Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh may have celebrated his 85th birthday four weeks ago, but the ‘legend’ who is famous as a GAA match commentator and for his love of the Irish language, is living a fuller life than most men a third of his age — though he wouldn’t give that observation much thought.
While young men regularly post their achievements on social media for all the world to see, the octogenarian is busy climbing mountains, driving himself the length and breadth of Ireland to charitable events and jet-setting annually on long-haul flights — the most immediate being to the Asian GAA Games in Shanghai next month.
The Dingle-born father of eight and grandfather of 12, is a textbook example of healthy ageing — too engaged in life to cast a second glance back at those 85 candles; exercising, eating well, challenging himself, volunteering, and intellectually and emotionally engaging with people far and wide.
“I think looking forward all the time is the best secret of all,” he says.
“It’s an outlook I have, not to be seeking worries — what if it doesn’t happen? Deal with them when they come.”
One example of dealing with the worry when it arrived — and with how the map of Mícheál’s inner life is peppered with GAA signposts — was when he once had a health scare.
“I remember getting a little bit of a heart problem but it didn’t need an operation. Oooh, if I could think of the year now — who won the All Ireland? Kerry won — it was ’86. That’s nearly 30 years ago.
“I didn’t feel that good that day. I was out training players and on the way home I decided I had done a lot of things that day differently to other days. I saw the negatives.
"I remember telling the players that night, they were ‘no good, anyone of them’. They were fine players; it was myself who wasn’t good, but you wouldn’t see that at the time.
“So I drove myself to a hospital. At the hospital they said I had had the little attack and that was it — they dealt with it.”
Almost three decades later and five years after retiring from his record-breaking broadcasting job, the former schoolteacher is as fit as a fiddle in every way.
When asked about how he stays mentally and physically in shape, he says he is “active all the time going places”.
He moved to Co Meath 10 years ago with Helena, his wife of 45 years, because geographically he is poised to go in any direction, east, west, north and south.
Sometimes he survives on four hours’ sleep if the road back from a late function is long — and he wants to make the most of the next day.
And he always has his golf clubs in the car because “you could be anywhere and everywhere and you could have a bit of time on your hands.”
When pushed further about exercise, he casually adds: “I walk. And I’d be on a mountain — I’ll be down in Dingle way this month and I hope to climb Mount Brandon — I climb it every year.
"It’s the second highest in Ireland but it’s not a difficult climb. If we get a nice day there’s no better way to spend it going from base to the summit.”
Young wannabe mountain climbers take note: Mícheál has never drank alcohol, eats “simple food” like porridge and brown bread and gave up smoking immediately, 40 years ago, once the bad press about its effect on health emerged.
Meanwhile it’s been a bonus that his retirement was not like normal farewells, he points out.
“The thing is the scene has never changed. You retire from other jobs and you only go back for special occasions. When you retire from sport you can be at the same venues, get the same satisfaction.
“If it was a fact that I wouldn’t be at the event, it would be a big change. I’m still witnessing it all, seeing it all and enjoying it all — like I did then.”
Helena, who is also healthy and “a bit younger” than Mícheál, will be hopping over to Shanghai with him shortly.
Does he mind the long flight?
“I think the cure for jetlag is the moment the flight takes off I set my watch for the time at the destination I’m going to, and it might be imaginary, but it works.” It’s a ‘can-do’ attitude that seems to have worked in Mícheál’s journey so far.
Mícheál O Muircheartaigh is the cultural ambassador of Cork Culture Night, which takes place today.
He gives a talk through Irish, as part of a panel, on his time spent in the Preparatory College, Coláiste Iosagáin, at 8pm in GaelTaca, 22 O’Sullivan’s Quay.