'They say you should never meet your heroes, but Jimmy Magee was an exception'
They say you should never meet your heroes, but Jimmy Magee was an exception. But then Jimmy was not just an exception – he was exceptional. The ‘Memory Man’ was the voice of Irish sports broadcasting for over half a century.
Thirteen Olympic Games, 12 World Cups, World Athletic championships, the Tour de France, the World and European boxing championships, the US Masters, the Hockey World Cup, world title fights involving Barry McGuigan and Bernard Dunne, European Cup finals, FA Cup finals, All-Ireland football and hurling finals and FAI Cup finals. He commentated on them all and much more besides.
Jimmy had an encyclopedic like knowledge of sport; he was a human version of Wikipedia, though much more accurate. He was universally respected by the sportsmen and women he reported on and was on first-name terms with some of the legendary figures not just in Irish sport but across the globe.
Born in New York City in 1935, he returned to Ireland with his parents, Paddy and Rose in 1939 and the family settled in the Cooley peninsula where Jimmy attended Monksland National school and played with Dundalk FC as an underage player. A leg injury halted his sporting career and as he recalled himself, he quickly came to the conclusion that he would have a longer career if he started talking about football rather than playing it.
Initially he wanted to pursue a career in pharmacy, but the premature death of his father meant that at the age of 15 he had to leave school and get a job, initially in a local pharmacy. Later he secured the position of clerk in the passenger office of what was then known as the Dundalk-Newry and Greenore Railways.
Soon afterwards the Greenore office closed down and Jimmy was offered a job in the British Rail office situated on the North Wall in Dublin. One of his colleagues in the office was Peter Byrne, the future soccer, boxing and athletic correspondent of the Irish Times.
He got his break in broadcasting on a programme called Junior Sports Magazine, which was aired on Saturday evenings on what was then Radio Eireann. It was presented by Harry Thuiller who had competed for Ireland in the 1952 Olympic Games. From those humble beginnings in the mid-1950s Jimmy built a stellar career in broadcasting.
He wrote a weekly column for the Sunday World from its foundation in 1973 and every year selected his world best soccer team for the paper. Jimmy’s Quiz became an institution in the paper and one of the highlights of the week was Jimmy’s weekly visits to our offices with the handed written quiz which he road-tested on the sports journalists before we adjourned for lunch.
Though his health had declined in the last couple of years, he rarely missed a visit and even when he was hospitalised on occasions he made sure the quiz was done and delivered.
He was also involved in show business, he was a co-founder of Release Record, a very successful Irish record label, he was a songwriter and he compiled the first ever Irish Top Ten – decades later he had a top hit himself.
Through his work with the Jimmy Magee All Stars, which he founded in the mid-sixties, he raised over £2 million for charity.
A man of many parts, we will never see the likes of him again.
Rest in Peace, my friend.