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Tuesday 2 September 2014

Galway Races falls silent as mark of respect to RTE’s Colm Murray

- Galway pays tribute to legendary broadcaster with a minute's silence this evening
- Tributes pour in for Colm Murray after his passing last night
- Willie Mullins: 'His enthusiasm for horse racing knew no bounds'
- RTE’s Robbie Irwin said he was a “great friend to the nation”
- Taoiseach led tributes to legendary broadcaster today

Kirsty Blake Knox & Aishling Phelan

Published 30/07/2013 | 10:32

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A MOMENT’S silence has been held in memory of Colm Murray in Ballyrbrit today.

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The legendary RTE broadcaster was a regular visitor to the Galway Races over the years and news of death had saddened many of his colleagues and friends at Ballybrit.

Jockeys, trainers, punters and owners alike gathered at the parade ring this evening for a minute’s silence at 5pm.

Speaking to the Irish Independent earlier today, Colm’s RTE colleague Tracey Piggott, who was among the crowd at the parade ring, said that she learned a lot from Colm over the years and that he was a “one in a million character”.

“He was never one for an ego. He just lit up when he talked about racing, we used to go through the form at race meetings as a duo. And he always had everybody smiling and getting excited about it,” she recalled.

RTE Broadcaster Colm Murray lost his brave three year battle with Motor Neuron Disease last night.

The legendary sports presenter, aged 61, died at his family home surrounded by his wife Anne and daughters Patricia and Kate.

Colm Murray at RTE studios in 2002
Colm Murray
Colm Murray broadcasting from the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh racecourse in May 2003

In a statement RTE said: “Although able to cross all sporting codes, Colm will forever be associated with Horse Racing where his knowledge of the sport combined with his exuberant personality made the sport accessible to all.

“From Cheltenham to Punchestown, Gowran to Fairyhouse Colm was the voice and face of racing for hundreds of thousands of race goers.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was among the first to pay tribute when he described Murray as “the voice of Irish racing”.

“He lit up the coverage of many a racing meet with his passion and enthusiasm for the sport.  I had the pleasure of being in Colm's company recently and could see he was a proud Westmeath man who brought out the best in those around him with his affability and gift for storytelling,” Mr Kenny said.

Staff in RTE were plunged into mourning as news of Colm’s death spread this morning.

He joined the station in October 1978 as a continuity announcer.

But he progressed through the ranks and covered everything from Olympic Game to World Cups.

He regarded his assignment with Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland soccer team in Italia ‘90 as the highlight of his sports broadcasting career.

In March 2010 Colm was diagnosed with Motor Neuron disease. He continued to work in the RTÉ newsroom and embarked on a series of in-depth radio profiles of luminaries such as Alex Ferguson, Brian O’Driscoll and Johnny Murtagh.

It was in racing circles that he was most highly regarded and trainer Ted Walsh said today that he was “a unique man”.

“He loved to bet and he was coming from the punters point of view. He loved racing. He was very well read and enthusiastic,” Mr Walsh said on RTE’s ‘Today with Pat Kenny’.

He described Colm as “one of nature’s gentlemen” and remembered his thirst for knowledge and intellectuality. 

“He was a very knowledgeable fella in all things in life, well-educated man, very well read man.

“He was great company, he was a lovely fella to be with.

“You would like to think that as many people were as fond of you as did those that spoke as well and thought as much about Colm,” he added.

The legendary broadcaster had no enemies as he was such a joy to be around, Mr Walsh said.

“He was just a unique human being and I’m sure it is a huge loss to his family.”

He also praised his professionalism and dedication to his work.

“He was very meticulous on what he did too. He didn’t half do things, he made sure he had all the right information when doing things. He was a pro right through,” he remembered.

Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins said the broadcaster derived more joy out of horseracing than most people and was “hugely passionate” about the sport.

“He loved to go to Cheltenham and do the piece to camera after racing. His enthusiasm just knew know bounds.”

He also remembered the journalist’s passion for politics.

“To get him going on politics, friends will tell you, you would want to be well rehearsed.”

Colm’s long-time RTE colleague Robbie Irwin added: “He embraced his illness and was courageous; he was a great friend to the nation. So many people sent him letters and texts.”

One of the broadcaster’s great friends from RTE and colleague in the sports department, Robbie Irwin recalled some of his best memories with the presenter.

“He was happiest I think, in the muck and in the rain in places like Kilbeggan and Thurles and was so passionate about the racing and the people involved in the sport.

“He was remarkable, a man with an incredible spirit. He embraced his illness and was just so courageous, he had a fantastic spirit within him and that carried him through the four years he had the illness,’’ he added.

The RTE presenter remembered Colm’s journalistic talent and how naturally he could perform in front of a crowd.

“His command of the English language was just second to none. I mean in front of a crowd anywhere he could stand up whether it was two people or two thousand people and in two seconds he would have them in the palm of his hand,’’ he said. 

Colm, who was from Moate in Westmeath, was described by an RTE spokesperson as “a father figure of the [sports] department, always there to throw an arm around you.”

Colm was known for his passionate racing broadcasts. And with the Galway Races in full swing, his death seems particularly poignant.

Since his death was announced, fans and friends have been offering their condolences since hearing the news this morning

“Very sad news to hear of RTE sports correspondent Colm Murray's passing,” jockey Barry Geraghty said. “He was such a nice man and a great supporter of racing & all sport.”

“RIP the legendary Colm Murray,” presenter Des Cahill added. “A fantastic colleague with a hearty, infectious laugh. A bundle of energy & the worst racing tips in Ireland.”

Colm’s death comes as a double tragedy for the Murray family. Earlier this year Colm younger sister Cathy (56) died suddenly.

The mum-of-two worked as a broadcast co-ordinator with RTE’s Morning Ireland radio show.

Colm was too ill to attend the funeral in May but the ceremony was recorded and shown to him in the comfort of his own house.

The popular broadcaster was diagnosed with MND on March 30 2010. Two weeks beforehand he presented his last ever Cheltenham Races.

Just last year, he was awarded the People of the Year award for his efforts in the study of MND. The TV star raised awareness of the illness

Colm took part in a Reality Bites programme for RTE that documented his participation in the trial of a drug called dexpramipexole.

Over 600,000 viewers tuned into poignant documentary MND: The Inside Track. At the time he said he was "overwhelmed" by people contacting him after the programme in which he vowed not to let the disease ruin his life.

The programme followed Colm as he went on blind trials of the drug at Beaumont Hospital in June 2011.

Unfortunately his condition did not improve and in April, leading neurologist, Professor Orla Hardiman, confirmed that the former Six One News sport correspondent had lost his ability to speak.

“I think the silence has been really, really difficult for his family and for his friends and I think our heart goes out to him at this terrible time for him,” Professor Hardiman said at the time.

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