Bill O’Herlihy, Irish television broadcaster and public relations executive, dies in Dublin on May 25, 2015. He is best known for his broadcasts for Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), primarily in the sporting arena.
Born and raised in Glasheen in Cork, County Cork, O’Herlihy is the son of a local government official and the grandson of William O’Herlihy, a news editor for The Cork Examiner. He is educated at Glasheen boys’ national school and later at St. Finbarr’s College, Farranferris.
After finishing his schooling at fifteen, O’Herlihy follows his grandfather into journalism and secures a job in the reading room of The Cork Examiner. He is only seventeen years-old when he subsequently becomes sub-editor of the Evening Echo, a position he holds for five years. He also graduates to the positions of news, features and sports reporter.
In the early 1960s O’Herlihy begins his broadcasting career when he starts to do local association football reports from Cork for Radio Éireann. In 1965, he makes his first television broadcast in a programme commemorating the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off the Cork coast. After three years O’Herlihy is asked to join RTÉ’s current affairs programme 7 Days to add the required field-reporting skills to the studio-based interviews. The programme has a reputation for its hard-hitting investigative reporting and he reports on many varying stories from illegal fishing in Cork to the outbreak of the crisis in Northern Ireland. In November 1970, the 7 Days programme comes into controversy when O’Herlihy reports a story on illegal money lending. The report is unconventional as it is one of the first television pieces to use hidden cameras, it claims the government is not responding to illegal moneylending. A tribunal of inquiry follows, and O’Herlihy is forced to move away from current affairs.
Following this controversy, while O’Herlihy is not sacked as he has fifteen months left on his contract with RTÉ, he is moved to the RTÉ Sports department. There he works under Michael O’Hehir, who dislikes him and his broadcasting style. In spite of this O’Herlihy fronts RTÉ’s television coverage of the Olympic Games that year. He also becomes involved in the production of various sports programmes.
O’Herlihy is not long in the RTÉ Sports department when he becomes a regular presenter for such programmes as Sunday Sport and Sports Stadium. In 1978 he becomes RTÉ Soccer host alongside Eamon Dunphy and, in 1984, Johnny Giles joins the panel and Liam Brady follows in 1998. Since 1974 O’Herlihy becomes RTÉ’s chief sports presenter for such events as all Olympic Games until 2012, FIFA World Cups until 2014, UEFA European Football Championships until 2012 and European and World Track and Field Championships. He hosts RTÉ highlights of the Ryder Cup in 2006 when it is at the K Club in County Kildare and continues to present coverage of Ireland’s soccer internationals for RTÉ, along with Dunphy, Giles and Brady.
O’Herlihy hosts RTÉ’s coverage of rugby union in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, when RTÉ attains the rights to cover the English Premier League in 1992, Tom McGurk takes over as host of RTÉ’s coverage of rugby union. O’Herlihy covers the Premier League, Irish Internationals and The Champions League before dropping the Premier League in 2008. He continues to cover the Olympic Games and International Athletic Championships such as the European and World Athletics. He presents the first Rugby World Cup on RTÉ television in 1987 and, with Jim Carney, co-presents the first edition of The Sunday Game in 1979.
In 2012, while covering Chloe Magee‘s progress at the 2012 Summer Olympics O’Herlihy remarks that badminton was once considered “a mainly Protestant sport.” RTÉ subsequently receives a number of complaints, and while Magee criticises the remarks, the argument is made that the incident inadvertently reflected a complex historical reality.
O’Herlihy presents RTÉ Sport‘s coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, his ninth FIFA World Cup. He fronts 18 European Championships and FIFA World Cups for RTÉ, the last of which comes in 2014. This proves to be the final tournament with O’Herlihy at the helm. He retires at its conclusion and dies the following year.
O’Herlihy attends the 12th Irish Film & Television Awards on Sunday, May 24, 2015. He dies peacefully in his sleep at his home the following day at the age of 76 nearly a year after his retirement. He is survived by wife Hillary and daughters Jill and Sally. Giles, Brady and Dunphy appear on The Late Late Show in tribute later that week. At the time of his death O’Herlihy is working on a sports version of Reeling in the Years, which RTÉ immediately cancels.