02: The Early Years of Broadcasting

Since the advent of broadcasting in Ireland in 1926, sport has been a feature of the schedules.

In the early days, coverage was infrequent and consisted of announcements and short reports. The first sports announcement was the naming in January 1926 of the Irish rugby team to play France, while in July a short talk was given on rowing, and on 6 August of the same year, Clare Cooke offered a five minute impression of the Dublin Horse Show.

The first live commentary on a field sport anywhere in Europe was when Paddy Mehigan covered the All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final between Kilkenny and Galway on 29 August 1926. This game is credited with being the first mainly because the BBC was prevented from broadcasting sporting events before 7.00pm as a means of protecting British newspaper sales.

Although there was no designated sports department within Irish radio for many years, a two-way relationship between the national broadcaster and most of the major sporting bodies was quickly established. This did not always run smoothly, but most differences were sorted out quickly because radio needed sport, and sport needed radio.

Gaelic games in particular had a special relationship with Irish radio. As well as live commentaries, Seán Ó Ceallacháin began broadcasting a weekly results programme in 1930. The programme was organised by Ó Ceallacháin, who had results from club matches telephoned in from around the country.  In 1953 Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin then took over presenting the programme from his father and continued unitl his retirement on 8 May 2011.

When the 1947 All-Ireland Football Final was played in New York, Michael O'Hehir provided live commentary to the "folks back home". O'Hehir's commentaries on All-Ireland finals would become important not just for those at home, but for Irish exiles throughout the world when, in the 1950s, the games were relayed through Radio Brazzaville.

Among the many sports covered by radio in those early years, international contract bridge has to be one of the more unusual ones. During the 1930s and 1940s, Noel Byrne was at the table to provide commentary on Ireland's participation in bridge tournaments held in the Shelbourne Hotel and the Mansion House.

Listen here to the recollections of some of those who were involved in the early years of sports coverage. Jimmy Mahon, a young technician in the 1920s, describes how the commentaries were broadcast and remembers the great "Carbery". Éamonn de Barra, a commentator in the 1930s, recalls some of his own. Former Head of Radio Roibeard Ó Faracháin remembers some of the difficulties between RTÉ and the national sporting associations.

The accompanying image shows An RTÉ Radio Outside Broadcast technical kit used by commentators.
The photograph was taken in August 2006 by Tom Holton.
© RTÉ Archives 2175/045