someone proposed a meeting—“that we will propagate and do everything we can to promote Irish sport.” That was the start.
Meade: And do you know when the actual game began, do you know when hurling ….
Ó Muircheartaigh: At the meeting only seven people attended. [Laughs.] Seven people, but all put up their hands when it was put to a vote and then the word began [to spread], “When will we start the games?” Would you believe it took three years before the first game was started? 1887, and they had made a draw for the fixtures of hurling and football; the ladies weren’t involved at the time. And then it dawned on somebody, “Where will we play the games?” Because they had no bit of land as of yet to have a pitch or anything. But help came from a strange source: the landlords1. Where the Ellen Park Golf Club and Vincent’s Hospital now stand, the landlord owned that estate, and he put his gardens and his fields and anything they wanted there for the GAA, the Gaelic Athletic Association, to play their games, that’s how they began.
There’s a saying in Irish, Bíeann gach tosnú laige:Every beginning is weak—and it was weak really, not every county took part, but it was a start.
Meade: Yeah, and I mean they are huge now.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, they have now reached the stage that they are the premier sport in Ireland. You know, the other sports are in Ireland, and all forms of sport are good, I believe they differ from country to country, but I think, well, the Gaelic Games, they draw the biggest attendances year after year. Hurling is a very, very skilful game, played with sticks. The football is not as skilful, not as many skills, but that draws tremendous crowds because it’s played in most counties.
Meade: Yeah, that’s cool. I do know that Croke Park is the biggest amateur stadium, or stadium raised by amateur funds, by an amateur sport, in the world
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yes, its capacity is 84,000 and some hundred. They were hoping to have a 100,000-seater, but [the] Health and Safety [Authority] would not allow it. And the yardstick apparently was—and it’s a good thing really—they judge it on how long it would take to get all people off all stands onto the pitch. If a disaster looked imminent. So that’s why it’s eighty-four, but eighty-four is a huge crowd and it’s usually filled for the big games, as it was recently for the All-Ireland Football Final and the All-Ireland Hurling Final.
People come, they have no particular interest in one team or the other; as they often told me, “We come to see a match,” to see a contest. They’re not too worried about who wins at the end, provided that they got a good day’s value out of it.
Meade: Absolutely. So, let’s see, where are you from
Ó Muircheartaigh: I’m from the parish of Dingle in County Kerry. Looking out, one of our fields is within fifty yards of the Atlantic Ocean, which stretches all the way across to the United States. We used to go down there when the tide was out, people that had to travel to Cork at that time, selling butter and fish, and they went on horseback. I’m talking about the 1800s, there were wars going on in lots of places and there was a great demand for these products, people went on saddleback all the way down a hundred miles to Cork, bringing their fish, or whatever provisions they wanted to sell, with them, selling them, coming home with—maybe not all the money—but with a fair share of it. And to this day that road that started maybe fifty yards from our field ’tis known as the Cork Road, and that goes back well over two hundred years ago at the beginning. So, I was born in that place, my father was a farmer, ’twouldn’t be a big farmer, we’d what people would say the grass of maybe ten or twelve cows.
And land—fifty-three acres that you say in the annual census of arable land. But ’twas a most enjoyable place to be there. From a very early age, we were out in the fields. Whatever work was being done, the whole family—there was five boys and three girls—all the lads would be out helping, and that was wonderful. Even before you went to school, you brought in the cows, you brought in the horse to bring the milk to the creamery. You did something. And then you went off and you walked the three miles into Dingle to the school, crossed fields to make it shorter at times but I thought it was great, y’know? I learned something at a very young age, and it came from my grandmother at that time, and she said, a prayer taught to me in my youth, “To wake every morning with enthusiasm for the day ahead,” that was the end of the prayer. “To wake every morning with enthusiasm for the day ahead.” And I think it’s a great motto. I always stuck to that. Be full of hope in the morning, be full of hope in the beginning of the year, and spread that, if you like, among people, in schools and wherever you got yourself in years to come.
Meade: And were you close to your granny? Or close to all your grandparents? Did you know all of your grandparents? Were they around?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh no. Well, my aunts and uncles, they were all in America. I think there might have been seven of them there. But I never actually saw any of them until they were sixty or seventy years of age.
Meade: Right, wow.
Ó Muircheartaigh: It wasn’t easy travel at that time. There was no air travel in those days. And the normal holidays in America were two weeks. If you came by boat, ’twould take the seven days to come, [then] you’d have to turn around and go back, so people didn’t come, until the aeroplane came.
Meade: Oh right OK, and then?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, there were letters coming all the time from America. We were aware of them. We saw photographs of them. And my aunt, and she was very observant of everything, she did say now that the Irish and the Germans and people from Poland got on very well. They used to work together. She said they got on very well.
Meade: Yeah, did they all go to the same area?
Ó Muircheartaigh: They all finished up in the same area.
Meade: Oh, that’s lovely.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But then one summer my aunts, when they got married, they moved out to different places, well up towards the north, and y’know they moved and all my uncles stayed in New York or moved out of it at times, or [took] a holiday and [went] to one part of the country one year and another part [another year]. And they all were full of praise. But actually, the year I was born, that was the year of the crash. The Wall Street crash. And all of a sudden, all men were out of work. And I can remember people talking about it. I was, I don’t think I was three years of age, and I [heard] what they were talking about, “The Crash,” the Wall Street crash, and I thought it was a wall that fell.
But they were talking about [how] they were all unemployed. They hadn’t the money to come home. Somebody wrote a letter home and said if there was a road home ’twould be black. All the people would take it and walk it home, but they had to stay. But the ladies worked, there was plenty work for ladies all the time.
Meade: Oh really? So do you know what your Aunts did in that time?
Ó Muircheartaigh: They supported the men. And then while they were out of work, the men used to spend their time playing Gaelic football and hurling [laughs], but there was space around that they could get in New York, or Boston, or Lowell. We actually knew the geography of America before we knew the geography of Kerry or Ireland. Letters were big things, and we’d hear about not [just our] own family but neighbours and connections and so on. I think it was wonderful. The letter from America was spoken of as something very important to people in my generation, born in 1930.
Meade: Was it that you’d gather to hear them, or is it that you’d all chat about the letter that you’d received
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, the letter would come to the parents and then the parents would read it out to everyone, it wouldn’t be destroyed or anything, ’twould be put aside, on top of the last one that came. And people would be talking about it. And the strange thing now, I thought it was most unusual, I heard my father say sometime to another adult he was speaking to, “such a person”—he’d have been a neighbour—“I heard that he wrote home for his age.” They wouldn’t be too sure of their age, but he wouldn’t be entitled to social security or anything in America, unless you could say what age you were.
Now birthdays were not a big thing in Kerry. I noticed that when I went to other parts of the country and other parts of the world, where birthdays were really important. But they never were that much in Kerry, and that’s why people weren’t sure when they were born. And they wrote home for their age to the parish priest, who’d look up the registry of baptism [and say], “Well then, his birthday’s very near that day.” People were baptised when they were very young.
Meade: Of course, yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: I was only six days when I was taken by horse into Dingle, three miles, to be baptised, because somebody passed the remark: “He’s a little bit delicate.” [Laughs.]
Meade: Oh no.
Ó Muircheartaigh: I had no say in it. Into Dingle with the horse, and the baptism mother, y’know, she was there as well. I look backwards always on the great times we had. There were no radios. I lived in a village of eight families. There were only two radios; one was in the lighthouse. The lighthouse looking out to sea there, they had to have one with anything that would be appearing at sea [so they could] notify the Gardaí [the police], and the other one was with the Gardaí, [at the] the police station.
My father used to take the milk to the creamery every morning, leave home at eight o’clock—we did it when we were maybe six or seven years of age, we’d carry the horse with the milk into Dingle on the way to school and leave the horse with the blacksmith until we’d be coming home, if there was pressure or work at home. But we noticed all those things, there were great times, there was variety there, we had fun.
And then as soon as the war came, there was terrific demand in England and other places in Europe for food. Food was a big thing. There was a big demand for Irish, the evils of the crash in America were gone now, there was plenty work in England, and people that would have gone to America only for the crash started going to England. But then we used to trap rabbits. And there was a big demand for rabbits. A man used to come, he got a special license to have a car. He’d go round the whole parish, collect the rabbits that were caught the night before, or the day before, and take them all to be exported to England and maybe places in Europe.
Meade: I never knew.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And they paid good prices for them.
Meade: And do you know if that was specific to Kerry?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, to all over the country.
Meade: So we had a rabbit export business.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, it was there at that time and it was needed, they were in big demand, rabbit meat was thought to be very, very good. And chickens and anything like that—there was a market for all those, and we witnessed all that as we were growing up. Then the war started, and you could say we were in the war, almost. Because the coast was watched. There was this sort of a rumour that the Germans would invade England through Ireland and come in from the Atlantic Ocean into Ireland. Take over Ireland, take over England from the back door, if you like. And then they’d be in a position to advance further.
There were all things like that, and in my time now during that war I heard them and I saw the sights of them. Three German aircraft crashed into Mount Brandon. They had been out in the sea bombing ships and all that, so the other people on the other side would be doing it and then coming in, there were no lights allowed on the ground at that time and a lot of them didn’t know that Mount Brandon was ahead of them until they had hit it. Quite a few of them were killed. There were a good few survivors as well. And they were brought to the Dingle hospital, and looked after very well. A British plane came down as well, and mines used to explode. And we were following the war as if we were in the middle of Germany.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And lots of what you’d call “wreck” used to come in. Boats that’d be sunk at sea, and whatever was being carried on the boats; it could be anything. They’d be blown out in the water, wherever the tides would go. You’d always be looking out where the wind is from, favourable place for “wreck” we used to call it. And I think every family got plenty bits of wreck. I remember one day now, my father came home from going to the creamery, he said, looking down at the sea on the way home and he thought he could see something swimming just under, a little bit up. And it was a barrel of wax. Candle wax. And no wax available at that time. A big barrel of candle wax that lasted for us and some of the neighbours until the war was over. I used to make the candles. And it was brilliant. And others got forty-gallon barrels of rum.
Meade: Well that’s a real win, now, I have to say. [Laughs.]
Ó Muircheartaigh: They came in and they were almost under water. And then if the police, the Gardaí as we call them, if the Gardaí got it before you had put it away out of sight, they were able to claim it for the state. And that happened to people as well, who rowed in—it wasn’t easy to bring a forty-gallon barrel in, with most of it under water, with somebody holding onto it.
And bodies, unfortunately, were washed in, and their identification might have been lost, a lot of those were buried locally. But as time went by, with different means of finding out who the people were, they were moved to a cemetery in the Dublin mountains. And it’s a lovely place, worth visiting any time you’re near it. ’Twould be very nice for German people, they have come, because lots of people were buried in Dingle and other coastal places, unknown at the time, [they] found out who they were and they were reburied there, and it’s a lovely centre and a lovely commemoration. So, that’s what happened in my youth. Lots of things.
Meade: Was it exciting or was it scary?
Ó Muircheartaigh: The Germans were popular.
Ó Muircheartaigh: They were. I suppose England being so near, and ’twas only three years before that England dropped control of Ireland. And they weren’t very friendly with the Irish. But the Germans, a lot of that came from America, the Germans and the Irish and the Poles were friends in America, but there was great regard for the Germans. Quite a few of them came back to Kerry, later, settled down there. They were people, you know, they studied everything, and took decisions which were usually right. So, there was a lot of talk about the Germans.
Meade: So the German soldiers that would’ve crashed, were they kept in Ireland?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, they were, those that couldn’t be identified.
Meade: No, I mean the living, sorry, the ones that would have survived and gone to the hospital.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, they were put to prisons.
Meade: Were they sent into prison?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, they were, that’s the international law of the prisoners of war. They have rights.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And they’d be better off there, they were well treated, the prisoners in the Curragh [Camp Curragh, military base and former internment centre in County Kildare]. That’s where they all were, no matter what side they were on. And England usually took their own prisoners away, if they got permission. So that they’d be nearer to their parents. That wasn’t possible in Germany.
Meade: Yeah, my, so they were in the Curragh. I never knew that. That they were sent to prison. I didn’t know that they were sent to prison.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, well prisoners of war were sent to the Curragh of Kildare and ’tis out in the middle of nowhere, and they weren’t what you’d call real prisoners, you know, prisoners that’d be in for other things. These were people that went out to fight a war, and ’twasn’t their fault there was a war, but they were involved, ’twasn’t about them, and they got lots of freedom really. There was a golf course there and they had the right to play there. They spent a lot of their time playing golf.
Meade: OK yeah, I had heard that.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And one German became a scratch golfer if you know what that means.
Meade: I don’t.
Ó Muircheartaigh: No handicap. That they’d be down to zero. That’d be top class in the world of golf. A German had that record. But he used to live out there, playing golf every day. Come in to eat.
Meade: It’s the best crash that ever happened to them, I’d say.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, anyone that survived, y’know.
Meade: Yes, of course, yes.
Ó Muircheartaigh: The wreckage of one of them is still there. If you ever go down to Kerry and climb Mount Brandon, when you’re on top of the mountain, if you look down the other side, if the day is bright enough, you’ll see wreckage from one of the planes that came in there, and they went to a bad place that wouldn’t be easy to rescue the plane or anything, and ’twas left there because there was no one alive.
Meade: Oh, that’s terrible!
Ó Muircheartaigh: So they were interesting times, and nobody had a radio, but my father would go to the creamery with the horses and the milk and he’d have everything that happened in the war since the day before because the lighthouse man used to come down and tell them, “We had Rommel in the desert.” He was a great leader. I always thought, “Oh, wouldn’t he make a great captain of the Kerry team!”
Ó Muircheartaigh: Ah, he was swept along in all that ’cause there was a war going on. That was a different front and Rommel was the man in charge. Now I never saw him but I imagined him to be a big powerful man, and Rommel in the desert, y’know—the war was big news.
Meade: Of course.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And then the newspaper, y’know there was no electricity for a good while in Ireland. It was there when the war was fought but not everyone had it.
Meade: Of course, yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And strangely, in 1927, Ireland took a decision to build an electricity power station—big one, y’know. But such a thing didn’t exist in Ireland and ’twas German contractors that got the job and they did a magnificent job. People spoke for years about the skill they had, the way everything was done, finished on date, covered the cost, everything, and they still speak about the great German engineers, some of them stayed in Ireland once the job was over. So there were lots of connections between [countries], and then there was the famous . . . he was a man from Galway, Joyce was his name, but he never got on well with the British and he went to Germany before the war. And he got a job then, propaganda radio, and it used be heard in Ireland. And he gave himself a new title, Lord Haw-Haw [William Joyce (1906-1946), born in the US and raised in Ireland, was one of several men broadcasting English-language propaganda from Germany and the one most closely associated with the Lord Haw-Haw persona, though he did not originate it].
You know everything was Lord in England, and he was sort of mocking that: Lord Haw-Haw. He made up a lot of it really, but he’d be on every night on the radio, for an hour; the lighthouse keeper would have it. He’d come down and tell the people what Lord Haw-Haw said last night.
Propaganda, that’s what he was at. And for all his troubles he was executed by Britain when the war was over. And he was an Irish citizen, but Lord Haw-Haw, he was famous.
Meade: Yeah, I’d heard of him, I never knew he was Irish.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, he was indeed, from Galway, and he worked in England and deserted England, went to Germany where he got the job and he was there for a good number of years.
Meade: Wow. And then, what of your parents? What did they . . . your dad was a farmer?
Ó Muircheartaigh: He was a farmer. There was a [tradition], y’know, [of] who would get the land, who would inherit the land. And ’twas nearly always the person who had the Christian name of two generations back.And he was Timothy or Thady or Taidgh depending what language you were speaking well, and not his father but his grandfather had the same name, so he was the man for the land then, and the others knew that and they’d hike off to America or wherever the roads led at the time.
Meade: Right, OK.
Ó Muircheartaigh: My mother came from the mountain, sort of the Connor Pass, it’s just outside Dingle, maybe mile and a half out of Dingle, but she was a Quinn there. And she married my father, I think, around the mid ’20s, and I had two brothers and a sister that were born before me.
Meade: And do you have any after you, or were you the youngest of your family?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh yes, there were nine altogether.
Ó Muircheartaigh: I mean, that would be usual at that time, that’d be the average family at that time, some bigger, some smaller, and so on, but that’s the way the world went at that time.
Meade: And you went to school.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, we went to school, there was a great regard for education, I think in Ireland, especially in Kerry. When I first went to school, we had talks, oh, very often, about this man from Dingle, he’d be way older than us, he went to school, he studied hard, and he is now the head of some department in London of the British government. That was a great, y’know, moral for us. His name was Galvin and they would speak about the Galvin over in England, you could all be like him now, if ye’d study.
And there was really a genuine interest in education because there was no work to be got. You either went fishing with fishermen or farmed, and if you didn’t fit into that—and the fishing boats couldn’t cater to everyone in the family, the vast majority of every family—[you] emigrated. In the pre-1900 [era], maybe for two hundred years before that, they were going, and then the crash put an end of it, the Wall Street crash in , but it started again maybe twenty years later when things recovered and demand for workers [rose] again.
Meade: So did any of your siblings stay in Kerry?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh yeah, my brother stayed in Kerry, he was Ignatius and that was the name of our grandfather.And he was the man destined to get [the farm], he was a year and a bit older than me. We were the same class going to school, I think. I didn’t go to school early on because I was the youngest lad, I’d be handy doing work around the farm, y’know, until I think I was nearly six when I went to school. You went to a convent at that time, boys and girls went to a convent, but on reaching first class then the boys were sent to the monastery and the girls stayed with the nuns. That was the system, and it was a good system of education. As I said, ’twas easy to convince the parents there’s value in education.
Meade: Well, I suppose if only one can have the farm, education must be…
Ó Muircheartaigh: Good to know it.
Ó Muircheartaigh: ’Cept in cases where that guy mightn’t be interested in it, he might be interested to roam. Well, he was given his head then and somebody else got it. And ’twas always settled easily, y’know there was no doubts about who would get it. It worked.
Meade: And who was the ruler in your house? Was it equal between your mum and dad or . . . ?
Ó Muircheartaigh: It was the father would work the land. And before we were born, or when we were very young, in the busy parts of the year, we’d have what was called a “servant boy.” Maybe a guy who had finished school but he had no job and he’d work maybe a couple of months with one farmer, then if that work was finished he’d move to another farm; there were always servant boys there. And then as we grew up we were able to help on the farm, y’know, and you’d be out in the fields doing something by the time you were four years of age. And it was, I thought it was brilliant. Getting up in the morning, somebody would have to go for the horse. Somebody would have to get the dog and round up the cows. There were little jobs for everyone before going to school.
So he did the farm. My mother then—but she died in 1944.And some of the children were very young, and I was fourteen at the time. Y’know, she died young. She did the housework, and all housewives at that time, they did a fair bit of knitting. And stitching, or sewing socks, that type of work, as well as, y’know, making the meals and so on, but it was different in that time. Everybody had their own meat.
Ó Muircheartaigh: We didn’t have sheep, but other people in the village had. You’d buy a sheep or two and then they’d be slaughtered. That would be kept then, in a barrel with, y’know, different things in it, to preserve the meat, and then a pig would be killed. And ’twas a big ritual, y’know. And the pig would be difficult. And then that would fill a forty-gallon barrel, y’know with water in it and stuff to make sure the meat held its value till the end. So everybody, in a way, is self-sufficient.
Meade: Yes, yeah, I can see that.
Ó Muircheartaigh: During the war of course, you couldn’t get much tea; everything was rationed. You got a very, very small quantity of tea, for a big family it wouldn’t go long. Which meant, you know, it was weak tea.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And I remember my aunt, she got somewhere another big bottle of I don’t know what ’twas called, anyway we thought ’twas coffee. But it didn’t go down very well. We didn’t know how much water to put with it or anything. [Laughs.] And ’twas never put to any great use.
But the war, people—y’know, they managed. It was that way all over the country. And all over a lot of countries in Europe as well. Food was scarce, they had rationing there, but there’s a saying in Irish: Nuair a brú d’an gcailleach, caitheann sí rith! “When the witch is under pressure, she has to take to the running.”In other words, do something else.
And that would be the case, but people got on and there were good times. At night the elders, maybe one night a week anyway, they’d be playing cards in a house that had no children. They had all grown up and were gone. Play cards there maybe one night of the week, and [other] ways to pass the time. There’d be a bit of dancing at houses, somebody in the village would be able to play an instrument. We had plenty of that, and certainly no boredom.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But now I did mention the age of fourteen. I never slept in any house except our own until I was fourteen years of age and leaving Kerry. I was never on a bus in my life, or a motorcar. And that was the way with everyone at that time. Where would we be going, to need a bus? Thirteen miles away to Tralee and we wouldn’t know anyone there, but that was the way of the times. I was fourteen years of age before I slept in any bed except our own at home.
Meade: And where did you go?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I went then to Cork, to a, ’twas called a Preparatory College. At that time, you do whatever exams turned up: School State Exams. And this particular year they had an exam for people who might like to go on and become teachers.
And everyone would do it, and some people would pass the mark and be called then, and that happened to me and it was off then to a lovely place in West Cork, there was a college there, a beautiful college. In the middle of the Cork Gaeltacht [Irish-speaking area], they all spoke Irish, they were all semi-poets. They were great singers and they still are. ’Tis different in every part of Ireland. I spent three years there. But the wonderful thing about it was—and it shows the brilliance of diversity in life—there were young people our own age that came from Donegal, and one of them it took him three days. He lived on an island off Donegal. He’d get a boat ashore the first night, get the train to Dublin the next day, spend a night in Dublin, get the train to Cork—too late for the bus out to where we were, had to stay in Cork—then arrived there maybe four days later.
Meade: Oh my goodness!
Ó Muircheartaigh: And there were six from Donegal, there were about three from Mayo, from Galway, two from Dublin, one from Monaghan, Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny. ’Twas a great mix. And they had a different dialect in Irish to what we had.
Meade: Of course.
Ó Muircheartaigh:But then we learned all of them. We had all of them together, because we were two days in the college. “We’ll speak all Kerry Irish today; we’ll speak the Connemara Irish tomorrow.” Y’know, they all got their turn. And then we had the local poets who used to come in. And they try out their latest poem on us. If we approved ’twas a good thing, so ’twas generally disapproval—for a bit of sport anyway, y’know! They’d be defending what they wrote. Ah, I enjoyed those three years as well. And then ’twas off to Dublin, to teachers training college, for two more years, and Dublin was something new again. A big city. Where we were in Cork was, y’know, I’d say there was a village maybe with twenty people in it. Another village the same distance another three miles away. ’Twas absolutely rural. We spoke nothing but Irish, because it was a Gaeltacht area. And we learned songs from Donegal, and poems from Donegal, from Mayo, from Galway, from everywhere really. Everybody was willing to come up with something, you know.
Meade: Did you grow up speaking Irish?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I grew up speaking both languages. Mostly Irish. Where I was at the time was called a breacGaeltacht. ’Twas neither in the Gaeltacht, nor ’twas out of it. The people were beginning to speak the two languages, and I advocate y’know having two languages. They help each other. But I grew up with, we spoke whatever was spoken to us. And I think we were good at both of them because there was a split, y’know. Anyone who speaks to you in English, answer them in English; anyone that speaks to you in Irish, answer them in that language. So there was no trouble and there were no problems about things like that.
Meade: Oh, that’s really cool. It was just that when you mentioned the Cork Gaeltacht, I wanted to check. So what age were you, were you seventeen going to Dublin, was it?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Seventeen going to Dublin, yeah.
Meade: And had you visited a city ever, or was moving there your first time?
Ó Muircheartaigh: No, the only city we saw was Cork city, because we spent a night there on the way to Ballyvourney. Even though we were only seventy miles away it took us two days, you’re talking now about the 1940s. When the war was still going on and so on and things were scarce. But Cork city was the only city we knew. We were great friends with the people that had little shops, and they had everything, and they’d like to see us coming in, y’know, and it was easy going.
Meade: And then, so whereabouts did you go to in Dublin?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, the teacher training college was in Drumcondra.
Meade: Is it the same one that’s still there, St Patrick’s?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yeah but ’tis now part of DCU [Dublin City University].And ’twas of course all boys at that time. The mixture is there now.And a good mixture it is. And again, I enjoyed the two years I spent there. And then I came down to Kerry and I said to myself, “Now I’m not going to leave this for a while.” I always liked Kerry.
I could have got a job teaching that starts in July, and after one week you’d have the summer holidays. But with my reading of it, I’d have to come back the 1st of September then maybe, and I was saying we’d be long enough working.
I went out to Dingle and I stayed there until the middle of October. And I got a telegram from somebody in Dublin who was a teacher but he was involved in a cultural programme and he wanted to take two weeks off and wanted somebody to take his place. And he asked me would I take his place? So that’s how I left Dingle then and went teaching for the first time.
Meade: Oh, so the first time you taught you were in Dublin?
Ó Muircheartaigh: In Dublin, yeah. I never taught anywhere else except in Dublin.
Meade: Oh right, so how long did you teach for?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I taught—well, I started broadcasting in 1949.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Which is a long time ago. I wasn’t a full year in Dublin at all.
There was a little notice appeared somewhere that Raidió Éireann [Now Raidió Teilifís Éireann, “Radio Television Ireland]—as it was at the time; the television hadn’t come in—they were holding rehearsals in Croke Park for people interested in becoming a sports commentator. And the attraction was free admittance at games such as Sunday, ’twasn’t the big game but there were two games one after the other going on, and a big crowd turned up, y’know, from the University College Dublin and from Drumcondra and from different places, and we all got five minutes. And I got fifteen. And I was asked there and then if I would broadcast the Railway Cup Final on St Patrick’s Day which was around the corner. And being an innocent Kerry man, I said, why not?
Ó Muircheartaigh: And that’s how I’ve approached it ever since. Like I told you earlier on about “to wake every morning full of enthusiasm for the day ahead.” I was saying to myself I know nothing about it, no coaching or anything. But I did my own coaching, saying the people that’ll be listening, what they’re interested in is what is happening.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And that’s a thing I always say to new commentators or young commentators coming on board. I say, “You’re doing it for the people, you must talk about the things that they are interested in not about yourself or something else, unless there’s a break.” So I did the Railway Cup Final on St Patrick’s Day 1949, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Well, I retired in 2010. I retired from doing the big broadcast, because by then I had been doing it for sixty-two years. And I had done it in eight decades. Because ’49 was the end and 2010 was the beginning.
Meade: Oh of course!
Ó Muircheartaigh: So those two decades had only one date. But I had, y’know—well, I still do bits. Y’know, I do other things here [and there] now.
Meade: They talk about teaching being a vocation. Do you think that you found a vocation?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I think so.
Meade: Rather than a job.
Ó Muircheartaigh: I liked the teaching. I spent a while now, once I was finished in Drumcondra. I told you earlier on there was a great respect for education.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And as soon as I got a job teaching then there was several UCD degree courses, the BAs and BComms, and I registered and I did a BA there. At night—be in there at five o’clock in the evening till 9:30 at night doing different subjects and so on. Once that was over then I did a higher diploma in education, that way I’d be qualified to teach in a primary or secondary school. I spent a long time teaching in a secondary school as well. I did the Bachelor of Commerce degree as well so I was qualified then to teach accountancy and things, but I liked being in the site of a university. You know there’s always a great spirit there. They’re young people. They think young. They look forward, they think positively. Nothing is a problem. And I thought: things, situations like that help to keep you young.
Meade: Yes, yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh:And I had that feeling always.
Meade: Do you think, because I have to say, like I obviously googled you before I was going to interview you, but my jaw dropped when I saw your age. You don’t look it. And also, you don’t seem, you seem much younger than you are.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, maybe I feel that way as well. And I look upon myself as being young. For some reason. And I tell people that you should not worry about age, because you have no control over it. By all means do things that would be favourable towards your health. I mean, I was a smoker. But there was no talk at that time that smoking was harmful. And I had my first smoke at the age of two-and-a-half.
Meade: That’s quite the beginning! [Laughs.]
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well ’twas myself and my brother. There was a wake in the village, of an elderly lady. And the custom at that time was that at the windowsills there’d be rows of pipes, and we were standing there, y’know, when everyone’s supposed to go in to the wake for some while, and everyone that came took a pipe and lit it. And we felt we had to do that. Like everyone that was going in. We got the pipe there off the window, we saw people lighting matches and we were able to do that. Now I was smoking. I must have known there was something bad about them. I know from myself because when it came to doing the Junior—it was the Intermediate Certificate at that time, it’s the Junior Cert. now—I know that the day before the Junior Cert. started, I said to myself, “I won’t smoke until it’s over.” There must’ve been some doubt in my mind that these were doing no good.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And I did it while the exam was on. But then once the first bulletin came from somewhere about smoking is evil, I never smoked since then. And I think ’twas the best thing I ever did. That would be going back, I would say, oh well over fifty years. I never even caught one in my hand since. I said they’re not for me. And I never drank either.
And I hear people saying, “Oh you’re put under pressure.” I say, “Nobody ever put me under any pressure.” I was at functions all over the world, big functions, and I never felt I was at a disadvantage that I wasn’t smoking
Meade: I’ve read that in Ireland, back in the day, they would smoke at funerals, they’d actually stay in the house while the body was there and keep smoke around it, and it was a way of keeping away…
Ó Muircheartaigh: It was the same incense in the church, you know at funerals…
Meade: But it was for bad spirits, to keep away…
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yes, to banish bad spirits.
Meade: Was that something, both that and other belief systems . . . do you have the same beliefs that you had as a child? Or how has that developed?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I would say that I didn’t change. There was a strong authority when I was young. Y’know, what the bishop said or what the parish priest said, you went by it—that has changed, thanks be to God, but I never changed in . . . you know, the bad press they got over the years, I’d say that didn’t involve many of them.
Ó Muircheartaigh: When your team, when some member of a team, commits an atrocious foul, you don’t desert the team on account of that.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But the reverse happened, the whole team were condemned. Which was wrong in a way, because well over 90 percent of them would be innocent.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But that’s a human tendency, maybe, they were involved in . . .
Meade: Yeah, I suppose the . . . the wider implications.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But I never changed. But the stations at that time, while the mass was said in the house, our village now—there were eight houses and three more a little bit away and that was eleven, ’twould be in your house one year and then it would come around to you again maybe five years later and you’d have the house decorated to the last for it and ’twas a great way, a time to—
Meade: Sorry, was this the “stations of the cross”?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh no, mass and everything.
Meade: Just a normal mass?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yes
Meade: They would come to the house?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yes, it was called “stations.”
Meade: Oh, OK!
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, it was very strong in Kerry. The parish priest would come, and the curate, and there might be two or three curates in the church. And then one of them would say mass in the kitchen and ’twould be well decorated and everything, and the other person would be sitting by a nice fire in the sitting room and everyone would go down to confession, go to him while the mass was on. They’d reverse it then for the second mass. There was a second mass then and the fella that was hearing the confession in the first one . . . that’s the way it was. It would be a big day, the one day you could be as late as you liked coming to school.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But you had to show up!
Meade: Yeah, well that’s fair. Some things don’t change! [Laughs!]
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh they don’t, no, no. So that was another, ’twas a nice custom, really.
Meade: But did you go to a church? Would you normally?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh yeah, we went to mass every Sunday.Sunday morning, early. And three masses on a Sunday in Dingle at that time. It’s reduced to one priest now.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But ’twas big at the time, y’know, and they had power and people didn’t see through where the wrongs were, and there mightn’t have been many of them at that time. But you paid money to the priest, everyone from the different houses. At a certain stage when mass was over, you’d walk up in turn and you would leave [money]—you needn’t tell anyone what you’d left, a pound anyway, and that was their salary, really, because they had no income.
Meade: Oh! Oh, I didn’t know that.
Ó Muircheartaigh: No, no, they had no income. They do now but it’s not a big income. But they get that, and it was the custom of the stations. Ah, there were lots of talk about the day—drink was not allowed. It did creep in an odd place, later.Once the parish priest had left.
Meade: Well, I mean, if everyone was around . . . [Laughs.]
And what about superstition, and some of the other kind of . . . were there other belief systems that happened in Kerry?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, I never believed in superstitions. Of course, what was very big at the time was ghost stories.
Meade: Yes, yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And ’twas usually the neighbouring women that had those. And when we all used to stay there they’d frighten the daylights out of us, because we’d be walking home, it might only be a hundred yards, but ’twould be in the dark, before electricity came.
Meade: Oh my, yeah, it must have been so dark.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Before rural electricity came. And there were those stories and there was another thing then, when we were going to school now in a hurry, we’d take a short cut through fields, and in the top of one of the fields—
Meade: A fairy ring?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, we didn’t call it a fairy ring, ’twas a cillín. ’Twas a place where people who died or were born dead were buried. People who were not baptised could not be buried in a normal cemetery. So there was a place [for them], and that happened all over the country. They are very plentiful all over Ireland. Cillín we called them in Kerry. And I have a brother buried there.
And you know, there wouldn’t be a funeral at that time, and there wouldn’t be a priest or anything. There was a thing called limbo that they went to. They went there and they had a good time but they were never in heaven.
Meade: That must have been a very hard belief.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, it was. Well then, a parish priest, he was a native of Dingle, and he was a scholar and he was a professor in Maynooth, but when he retired he had no place to stay. And he went down—they were short a priest in Dingle and they made him priest there. He finished up as the parish priest. He banished that. He said we’ll have a mass in every one of them and we’llhave a great day and they’ll all be released, and there was a mass. Now we have a mass and I go to it every year, and I go to another one far away where I knew people. But they were called cillín. They had a different name, but they were all over the country. At the time, ’twas a funny rule, but they couldn’t give them a name. Because they weren’t baptised. The still births.
There was no talk of superstition about the place.
Meade: Mm, it wasn’t a superstitious place?
Ó Muircheartaigh: It was kept well, now. And there’s a mass in most of them and so on.
Meade: I suppose we might have touched on this, but just in case: When do you feel you became politically aware?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, we were politically aware from the time [we] were very young. Politics was very hot in Kerry because the Civil War wasn’t long over when I was born, and that lived on. And you’d be talking to people in Fine Gael or some people in Fianna Fáil [Irish political parties] or the others. And I always said, y’know, make up your own mind. Don’t follow it because your father did or your grandmother did or something. Make up your own mind.
But I was always interested in politics. And I thought that it was a very difficult job. Now, when I packed in teaching, I spent a few years during the broadcast in the weekends and during the week, I used to cover the Dáil [In full, Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish legislature] for Raidió Na Gaeltachta [Irish-language radio station]. And I’d a great time in there because I knew them all [from] football matches and everything, but I know they work very hard. From watching them.
Meade: So was your job to . . . I presume you were listening and then reporting on what was happening at the Dáil.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, I interviewed them.
Meade: Oh, you were interviewing, OK. I was wondering if you were commentating.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, I did a report on what was on that day if it was a major thing, y’know. And they’d be telling you beforehand, “Oh, don’t be too hard on me, now.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: But I liked it really, and I was there the day the Dáil collapsed. It wasn’t an election now, nobody was speaking of an election. There was a VAT put on children’s shoes. And one fella, who was a member of the government, and I forecast it. Garret FitzGerald was the Taoiseach [Irish prime minister], and at the time he came into the Dáil chamber I was in the press gallery. [The member of the government] never looked towards the Taoiseach, and I said there’s something wrong here. They usually, y’know, acknowledge [him], and then when it came and there was talk about a vote I said, “Oh, he’s going to vote against it and the government will fall.” So I slipped out the door because when a vote was taken the doors are locked.
Meade: OK yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But I got out the door before it was locked, and I went in and I told them that the government was about to fall. It was a gamble really. There was pandemonium inside of five minutes. When the votes were counted. The man [who voted against the tax], he was an honest man, he was [from] Limerick, Jim something, and he was a genuine socialist, y’know?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Maybe he thought it was wrong, y’know.
Meade: To charge a tax on children’s shoes.
Ó Muircheartaigh: To tax children’s shoes, yeah.And the government fell then.They voted for and against and he voted against putting the tax on and they had more votes than the others, so the government had been beaten.Within half an hour the Taoiseach was in the state car [and heading] up to get the Dáil dissolved.
Meade: Oh my goodness!
Ó Muircheartaigh: But they used to be, you know, great moments. I knew a lot of them, y’see. Now I remember when we started, a TD [Teachta Dála, member of the Dáil] from Galway—’twas his driver told me this. He got a state car, that was a big thing if you were given a state car. And when he came and the driver was assigned to him, [the driver] had the door open and the minister sits in and he closed the door and he said, “Where to, Minister?” “Ballygar,” he said, “in County Galway.”
And that’s where he went. But I checked afterwards with the man himself. “What brought you to Ballygar?” He said there was a man there who used to always say to [him], “I’ll vote for you,” and he said to him, foolishly, “If I ever become a minister, you’ll get the first drive in the state car.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: The state car! And he didn’t stop till he landed in Ballygar and he sent the driver in. “Knock on the door and tell him his state car is waiting.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: He was a character! And then they went off and played a round of golf.I didn’t put that on air.
Meade: It was in a way very honest of him to keep his word.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, it was, really.
Meade: And do you have a favourite political moment?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, there’d be several of them. You know, I had great time for Jack Lynch [Jack Lynch (1917-1999), served as Taoiseach from 1966-1973 and again from 1977-1979].
Meade: Oh yes, yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Jack won an All-Ireland playing football and he won five playing hurling. There’s only fifteen people did that.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But I thought he was a guy who should never have gone into politics.
Ó Muircheartaigh: He was very straight, you know, and he was convinced into politics because he was very popular and a nice man. And I got to know him well, now, because I was a day down in Ennis, there was something on the Sunday morning. And I was asked to be the MC at it, but I said, I can’t go, I’ve a match in Croke Park in the evening and traffic could be bad. He came back to me [and said], “You’re going back in the state car.” And that can’t be late because they can go at any speed. And it was Jack Lynch who was down launching [whatever] it was being launched, and he came back in the car—well, he was great company, y’know. He was Fianna Fail, but he said, “I could go in in the biggest Fine Gael area in the country and they’d have a great [welcome for me], and I do,” he says, “knowing I’ll get no vote here”—but they all had a great welcome for him. On account of the hurling.
Meade: Mmmm yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: He’s OK. But he was good that way and took things easy and he was a good Taoiseach I thought. But they all work very hard, I think.
Meade: Did you ever protest or fight for anything politically?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well I fought for—I’d say it would go back to the ’70s. I was at a meeting somewhere about Irish schools, and somebody pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and he said, “There’s only thirteen schools now outside the Gaeltacht teaching through the medium of Irish.” Leaving out the Gaeltacht. And I thought that was rock bottom.
So we called a meeting then to set up Gaelscoileanna [Irish language schools] and promote them, and there’s rising of two hundred now and they’re growing every year. I put a lot into that, I was chairman of it for the most of ten to fifteen years, and I went into the archbishop one time to sign the paper making me chairman of the board of the school and he did really, because he was an Irishman, and tackled ministers so that they’d support it properly, and they did.
Meade: My nieces and nephews go to Scoil Oileabhair.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Do they?’Twas I founded that. 1973.
Meade: 1973, wow.
Ó Muircheartaigh: It opened up, no, ’75 it opened, yeah.
You’re supposed to have twenty-three [students] just to get permission to start it, and I went into the department, I’d only seventeen, “Oh, ní feidir leat, ní feidir leat” [Oh, you’re not allowed, you’re not allowed], and then I produced another list of seventeen brothers and sisters—with those we’d have enough next year. I got the start.
Ah, but they were very good really. They were very good, and Cíarán Kilkenny [an Irish Gaelic footballer, currently playing for the Dublin county team] went there of the Dublin team. And a lot of others. There are about four hundred pupils there now, y‘know.
Meade: Yeah, I’ve been to their nativity, in fact.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, their nativity, isn’t it a lovely place?It was lovely playing in the woods there. There are trees there that are hundreds of years old.
But a thing we didn’t touch on, and I think it a big [topic]: I always thought that we were European. In the ’60s now there was a movement, the European Teachers Group. [It] used to meet a lot, discussing things that somebody would know: about Europe’s system, to know how some of those would merge into some of ours and vice versa. I think it was at a certain stage, there was a great move to think European.
And I always thought that—and a lot of the people I knew did—that we’re too small. And I think that trend I remember now, ’twould be the minute the war was over. Winston Churchill, who was never friendly towards Ireland, really, he made a statement: “Only a United States of Europe will put an end to wars in Europe.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: You see, the European countries were eternally fighting among themselves. You know, the coal fields: Germany wanted them, France wanted them, and the Belgians wanted them, and there were wars going on and one side would win and they’d have it until the next war it’d be taken, but Winston Churchill said it is only a United States of Europe will get rid of that.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And your man [Robert] Schuman, he was a big expert on the coal business and everything. He supported that, and the French did: “If we owned those in common . . .”—’twas a simple enough solution. If we own those in common, we can control them, because the supply was endless. And that was got through.
And then it happened that there was a politician, I never met him, but I read a lot about him: Adenauer, he was the chancellor of the German government I think from ‘46 to [’63], and he was powerful, y’know, he got all these people to come together. To help each other, to make Europe a better place.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And it went from being a three-state gathering at the beginning, and then the EEC [European Economic Community, precursor to the European Union] came with maybe nine states and it has now about twenty-six states in it. And the principle is good, y’know. I know England are talking about leaving. Well, they’re entitled to that and they’ll go their own way, depends on what happens in a future year, but I felt that we were always European, and that went back a long time as well. It started maybe about 500, 600 AD, when the monks began. There were so many monks in Ireland they began to emigrate. They went to Iona, that’s where Colmcille [Colmcille (521 – 597), an Irish abbot and missionary. Known outside of Ireland as Columba] went. They went to Leuven, they went to Salamanca in Spain, they went to Paris, they went to Rome. They went to Switzerland, and they were there as educated people with a culture. The books they brought with them were Latin; all the Catholic Church at that time was run through Latin. I remember when the mass was through Latin. And we had them all off, we’d have the holy “Our Father.”
Meade: Did you understand Latin or just mass?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, we did Latin, but you’d know it, y’know. We’d the “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father” and the big long one, we’d all of them, and we used to love banging them out.
[The monks] were, if you like, bringing Irishism to those places, and religion, and maybe absorbing some of their cultures, because the European movement is great for culture. Now in many countries in Europe you have Irish dancing and Irish games are played—they might be played in as big a state as they are here. They’re being played, singing, the Irish language, the English language, the games are played there, but then it’s equally true of the other side. Soccer is played here and different things, the languages of other countries have come here, students come here from several countries. I think getting to know each other is a wonderful thing and there was a stream of people coming to Ireland during all those years, to learn something.
Islands have a, they have a drawing power, I think. Now, I come from Kerry. There was a great character, he came from England, he was known as Robin Flower [Robin Flower (1881 – 1946), English poet and scholar, a Celticist, Anglo-Saxonist and translator from the Irish language, known in Ireland as Bláithín, “Little Flower”] but the people on the island called him Bláithín because of “flower.” He was now known as na Bláithín, he studied Irish, compared it to other languages. He wrote things, he stayed there a long time.
Other people came then, a man called Max Rander, he learned Irish, went back to the West of Ireland for a while, learned to write in Irish and his wife translated all the works of Synge [poet and playwright, leading figure in the Irish literary renaissance] and a whole lot of them into German. He was German. Translated them into German and sent them off to Germany. There was that type of connection, to and fro all the time.
There’s more knowledge of the game of hurling, which was played illegally when it was banned. It was played openly because every landlord in the country in hurling territories had a hurling team that they supported, so no government would go against them. And there’s wonderful material that I have found about how they worked. There was one [landlord] and he was down in the Kilkenny area and he was the captain of the Limerick hurling team. He was [named] Cuff and he was keen on hurling and he had a team and they made him captain, y’know. He was supplying everything and they made him captain. Now he was the Lord Day but they called him Sean Chaipín, because when you played hurling at that time you wore a cap. And he was Sean Chaipín to the Irish people, but he was a landlord and he did everything for them and that was common. ’Tis very interesting that the first game ever, the first All-Ireland ever, was played on landlord territory, in Ellen Park.
Meade: As in like the Anglo-Irish landlords?I would never have known there was a connection.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh well, yeah, there were others that were equally against different things, but it was promoted by different people, and even the landlords used to have competitions among themselves. That Lord Haw-Haw [chuckles] or whatever it’d be, his team would go down to play Cork, they might go from there to play Limerick, might go from there to play Clare. They had a tour, and some of them were paid money. The lords used to put up a hundred guineas for the winner of the match and several barrels of beer. They were good times for those that were involved in them. But all those are different cultures, and ’twas something new to the landlord that spent their youth in England, maybe.
Meade: Yeah, of course.
Ó Muircheartaigh: So I thought we always had great connections with Europe. I went to Leuven to see it and I went to Rome to see where the Irish, y’know, the Flight of the Earls, they left 1604 or sometime [Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, left Ulster for the continent in 1607. The event, known as the Flight of the Earls, has come to symbolize the end of the old Gaelic order in Ireland and the completion of the Tudor conquest]. They were blown into the Bay of Biscay by a storm. They went across land and were attacked several times to reach Leuven. They spent more than a year in Leuven, [and from] there they went by land to Rome, and poor old Hugh O’Neill, I went to see where he’s buried. He’s buried facing downwards, that’s what he wanted, in a church in Rome.
Meade: Why did he want to face downwards?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, he didn’t consider he was worthy enough to be looking up at the people there—he was a layman, y’see.
Meade: Ah yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But there’s all those links between them. And there was another German, I think [Böll] was his name. Heinrich [Böll], and he learned Irish in Achill Island [The German author Heinrich Boell bought a house near Keel on solitary Achill Island in 1958].
And oh, there were lots of those English people who loved coming. There was a custom by English people at that time, the transition year: they’d send their son to Ireland when he was finished with whatever education he was getting and he’d be given a free head, given plenty money—“Tour Ireland, notice Ireland, and then sit down and write a book.” Y’know the book would be rubbish, but write a book, get it done. And lots of those came. And they did that, went round the country, met the people—and it was a great thing to meet people. You can often get a complete change of view and everything if you meet the people. And they were going around and they made notes. One particular person, he was very keen on hurling and football and he wrote extensively about the games he saw, on the people who got injured and the football as well. He has several hurling games mentioned but only one mention of football in the whole book. “They do not play much at football,” he [wrote] after giving a lot of pages about hurling. “They do not play much at football except in a place called Fingal outside of Dublin where they trip and wrestle handsomely.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: That was the only thing in the whole book about football. The hurling got it, y’know. You’d get a lot. I know a person who wrote a book, Scéal na hiomána, the story of hurling until the GAA was founded. People would have no trouble getting the history after that. It went to seven hundred pages. And what he didn’t discover going to sources like that, and put them all together. He gave twenty-one years at it. He was a Christian Brother, and he brought out a very fine book.
But there were great connections between European countries, France, Spain, Italy.You take now Switzerland.There’s a great thing about the saint that went there, St Gall [Saint Gall, or Gallus (c. 550 – c. 646)]. They used to carry a lot of books with them. They’d all be Latin. The late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, he used go there during his holidays. He was a man from Armagh, and he was very keen on sport. And he used to take his holidays in Switzerland, in the monastery that St Gall had hundreds of years ago. And he went through the books, y’know. All Latin but sometimes out on the edge there’d be something written in Irish. Now that’s the first written Irish. It might be that he didn’t understand that word in Latin. Or that it was a new word to him and that he put the meaning of it there.
Meade: Oh wow.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And Ó Fiaich would be delighted that he found another word [chuckles].
Meade: Do you think that within your lifetime the Irish have thought of themselves as European? Or do you think that it’s that you always, y’know, liked the idea of Europe, that actually generally, as a nation . . .
Ó Muircheartaigh: I think we still think as Irish people, who are very loyal to this idea of togetherness. And both can go hand-in-hand. And I think that’s a good [thing]: you don’t desert your own. And you know, maybe to borrow good aspects from others. To be open-minded. And there’s plenty now in Irish poetry. There’s a poem comes to mind just now: “Comhairle ó Bhaird Scoiláire dá mhac,” “Advice from a Bard to His Son.” There’s a lot of verses in it, but the one that I liked is: “Ná tabhair do bhreith ar an gcéad scéal, go mbeiridh an taobh eile ort.”“When you hear a story, don’t rush out condemning it or praising it until you have heard the other side.” “Ná tabhair do bhreith ar an gcéad scéal, go mbeiridh an taobh eile ort.” “Until the other side catches on to you,” really. And then you’re in a valid position to make a judgement.
There’d be a lot of that in poetry if you went looking for it. The old poets, they died with O’Neill really, because O’Neill and those [like him] were the chieftains of Ireland, but once they lost Kinsale [The English conquest of Ireland culminated with the battle of Kinsale, 1601 – 1602] they lost everything. That’s why they had to leave.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And they supported poets and musicians. They supported culture, if you like. These landlords and powerful people, they did that, and then they gave the money, and there’s another old poem about, it’s down in Cork: “Tig Molaga,” “’TwasOnce a Big House.” And this fella went walking, “Oíche agam do doiligh dubhach, Cois farraige dtonn dtréan.” One night he wandered off, the night sky he was wandering, and then he went along and suddenly and found himself in front of a decayed big house. One of those chieftains. They had to get out of the country as well. And then he started thinking back, y’know there was a bench along there. “Tá fora fiar”—foradh was another word for a chair. In a long change it mightn’t be very comfortable. That was there one time. Anyone was welcome into the house. Anybody, y’know, poet or musician or anything. He said, “bhí fora fiar ar an thaoibh”—there was a nice little bench outside. “Ar a suíodh saoitheagus”—you know, where sages, poets, musicians . . . and he puts at the end, “agus taistealaigh thriallta róid”:the poor old men who wandered the roads, they weren’t able to do nothing. But they were all welcome on that chair. “Bhí foradh fir ina shuí is cian ó chireadh a cló”—it’s years since it was put there. “Ar a suíodh saoithe agus cliar.” Saoi be wise men, cliar be clergy, agus taistealaigh, the beggar man was welcome and they’d be supported in the house and they could stay as long as they liked.
Move on to the next place. And usually arrive with a poem praising the personof that house, which was no harm.But that all died with the Flight of the Earls, that world.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And then their lands were given to landlords, plantation of Ulster. The best plantation that was ever done from the point of view of the objects of it. Ulster is loyal, Presbyterian since then.
Ó Muircheartaigh: ’Twas Irish up to then. But there was another poet. He lived to be a good age. He saw the two years before the breaking up of all the meal in these. And he saw what happened after. And of course, you were paid for this, you were looked after. There was nothing he could do, and he gave the last few days of his [life], well maybe few months living in a grave. But before he went in—he was very good—he wrote a poem sort of lamenting the world that had overtaken him, and he finished it by saying, “Sin finis”—a latin word—“don scríobh ina farra fail.”“This is the end of my writing for the people of Ireland.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: But he came out of his grave one morning, walking along the road, and he met this fella coming towards him. Who stopped, took off his coat, and put it on him—he obviously he had no coat put on. So he said then, that called for another.Another verse. So there were different times, y’know.
Meade: Yeah, of course.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And ’twould be the same in other countries, they had their equivalents. Some came to Ireland, Ireland went to [them]. And this year now, Galway will be the European Capital of Culture. Now that will rotate, it will be Italy’s, ’twill be France’s, and it might be some aspect of culture. So there’s a lot of those contacts now, built in. And they’re all good.
Meade: Yeah, absolutely. Can I ask you about what you think of when I say the word freedom?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Freedom, I think, the principal thing about freedom: the government of the time should administer justice. And freedom means to me that you’re allowed think in a different way. Do things in a different way. Develop things in a different way. And that nobody would object to that, [tell you] you have no right to do that. That people have rights to do things the way they do. They might not seem as good to other people, but freedom would mean closing your eyes to a lot of things, and again going back to what I said, “Ná taibhair na breithe ar gcead scéal go mbeirigh an taobh eile d’ort.”Don’t give judgement until you hear two sides of a story. And freedom means giving the people freedom to do that, rather than making them do that. That’s the way to go. This is the way the majority thinks. Freedom would be fair to people who have different views. Provided they’re not breaking laws that are considered good laws.
Ó Muircheartaigh: So freedom, it’s a wonderful thing. But you trust people, and people trust you. That’s real freedom.
Meade: One of the things we haven’t actually talked about, but what of your own family? You’re married with children?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh yes.
Meade: How many children do you have?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I had eight.
Meade: Oh, wow, OK!
Ó Muircheartaigh: And they were wanderers. Now I’ve been in every country, a lot of countries all over the world. But what I told them—I sent them to a gaelscoil, I said to them, “People should have their own and as much as they can of other things.” Other languages, other sports, other music, and so on. But to basically have your own. And add to it. And don’t be afraid to have different views, to go to different places. Now I have German grandchildren.
Ó Muircheartaigh: I’d had a daughter, she went to UCD, and she studied there, and then she got a job from the EU to go to some place in Ulster. Lisburn, it’s a real strong, y’know, Loyalist area. They’re nice people. She worked there for a while. ’Twas under some scheme that was paid for by Europe. To put them thinking more. And she spent, she got maybe a year with a company that dealt with art. Selling art, not creating art.
Meade: Oh right, OK.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Buying art and then selling it, around Lisburn. And she convinced them that they should spread out. Go to the Dublin spring show or something, where there’s massive opportunities to promote. So they agreed to that, and they came down, and I went in to see Neasa, y’know, and a lot of people knew me and they couldn’t understand how people were coming to me for pictures and things. “What does he do? Is he an artist?”
Ó Muircheartaigh: But they started then, she told them that they should venture into England. That they had a product and, y’know—did you ever hear of “an pocan gabhair”?
“Muna bhfuil agat an pocan gabhair”—that means if you only have a buck goat for sale, “bí i lar an aonach leis,”be in the middle of the market with that goat. In other words, promotion.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And she convinced them, and they asked her would she go to Germany and they employed her then for a year. Would she work in Germany and try and get a few, and she did all that then. But she’s worked in several places and she’s teaching English full-time now. Big demand for English in Germany.Huge demand. But she’s there, I’ve a son in Singapore and I’d a daughter in Geneva for a good while; she was with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
I have Aonghus, I don’t know where he is. He’s with G.E.And it’s a big company, y’know, and he could ring from Beneavin up in Antrim or up in Scotland or from America or from anywhere. Comes home to the matches, y’know.
So I had four of them abroad at one stage. And I saw nothing wrong with it. Sure, it takes no time now to go from one country to another. And that family [in Germany] come over often, and they like it here. But they’re Germans. Did you spend any time in Germany?
Meade: I’ve been there, I think, about two or three times.
Ó Muircheartaigh: They are totally different in thinking.If a dinner is starting at 8 o’clock [in Ireland], you’re very lucky if you’re sitting down by 9.
Meade: Yeah. [Laughs.]
Ó Muircheartaigh: But she worked with an Italian company for a while. And she arranged all these things for them. But if the dinner didn’t start by five past eight, five minutes late, there would be an enquiry the next day: “Where did it go wrong?”
Ó Muircheartaigh: They’re that way and the Germans are that way.
Now I remember, I saw it myself, I’d booked a taxi for twenty past seven. And I looked out at quarter past and he was sitting in the car outside. And then at exactly twenty past he pressed the button. And if I’d said, “Hold on a minute till I have a cup of tea,” I think he would have driven away.
They are that way. And I went on a train now, I wanted to play golf where the German open was played to see how it’d compare. And it said in the station now “in at such a thing,” and we were coming near it and I said, “Oh, he’ll be in ahead of time,” and [a man] said, “Oh, he won’t.” He says, “He has his eye on that and he’ll slow it down to come in at 06:14” or whenever you’re meant to.They’re very regimented.
Meade: What changes do you think will happen, what do you think the next chapter is?
Ó Muircheartaigh: The next chapter is that big numbers of people will no longer be working together. So many jobs can be done now without being present, at headquarters or anything. I think that’s growing already. There’ll be more freedom to workers.
You know, I’m surprised they haven’t gone for flexitime more often instead of everyone rushing into Dublin at six o’clock in the morning. So many starting then, and you get clients for all day. That’s one thing, and that most of it will be done by computers.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Computers, they’re only in their infancy. And there’s a natural trait in everyone to resist something new. They’re suspicious of something new.And I think that suspicion will die, that there are too many people now that see, well, it’s no harm to try something new. If you don’t change, you’re on the road to death, whatever you’re involved in.Unless it’s advancing and changing and being different and different approaches, it will not last. You must see into the future. And some people are very good at that, y’know. What’ll be needed, y’know, and so on.
Meade: I wish I was good at that! [Laughs.] And what do you think Europe will look like in fifty years?
Ó Muircheartaigh: In fifty years’ time—well, now when you look back fifty years, this is 2020, that would be 1980 would it? No, 1970.When you think how simple the world was at that time. In comparison to what it is now. I don’t think there was any talk of computers at that time.Not much anyway. They were there, maybe in their infancy.
And there’ll be a lot of things, take even if you brought it down to sport. Mick O’Dwyer now, I think, was the greatest manager ever, and we’re talking about the 1970s. He won four All-Ireland’s in a row. But it was twenty players and himself. He did everything else.For them, for the team, everything. Dublin won four, no five in a row now. Whether it’s four in a row or five in a row, the manager’s Jim Gavin. He does nothing but manage the team, but there are at least twenty-five other people involved looking after the players’ gear.
That is a change. That an ordinary person who might have been a good footballer, he’s a person advising a player now, [a person] that studied the history of sport in college or something. They’re on a different track.
Ó Muircheartaigh: So there’ll be lots and lots of changes in every walk of life. There’ll be changes in transport. I’ve a theory that the time will come when you’ll see grass growing down the middle of O’Connell Street.
Ó Muircheartaigh: That there’ll be some device that it can be made to go airborne.
Ó Muircheartaigh: If there’s problems, you should be open to change at least.And it’s no crime to be wrong.You must be willing to take chances. And see your mistakes and see the benefits as you go on. You must keep an eye on everything. There’ll be wholesale changes. Now the football and the hurling, they have changed. But everything changes. Governments will change. There’ll be no distinction, I would say, between whether they are men or women.
Meade: Oh, I hope so.
Ó Muircheartaigh: I always talk about people. They always say, “Oh, will they pick a man or pick another woman?” I say the best way when you’re picking anything [is] who is the best person for this job. I’d say there’ll be a lot more changes, breaking with tradition—you know, people hate to break with tradition. The women, you know, there was the time now that they had to retire when they got married.They had to retire, and that’s long since gone now. But what changed it, really, was the teacher became scarce.
But there’ll be wholesale changes. I hope they don’t change the horse racing and all these types of sports. The more sports you have. I would say in fifty years’ time everybody will be at some educational institution until they’re thirty years of age.
Meade: Till they’re thirty?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yes.Because, number one, there won’t be jobs for them. There’ll be a shorter working career. And people will be living, there’ll be no noticing a person who’s 120 years old. Well, maybe not that soon, but the tendency is towards [that].
There will be wholesale changes. In the education I think a lot of people now go back and do another degree. They find that “I’m not finding satisfaction with what I did.” There’ll be scope where they can go back. It’s very important, though, that big money is spent in universities. Or all big level institutions. And I hope they do, and ’twould be good to witness it.
Meade: It’s true. And do you think, in terms of the environment, that we’ll . . . there’s all this talk of time running out for global warming. Do you think we’re able as people to bring it back, to actually focus on it, or do you think that until the powerful countries are personally affected, that nothing will happen?
Ó Muircheartaigh: But I’ll be very surprised to see them talking about 2050.That’s too long. If it is a major problem, and it seems to be developing towards that, they should be giving it much more attention. They should be talking about, “We’ll have so much done by 2030.”
I suspect that they are not serious enough about it. “Ahh, it’ll take care of itself.” That attitude never brings real progress.I think they’ll have to be more determined. It is a problem. A problem that’s likely to get worse. Unless they nail it in time.And that can be done. But margins like that frighten me, it means, “Oh, we’ve so many years now to do nothing.” We can have great plans, but they won’t come into operation until such a thing.
Meade: Yeah. What do you think has changed the most in Ireland? Looking at history books, we seemed quite politically right wing, for a long time. I suppose we were conservative, maybe not right wing, but we were conservative as a nation.And I think it’s fair to say we’re liberal now. With the new laws coming in. Do you think that’s a misconstruction, that we look at history as being more right wing, or do you think that actually Irish society has shifted, that the political sphere has shifted for us? Or do you think that people are the same, it’s just maybe the laws have changed, but that’s actually it? We’ve just been allowed to vote on them.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yeah, but they make up their own minds more now. Far more. For too long people voted as their parents did. And their parents had a big influence over the way they went. “Oh, your father, and your grandfather”—somebody talks about going some other way—“Oh, he’d rise in his grave if he heard that.” You know, people should be left to decide for themselves what’s best at this stage. And I think we have opened up an awful lot. I don’t think you’ll have big parties dominating, a one-party government; I think we’ve seen the last of those. And I can see the time when the two big parties of the moment will have merged into one.
Meade: Do you mean Fianna Fail and Fine Gael?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. I think they’ll have merged into one. Because they were one—
Ó Muircheartaigh: —at one time.
Meade: And they are extremely similar in their views.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Before 1916 and the War of Independence that followed, they were together. And then they split with the Civil War. And they have remained split ever since. And there isn’t that much between them really.
But even now the present government, it’s one big party supported by another one, that’s never happened before.And within the next fifty years or sooner they’ll have merged into one. And that’ll give a better spread then, more . . . space, if you like, to people with lesser views. There might be avenues for them to make headway, for [what] they’re proposing [to be] convincing to people. There will be changes, and of course technology will be taking care of everything. Maybe the computer tells you how to vote. But there will be changes. And there’ll be no differentiation between men and women.They’ll all be known as people. And I think the country will be in the better for that.
Now, people go to great difficulty when it comes to putting a person as head of a company. Or principal of a school or anything you like. And the attitude should be, who is the best person. I put that down as number one. That should be [sorted] out. You know it comes down now to Will we go for the man? or The man’d be better and all this type of thing
Women football, that wasn’t allowed until the 1970s. Women playing football. And I remember there was a motion at the GAA conference that year, and I was at it by chance—I usen’t go to many, the congresses—and there was a vote that ladies’ football be recognised as an Irish sport. And it was passed. And at that time, Cork had great power at congresses. Whatever the Cork fella said, people followed it. And he stood up, and he was expected to be totally against this women thing because he was that sort of man. He said, “I’m all in favour of this women’s sport.” And there was pandemonium, and then he said, “Isn’t it ladies’ football all men are playing nowadays?” [Laughs.] Denigrating the men, Oh, they’re gone soft. They’re not as tough as the people when we were at it.
But the crowds they’re getting now. Which is great, y’know. I was there last Sunday now, as well as Saturday, and there was 55,000 there, ’twas a wicked day, really. Did you notice anything about the weather since last Saturday?
Meade: It’s gotten really sunny? It’s gotten hotter in the evenings. Well, it’s been freezing in the morning when I’m going to work.And then really warm when I’m trying to go for a run after work, which is the exact opposite of how I’d like things!
Ó Muircheartaigh: I’ve a few big trees near the house. Since last Saturday not one branch has even got that much out of it.There’s no puff of wind. Not the slightest. And the mass rain that fell on Sunday, even with the hot sun, it’s still there because the grass should have been cut sooner, really. It’s on top of the grass. And there’s nothing to shake that, even. And in the six days now, not one [bit of wind], and I asked a few people and they said the same. It went out some time today now, that there was .2 of something very small of a wind. So climate might have changed a lot.Unless they do something about it.
Meade: It’s crazy times, really. I suppose it’s always crazy times, in one way or another! [Laughs.]
Ó Muircheartaigh: If you want to make them that way yourself.
Meade: It’s true, it’s true.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Now you never experienced what we used to call the Wren [The Kerry tradition of “hunting the wren” takes place on St Stephen’s Day, 26 December. There is a procession, and families dress up in old clothes and cover their faces], Stephen’s Day—
Meade: Oh, the Wren, oh yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: All of us would go out, you know, if you were maybe five years of age, and prepared to be walking until nine o’clock that night. Doing the whole parish. On foot. Playing music and dancing and things. That was a big thing. They don’t do it now—well, they do it in Dingle now, everyone comes into Dingle and they have a good band and march around the town, but that was a big thing.
Meade: I meant to ask you about it as well, because it’s such a big thing in Kerry.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, ’tis very big. I did it there a few years ago, we all went down, the family, and they’d be guessing in every house, “Oh, who are they now, I wonder.”
Meade: Is it straw, straw covers?
Ó Muircheartaigh: It’s straw.You’re camouflaged.
But we were inside in one house, ’twas about seven or eight miles from where we were, and the usual thing is trying to guess who’s there. And I never opened my mouth when I went into any house. And at one stage the elderly man, he was looking at me for a good time, and what he said was, “He has the stand of a constable.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: That was his verdict. That I was one of the Gardaí and they could be watching you, y’know. “He has the stand of a constable.”
Meade: Probably he was covering the poitín [A traditional Irish spirit, usually made locally], thinking, “I can’t take it out, there’s a . . .”
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh yeah, the poitín. Yeah.
Meade: So then I presume you’ve never had poitín because you didn’t ever drink.
Ó Muircheartaigh: No, no.But I got a bottle of it here and there. I gave it to people, y’know.They’re still making it, y’know.
Meade: Yeah, we have some in our house!
Ó Muircheartaigh: Have you? Oh yeah.Came from where? Galway, I suppose.
Meade: No in Tipp, there was a guy in Tipp that made it.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, there would be, yeah. But the Gardaí get instructions when to raid.And the good stuff would be hidden away, y’know. It’s a long tradition but it’s good, if it’s the proper thing, y’know
You know, one of [my grandchildren in Germany] is very big into the golf.
Meade: Oh really? Are they doing well in it?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, he’s doing very well, really.He’s nuts on it. ’Twas I started him at it, really.
Meade: And what age is he?
Ó Muircheartaigh: He’s seventeen.He’s at the equivalent of the Leaving [Certificate] but it’s a different system.
Do you know, one thing we were talking about, as regards Europe:Marshall aid [under the Marshall Plan]. Did you ever hear of that?
Meade: No, what is it exactly?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Now as soon as World War II ended, very shortly after that the USA announced that they were sending a lot of Marshall aid, Marshall was the person who had proposed it. Marshall aid to Europe. And the bulk of it was to go to Germany, and America had fought against them in that Second World War. And I’d say the thinking behind it was, they felt that a strong Germany was vital to the European thing. ’Twas the biggest economy, y’know,before the war started. Very well developed. They had the ability to rise again. [The U.S. felt] that ’twould be good for the future of all of Europe, if they gave a lot—and it was a huge sum of money—to get Germany rebuilding again. It was Marshall that suggested it. And to do it so quickly after the war. Get it moving, get it into motion. And other countries all over Europe. There was a fear maybe that if we don’t soon do something that Communism might make an advance.
That’s why Ireland got none of the Marshall aid. Because there was no threat from Communism. And some people say if we were wise now, we’d have—
Meade: Faked it—
Ó Muircheartaigh: —caused a bit of trouble here and there. But they gave it to the right places. Y’know, Belgium and Holland and all these places, and Poland and France and everything. And that brought forward very much the redevelopment of . . .—if you like it was a gesture, but it was a gesture that had a purpose to it as well. And maybe if they didn’t do it the Communist world would move in and capture more of Europe than they had captured at the time.
But it was a major thing. I remember people could talk about nothing but Marshall aid. “Who’s going to get it? How much? Will we be in for anything?” [Laughs.] And that was one outcome of the war. Yeah. A quick decision. They didn’t wait years to do it. ’Twould be too late then.The word “together” was used a lot. “Together we’ll recover.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: Now, that was a feature maybe of post-war Germany. The Marshall aid, the redevelopment. I went to Berlin to see the bit of the Wall that’s left. And I liked Berlin. But people told me I saw the good parts, which usually happens.But what I saw was very good, and the Wall and the amount of art on it. It’s history, really.
Ó Muircheartaigh: History that people don’t mind repeating now. Wars are forgotten as new generations come; they’re never fully forgotten. They’re all put down as failures at the finish anyway. They didn’t sort anything.
But “together” was used a lot. From the moment the war ended. We must do this together. The coal and the steel, let’s all have it all together. Plenty for everyone. Help each other in trade—that was why they had different, y’know, plans for developing things in different countries and so on. And they did treat small nations well. In the UN—and it’s going well but maybe it needs a good overhaul.To look at the whole thing now. Where the emphasis should be on, “Where will we begin?”Where should we? Get it going bigger and better. And you need a good set of people to oversee that, and I’m convinced ’twill happen.
Meade: You think there will be an overhaul?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I think that there will, y’know. Nothing lasts forever without change.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And I don’t think we should talk about Germany without their lady chancellor—chancellor, or what was her title?
Meade: Oh yeah, Angela Merkel, is it?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yeah but what was her title?
Meade: I think she is Chancellor.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, she was in charge, anyway.And Angela Merkel, she was there for a long number of years. She was retiring. I would say a very deep thinker. She’s never been involved in any big controversies.And anyone who met her spoke highly of her. Not many people met her—I don’t think she ever went to the races or things like that!
Meade: Do you have a political leader that you admire the most?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, now Adenauer would have been one of them, because he was there for so long. He was there at a difficult time. He’d definitely be one of them. [I’d] want to think a lot about that.
Meade: Yeah, I suppose it’s difficult. Have you travelled? What’s your favourite place you’ve been to?
Ó Muircheartaigh: I would say the west coast of America.
Meade: Really, OK.A particular state?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Well, altogether, I was up high in the open part of Canada, was out to the coast, and all along down there, down as far as San Francisco. A lot of Irish in San Francisco.And the Gaelic Games are very strong there, and hurling, a lot of people there.And a lot of Irish go there for work as well.
Meade: I did the J-1 [visa exchange program] in San Diego, and I visited San Francisco.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yeah.
Maggie Thatcher was a great woman in many ways.
Meade: [Laughs.] That is an unusual, or an unexpected . . .
Ó Muircheartaigh: She wouldn’t back down from anyone, y’know. If she thought she had a good case.
There was a guy now that [Robert] Schuman called Schaake. I think he was [from the] Netherlands. He was a guy that did an awful lot of work for the others, behind the scenes.Sometimes they are the real people.
Meade: Yeah, it’s true. [Sometimes the one] who works for a leader is often more important thanthe leader themselves.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Yeah.
And they’re all involved in sport now. Take one time, the Ryder Cup, if you follow golf, that was brought in in the 1920s. I think 1927. A team from England to play a team from America. That was it. After a while, then, it became a team from England and Ireland, and then suddenly it went for all Europe.
Ó Muircheartaigh: And it’s better that way, all Europe against the other. A lot of the countries, they’re not great golfing countries, on the Continent. It’s very poor in Paris. I went to Paris, maybe it was two years ago, if not ’twould be four years ago, for the Ryder Cup. And the ordinary Spaniards, y’know, they weren’t into it. Or the French.They weren’t into it.
Meade: It’s just not a big thing for them.
Ó Muircheartaigh: They think it takes too long to play a round of golf. You know, between going and dressing and wasting time, and they have now built a lot of nine-hole courses.
Meade: Ah right, OK.
Ó Muircheartaigh: The nine holes will be alright, you’ll be home in time.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But I was in New Zealand, and I was in Australia, and I was in Argentina. Every part of the United States. I was in the Scandinavian countries; I was in Germany a lot with the daughter there.And in France, and Spain. We went to Spain years ago on a motorbike. And we called into Lourdes.Travel is good, really. I’ll be going to Barbados in a couple of weeks’ time. The Limerick hurling team are going there, and I’m going with them.
Yeah. You can’t think of anything else then?
Meade: I don’t think so, because I like in a way that we’ve had a nice conversation, rather than if I suddenly started reaming through some questions.
Ó Muircheartaigh: You’ll get something out of it anyway.
Meade: I’ve had an amazing time—selfishly, so I think anyone who listens to it will learn so much. And you’re interesting. And it’s a fascinating life and a lovely thing to listen to, so I’m really grateful, I truly am.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, it’s no problem to and I’m not far away. Down near Kilcock, and it’s in Kildare but I’m in Meath.
Meade: Ah right, OK. My sister taught in Kilcock.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Did she?
Meade: Only for a year—you know, her dip year. She’s a primary school teacher. You know, the first official year teaching, but you’re technically still training. That was in Kilcock.
Ó Muircheartaigh: They have a good school in Kilcock.
Meade: And a good gaelscoil in Kilcock. Don’t they?
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh, there is. Indeed, yes. And there’s a teacher there—he was famous for the wrong reason, really. He was in All Hallows College. Going for the priesthood back in 1924, and he played every game Kerry played during the holidays. But the minute he went back to the college [they told him], “No more now till Christmas,” and the All-Ireland Final was on and he was in the All Hallows College in Dublin, I’d say a fifteen-minute walk from Croke Park. And they wrote a letter to the head man and everything, got no reply or anything, so he went out and played. They won the match and [he went] back to the college. Wouldn’t be readmitted.
Ó Muircheartaigh: He put football before God.
Meade: [Gasps.) Oh my goodness!
Ó Muircheartaigh: So, he was a very Christian fella, and he didn’t, he couldn’t do it, he had to go down to Kerry that night with the team, but he was hell-bent on being a priest. And all the places now, like Thurles in Tipperary, there was a school there for would-be priests, and there was one down in Wexford. He went to that one. And he was really fit for ordaining, leaving the other place. He was there, he’d a great year, but then at the end of the year he was told that they got word he could not be ordained. Again: “He put football before God.” That couldn’t be accepted.
He went to Peter’s College then, he went the next year, then left Peter’s of Wexford [and went to] Kilkenny—St Kieran’s College, they did ordinations there. He got the usual word again, but he got a note from the bishop: “I can’t confirm you but I’m having afternoon tea with the nuns, if you come up to the convent I’ll ordain you there.”
And that’s where he was ordained, in a convent. And he went off to Australia. He couldn’t operate in Ireland, y’know.
Meade: Gosh, they were so harsh.
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh yeah, it was a sin.
Meade: If you thought any place would understand! It would be…
Ó Muircheartaigh: Oh well, they would have no say in it, it was the bishop.
Meade: Yeah of course, yeah.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But he was ordained there and went off and he became the youngest archbishop in the history of Australia. Out in Perth, in Western Australia.
And he wrote back to All Hallows and sent them a letter. A quote from some gospel. “The stone once rejected by the builder has become the cornerstone” [Laughs]—sent that back to All Hallows. And they accepted it, ’twas fine. Delighted. But they sent back one from the psalm, I believe: “We never cease to wonder at the miracles of the Lord.”
Meade: [Bursts out laughing.]
Ó Muircheartaigh: And they brought him back then and gave him a great time.
Meade: Oh wow.
Ó Muircheartaigh: But I went out to Perth with the Ireland team. One year I was out there to broadcast the games and so on. But I made off, and he wasn’t buried in the cathedral. They don’t do that in Australia. And I could get nobody now in the church that could tell me where he was buried. And we were leaving the next day. So then somebody told me, “If you want to know anything, anywhere, go to the nuns.”
Ó Muircheartaigh: And the next time I went out, I went to the convent nearest the cathedral. And I met a Sister Stibbie. And she knew everything about him. Where he was buried, the number of the grave and everything. And I made it off, and there were three Kerry players on the tour, and I brought them out, and Sean Kelly, who was president of the GAA, and we had about six people. And the president made a speech. And we’d a green and gold flag over him.
1 Refers, broadly, to the largely English class of landowners who owned most of the land in Ireland at that time.