Tuesday 23 July 2019

Liam O Murchu

The author and broadcaster rose through the ranks of RTE to become its deputy director

GAEILGEOIR: Liam O Murchu, right, launches his book ‘Black Cat in the Window’, with Joe Lynch of ‘Glenroe’ fame
GAEILGEOIR: Liam O Murchu, right, launches his book ‘Black Cat in the Window’, with Joe Lynch of ‘Glenroe’ fame
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Liam O Murchu, or Billy Murphy as he was known as a young man in Cork, pioneered a commendable but ultimately futile attempt to introduce bilingualism into everyday language through his RTE programme Trom agus Eadrom, which ran from 1975 to 1985.

He joined RTE in 1964 as an Irish language editor. Now known as Liam O Murchu, he rose quickly through the ranks of the station, eventually becoming head of Irish language programmes, controller of programmes and deputy director of the national broadcasting service. He was one of a coterie of influential Cork men who held powerful positions in RTE at the time.

But it was Trom agust Eadrom for which he attained celebrity status and his "buladh bos" became a much-used catchword in that bygone era of two-channel land.

Born on February 10, 1929, he was the youngest of 12 children of Kennedy Murphy, a Dublin fusilier who fought in World War 1, and a flax-mill worker, Julia Buckley. Half his siblings were already dead when he was born, and he was the second William in the family, the first having died in infancy.

His early years were spent on the fourth floor of a tenement building at the foot of Shandon Street and Blarney Street in Cork city centre, but at the age of five or six, the family moved to a new council house at Friars Road in Turner's Cross.

He documented his childhood in one of his memoirs Black Cat in the Window, but despite poverty and hard times, he chronicled the camaraderie and joy of the extended family circle, rather than the hardship of tenement life.

"In our wide and varied family circle, there was only one member who did not sing; that was father's brother, Uncle Timmy, a stolid man with a face of granite, out of which shone two large bluebell eyes," he wrote, noting that a neighbour's prowess was often measured by how well they could lead a crowd in a chorus at a party or in the pub, "though singing happened in all sorts of other places as well". Encouraged by his mother who told him "knowledge is no load", he attained first place in the Cork Corporation scholarship exam (worth £80) and attended secondary school at the famous North Monastery, or 'North Mon' as it was known.

The surviving family were his brothers Kennedy, Jim, John, and sisters Eileen and Lilly - with Kennedy, or Ken as he was known, becoming a civil servant and the 'pathfinder' for the rest of the Murphy siblings.

Liam spent a year in University College Cork before leaving to become a clerical officer in the civil service. He soon moved to Dublin and worked in the Department of Health, working with the then minister, Sean McEntee, and later, Charles Haughey when he held that position.

In the final pages of one of his books, he describes the loneliness of Dublin after the carefree childhood of Cork: "There are warm lights inside the grand houses coming up towards Dublin's Lansdowne Road, the fires as lighting and there are happy people talking to each other inside. It is a cosy and expensive world of which I am not party. I am an outsider… floating without a sense of purpose out in space."

He found his sense of purpose when he married Margaret Fagan from Sandymount in Dublin. They lived in Glenageary and had eight children.

At the instigation of Charles Haughey, he had a tilt at politics, standing for Fianna Fail in Cork North Central in the February 1982 election. But despite his public profile, he trailed in last of the four FF candidates and didn't try that again.

A dapper man, he enjoyed the fame which television conferred on him and was always glad to engage with ordinary viewers who found him extremely approachable. In his later years, he presented Up For the Match, which was based around the All-Ireland finals and combined his love of the Irish language and sport. He enjoyed summers in Connemara with his family, meeting up with the sculptor Eddie Delaney and his family and others of the Gaelic cultural elite.

He was also a great supporter of Cork hurling, particularly after the death of his brother Ken.

He and his brother John, who lived in Kilmacud, travelled the country, especially when Ken's son Tim Murphy was playing in goal for their beloved Cork. He was also a frequent visitor to Blackrock Hurling Club or 'The Rockies' where many a great sing-sing took place.

Predeceased by his wife Margaret, Liam O Murchy died on Friday, June 26, aged 86. He is survived by his eight children.

Sunday Independent

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