It’s almost 30 years since Ray Houghton scored that goal against England in the Republic of Ireland’s first ever game at the finals of a major championship.
It was a glorious moment in Irish sport and still brings a smile to my face when I recall that marvellous summer’s day. With one tiny, but, for me, significant, rider: The commentary on RTÉ for that goal was in English.
Nothing against George Hamilton, but I wish I could have listened to the goal being commentated by the likes of Seán Bán Breathnach or Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, in my own language, Irish.
All those years later, I and many others like me around Ireland will have that option as RTÉ, following a successful online campaign instigated by myself, have relented and decided to provide an Irish-language commentary option for Ireland’s games in France this month.
This particular campaign began in April, though I have been advocating for the provision of Irish language commentary for major sporting fixtures for many years.
I work as an events’ manager in the Cultúrlann on Belfast’s Falls Road and I realised the only ingredient absent from the possibility of some great occasions at the famed Irish language venue was commentary as Gaeilge for Ireland’s games in Euro 2016. So I started an online petition and a round of interviews in the Irish language media.
As with all sporting campaigns, there’s an element of luck involved in securing a favourable result. The recent appointment of Ronán Mac an Iomaire, a native speaker from Conamara to the post of head of the Irish Language at the state broadcaster, ensured my appeal had a strong advocate in the corridors of power. Last year, under his stewardship, RTÉ moved to provide Irish language commentary as an option for viewers of the All-Ireland hurling and football finals.
This was a hugely significant breakthrough given that we have to go back to the 1980s to the only other occasion when live Irish language commentary was provided for Ireland’s premier sporting occasions.
While RTÉ 1 provided the coverage in English, over on Network 2, as it was then, SBB and Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh commentated on the matches as Gaeilge. Obviously that meant those in two-channel land — most of us — who didn’t want to watch sport had no option.
We’re now well into the digital age and the provision of commentary in another language is easily done. You can access it by setting the audio description language to Irish in your TV’s settings. I already feel like a winner. Éire Abú!
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