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


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Birth of Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Horse Racing Commentator

Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Irish-British horse racing commentator for the BBC, and a correspondent for the Press Association, the Daily Express, and Today, is born Newcastle, County Down on March 3, 1918. He is the BBC’s leading horse racing commentator from 1947 to 1997, during which time he describes some of the greatest moments in the history of the Grand National.

O’Sullevan is the son of Colonel John Joseph O’Sullevan DSO, resident magistrate at Killarney, and Vera (née Henry). As an infant, the family returns to his parents’ home at Kenmare, County Kerry and he is raised in Surrey, England. He is educated at Hawtreys Preparatory School, Charterhouse School, and later at Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.

In the late 1940s O’Sullevan is involved in some of the earliest television commentaries on any sport, and makes many radio commentaries in his earlier years (including the Grand National before it is televised for the first time in 1960). On television, he commentates on many of the major events of the racing year, including the Cheltenham Festival until 1994, The Derby until 1979, and the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood until he retires in 1997. During his career, he commentates on around 30 runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris and racing from the United States and Ireland as well as trotting from Rome during the 1960s.

During his 50 years of commentating on the Grand National, O’Sullevan commentates on numerous historic victories. These include Bob Champion‘s run on Aldaniti in 1981 after recovering from cancer, 100/1 outsider Foinavon‘s win in 1967, and the three-times winner Red Rum in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also commentates on the 1993 Grand National, which is declared void after 30 of the 39 runners fail to realise there had been a false start, and seven go on to complete the course. As the runners approach the second-last fence in the so-called “race that never was,” O’Sullevan declares it “the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National.”

O’Sullevan becomes known as the “Voice of Racing.” In a television interview before his 50th and last Grand National in 1997, he reveals that his commentary binoculars came from a German submarine. He is knighted the same year – the only sports broadcaster at the time to have been bestowed that honour. He is also a racehorse owner, including of Be Friendly, who wins the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot, and Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp. He is twice successful in the Haydock Sprint Cup (then Vernons Sprint) in 1966 and 1967. Another horse he owns is Attivo, whose victory in the 1974 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is described by O’Sullevan as the most difficult race to call.

Attivo also wins the Chester Cup and the Northumberland Plate during the 1970s. O’Sullevan’s final race commentary comes at Newbury Racecourse for the 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup, and he visits the winners’ enclosure as a winning owner in the race which follows courtesy of Sounds Fyne’s victory in the Fulke Walwyn Chase. He is succeeded as the BBC’s lead commentator by Jim McGrath.

After his retirement, O’Sullevan is actively involved in charity work, fundraising for causes which revolve around the protection of horses and farm animals, including the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Compassion in World Farming. The National Hunt Challenge Chase Cup (run at the Cheltenham Festival) is named after him in 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2010, Aintree Racecourse names O’Sullevan as one of the eight inaugural “Grand National Legends.” His name is inscribed on a commemorative plaque at the course, alongside the likes of Ginger McCain and Captain Martin Becher.

O’Sullevan meets his wife Patricia, daughter of Frank Duckworth of Manitoba, Canada, at a ball in Manchester in 1947. She dies of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.

O’Sullevan dies of cancer at his home in London on July 29, 2015.


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Birth of Michael James O’Hehir, Commentator & Journalist

michael-james-ohehirMichael James O’Hehir, hurling, Gaelic football and horse racing commentator and journalist, is born on June 2, 1920, in Glasnevin, County Dublin. Between 1938 and 1985 his enthusiasm and a memorable turn of phrase endears him to many. He is credited with being the “Voice of the Gaelic Athletic Association.”

His father, Jim O’Hehir, is active in Gaelic games, having trained his native county to win the 1914 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship title in hurling. He subsequently trains the Leitrim football team that secures the Connacht Senior Football Championship title in 1927 and he also serves as an official with the Dublin Junior Board.

O’Hehir is educated at St. Patrick’s National School in Drumcondra before later attending the O’Connell School. He later studies electrical engineering at University College Dublin, however, he abandons his studies after just one year to pursue a full-time career in broadcasting.

At the age of eighteen O’Hehir writes to Radio Éireann asking to do a test commentary. He is accepted and is asked to do a five-minute microphone test for a National Football League game between Wexford and Louth. His microphone test impresses the director of broadcasting so much that he is invited to commentate on the entire second half of the match.

Two months later, in August 1938, O’Hehir makes his first broadcast – the All-Ireland football semi-final between Monaghan and Galway. The following year he covers his first hurling final – the famous “thunder and lightning final” between Cork and Kilkenny.

By the mid-1940s O’Hehir is recognised as one of Ireland’s leading sports broadcasters. In 1947 he faces his most challenging broadcast to date when he has to commentate on the All-Ireland Football Final from the Polo Grounds in New York City with over 1,000,000 people listening to the broadcast back in Ireland.

In 1944 O’Hehir joins the staff of Independent Newspapers as a sports sub-editor, before beginning a seventeen-year career as racing correspondent in 1947.

In 1961 Ireland’s first national television station, Telefís Éireann, is founded and O’Hehir is appointed head of sports programmes. In addition to his new role O’Hehir continues to keep up a hectic schedule of commentaries.

O’Hehir’s skills do not just confine him to sports broadcasting and, in November 1963, he faces his toughest broadcast. By coincidence he is on holidays with his wife Molly in New York City when U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. O’Hehir is asked by Telefís Éireann to provide the commentary for the funeral. The live five-hour broadcast proves a huge challenge for him, as he has had no association with political or current affairs broadcasting up to that point and lacks the resources available to more established television stations. O’Hehir’s commentary, however, wins widespread acclaim in Ireland and shows a different side of his nature.

In August 1985 O’Hehir is preparing to commentate on the All-Ireland hurling final between Offaly and Galway. It would be a special occasion as it would mark his 100th commentary on an All-Ireland final. Two weeks before the game he suffers a stroke which leaves him in a wheelchair and with some speaking difficulties. This denies him the chance to reach the century milestone. He hopes to return to broadcasting one day to complete his 100th final, however, this never happens.

In 1987, the centenary All-Ireland football final takes place Croke Park. The biggest cheer of the day is reserved for O’Hehir when he is pushed onto the field in a wheelchair by his son Peter. Nobody expects the standing ovation and the huge outpouring of emotion from the thousands of fans present and from O’Hehir himself.

Over the next few years O’Hehir withdraws from public life. He returns briefly in 1996 when his autobiography, My Life and Times, is published. Michael O’Hehir dies in Dublin on November 24, 1996.