PR consultant and broadcaster Bill O’Herlihy has died peacefully at home at the age of 76. He started his career in the Cork Examiner newsroom and reported on sport. He later joined Radio Eireann and worked in RTE current affairs on the Seven Days programme with Ted Nealon. When he was dropped from the programme in 1972, he returned to sport.
After less than two years in RTE sports, he was headhunted by ad men Desmond O’Kennedy and Jack Young. The two men wanted him to head up the then dormant Public Relations of Ireland (PRI) in 1973. The agency went on to become one of Ireland’s top agencies, working for British Airways, Coca-Cola, Irish Permanent Building Society and McDonald’s.
In running PRI, he hired some top talent, including Eileen Gleeson, Fintan Drury and the late Ann O’Callaghan. It allowed him time to pursue his other passions, including politics and presenting sports on RTE. He was a close advisor to Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald, along with Rehab’s Frank Flannery, Pat Heneghan of PJ Carroll and solicitor Enda Marren.
He was part of the FG background team known as the national handlers. RTE controller of programmes Michael Garvey allowed him work part-time in TV sports. He went on to present 10 World Cups and 10 Olympic Games. In an interview with Marketing in 1992, he said that while being “a TV personality” was of no interest to him, he had become a “TV animal”.
When asked if PR was more important to him than TV, he replied: “I’ve been lucky to indulge my ego in TV. But given the choice between the two, PR comes first.” In the same interview, he admitted that when FitzGerald stood down as FG leader, he felt the party made a mistake by choosing Alan Dukes over his fellow Corkman and close friend, Peter Barry.
“Once Alan Dukes was appointed there was no way I would continue. Mind you, if Peter Barry had been elected leader, things may have been different.” He worked with Taoiseach Enda Kenny when he was Tourism Minister. O’Herlihy suffered a heart attack in 1984 and later underwent a quadruple bypass. He was treated for colon cancer in 2007.
He retired as RTE’s main football presenter last summer, after almost half a century.
His O’Herlihy Communications (previously PRI) merged with Insight Communications.
He became chairman of the Irish Film Board three years ago. He is warmly remembered by his RTE colleagues, including football analysts John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy. Dunphy said he was “a fabulous man with a sharp instinct” and Giles said he was “a master at what he did”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny described him as “a national treasure”.
He is survived by his wife Hilary and his two daughters, Jill and Sally.