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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Irish Sports Broadcaster Jimmy Magee

Jimmy Magee, Irish sports broadcaster known as The Memory Man, is born on January 31, 1935, in New York City. He spends over half a century in sports broadcasting, and presents radio and television coverage of the Olympic Games since 1968 and the FIFA World Cup since 1966. By the time of his retirement he is the longest-serving sports commentator in the English-speaking world.

Magee is born to Patrick (Paddy) Magee and his wife Rose (née Mackin). The family returns to Ireland shortly after his birth. He and his three siblings are subsequently raised in Cooley, County Louth. As a child he is influenced by the sports commentary of the legendary Gaelic games broadcaster Michael O’Hehir. He recalls commentating as a seven-year-old for his next-door neighbour on a variety of imaginary games that the young Magee is also playing in. He also speaks of making up his own radio commentary in a field at a young age.

After being educated locally, Magee secures a full-time clerical post with Dundalk, Newry and Greenore Railway. While still working at the Railway he begins his broadcasting career. He starts out as a reporter for the Radio Éireann programme Junior Sports Magazine. Other contributors on the programme are Jim Tunney and Peter Byrne, former football correspondent with The Irish Times. On leaving his Railway job, he presents a number of sponsored radio programmes before concentrating on sport. He is a producer, presenter and script writer for Radio Éireann’s sponsored programmes in the 1950s and 1960s.

Magee and his wife Marie are married on October 11, 1955, and have five children: Paul, a soccer player with Shamrock Rovers F.C. (winning the League of Ireland Cup in 1977), who died of motor neuron disease, in May 2008, Linda (b. 1959), June (b. 1961), Patricia (b. 1962), and Mark (b. 1970).

Magee joins Raidió Teilifís Éireann in 1956. In 1966 he covers his first World Cup for RTÉ Radio. He does likewise for the 1970 FIFA World Cup before transferring to television for the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals. In all he provides commentary at eleven World Cups – his latest commentary coming at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Magee’s column or quiz appears in every single publication of the Sunday World since the first edition in 1973.

Magee is also a staple of RTÉ’s coverage of the Olympic Games. Beginning at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, he attends the eleven subsequent Olympic games as a commentator with RTÉ. In 2012, he commentates on the boxing for RTÉ at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, including Katie Taylor‘s gold medal-winning fight. At the 2016 Summer Olympics, he provides commentary on the football.

From 1987 to 1998 Magee hosts Know Your Sport, a sports-themed quiz show, along with George Hamilton. His broadcasting career also sees him provide commentary for over 200 international football games, 30 European Cup finals, multiple Tour de France cycle races, World Athletic Championships and boxing. He also narrates numerous videos on sport in general such as The Purple and Gold, Meath Return to Glory, etc.

A freelancer, Magee works for Channel 4 in 1994 and signs for UTV in 1995 on a three-year contract where a lifetime ambition of commentating on All-Ireland Finals is achieved. He commentates on three finals in both hurling and football.

Magee launches his memoir, Memory Man, in 2012. Some of his one-liners in commentaries have become famous or infamous, what are affectionately known in the broadcasting industry as Colemanballs after the famed commentating clangers of BBC broadcaster David Coleman.

In the emotionally trying year of 1989, Magee’s mother and wife die within months of each other, Marie dying at the young age of 54.

Magee dies on September 20, 2017, after a short illness. Many tributes are made to him including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who says, “His commentaries were legendary and based on a breadth of sporting knowledge that was peerless.” RTÉ Head of Sport Ryle Nugent says, “It’s hard to put it into words, the man meant an inordinate amount to so many people, I think he was the soundtrack to many generations.”

In 1972 Magee wins a Jacob’s Award for his radio sports commentaries. In 1989, he is the subject of a special tribute show on The Late Late Show. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the International Olympic Committee presents him with a replica of its torch.


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The Warrenpoint Ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, is a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on August 27, 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushes a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic’s side of the river, the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, is an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush. It is thickly wooded, which gives cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevents British forces from giving chase.

On the afternoon of August 27, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment is driving from Ballykinlar Barracks to Newry. The British Army is aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often declares it out of bounds. However, they sometimes use it to avoid setting a pattern. At 4:40 p.m., as the convoy is driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound fertiliser bomb, hidden among bales of straw on a parked flatbed trailer, is detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border in County Louth. The explosion catches the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it onto its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies are scattered across the road. There are only two survivors amongst the soldiers traveling in the lorry, both of whom receive serious injuries. The lorry’s driver, Anthony Wood (19), is one of those killed. All that remains of his body is his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

According to the soldiers, immediately after the blast they are targeted by rifle fire from the woods on the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of the border, with this view supported by two part-time firefighters assisting the wounded. Shortly afterwards, the two IRA members arrested by the Garda Síochána and suspected of being behind the ambush, are found to have traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and on the motorbike they are riding. The IRA’s first statement on the incident, however, denies that any shots had been fired at the troops, and according to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers might have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Nevertheless, at the official inquiry the soldiers declare on oath that they had been fired on.

The surviving paratroopers radio for urgent assistance, and reinforcements are dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit is sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, his signaler Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, lands to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumes command once at the site.

William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, is killed by the British Army and his cousin Barry Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Dingle, is wounded when shots are fired across the Newry River into the Republic of Ireland about 3 km from the village of Omeath, County Louth.

The pair are partners in ‘Hudson Amusements’ and had been operating their amusements in Omeath for the duration of the Omeath Gala. When the first explosion is heard across the Lough, the pair go down to the shore to see what is unfolding. The pair makes their way to Narrow Water on the southern side of the border to get a better view of what is happening on the northern side. Barry Hudson is shot in the arm and as he falls to the ground he sees his cousin, who is the son of a coachman at Buckingham Palace, fall to the ground, shot in the head. He dies almost immediately.

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaves after a bombing and correctly predicts that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 5:12 p.m., thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb hidden in milk pails explodes at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonates as the Wessex helicopter is taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter is damaged by the blast but does not crash.

The second explosion kills twelve soldiers, ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Lieutenant Colonel Blair is the second Lieutenant Colonel to be killed in the Troubles up until then, following Lieutenant Colonel Corden-Lloyd of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in 1978. Only one of Colonel Blair’s epaulettes remains to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette is taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to “illustrate the human factor” of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, is at the scene soon after the second explosion and later describes seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He is asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrives at the scene after the first explosion, comes close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who sees him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier is tackled by his comrades. Molloy says, “I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas’ lives and taken pictures of it.”

The Warrenpoint ambush is a victory for the IRA. It is the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment’s biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later says it was “arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign.” The ambush happens on the same day that Lord Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, is killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, along with three others.

Republicans portray the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry. Graffiti appears in republican areas declaring “13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten.” The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast‘s New Lodge estate. Hardy is targeted in the mistaken belief that he is an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan are arrested by the Gardaí. They are stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They are later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns dies in 1988 when a bomb he is handling explodes prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claims that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush. No one has ever been criminally charged.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack “drove a wedge” between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggests to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claims instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in south County Armagh by helicopter gives too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result is the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role is to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another is the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastens the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley College, Oxfordshire.