Gerard Tierney

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Gearóid Ó Tighearnaigh (Gerry Tierney), Ireland's highly popular bi-lingual RTE radio broadcaster was born in Churchtown near Mallow, Co. Cork on 7, February 1924.  His musical radio programme which underwent a few name changes - Musical Cavalcade, then Ceoil do Pháistí, and finally named Planxty Gearóid - spanned nearly 20 years from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s. He delighted the Irish nation every Sunday with his varying choice of music ranging from 'high-' to 'middle-brow' across all genres. The low timbre of his voice and his infectious laughter were unmistakable and the RTE radio Quiz show, Twenty Questions, which he hosted also proved to be another firm family favourite.


Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Gerry's signature tune

A short biography:

His father - Thomas Tierney (1876-1947) - the local primary school headmaster,was also from Churchtown and his mother - Margaret O'Regan (1888-1955) - hailed from Bandon Co. Cork originally. He was the 2nd youngest of 8 surviving children – Molly (1913-1981), Alanna (1914-1980), Jack (1915-1990), Noël (1916–1989), Louis (1918-1985), Joe (1919-1975) and Tony (1927).  The Tierneys of this family ended up in Dublin, Manchester, London and Cardiff.

At one time his childhood home served as the local library for the village and his father would write letters for the neighbourhood calling on Gerry and his siblings to do some of the writing out “in their best hand”.  For Christmas, they each got a shiny penny and an orange. Gerry recalled not seeing the sea until he was aged 7 and being enthralled by the sound and smell of it.  His family has a childhood book of his where he had pencilled a note next to the word dolphin which said “a fabulous sea creature” and so the lovely dolphin is. He was educated at St. Colman’s College, Fermoy Co. Cork as a boarder and excelled in academics and sports. Maths, physics and hurling were particular favourites (and he recalled scoring 110% in a physics paper by perfectly answering As Gaeilge and getting the standard 10% uplift given to those responding “in the medium”).

He moved to Dublin after his Leaving Certificate to join the Civil Service.  After 10 years in the capital he met the love of his life - Kathleen O'Rourke (1927).  They married in 1954 and had 6 children, 5 of whom survived.  His love of drama, music and the Irish language led him to write and act for the Abbey Theatre and to write Irish plays with Martin Dempsey (a fellow St. Colman’s graduate) for Chonradh na Gaeilge.  Gerry was an avid reader and also loved doing maths puzzles for light relief. He hosted his own radio shows on RTE on a part-time basis.  He began with Ceoil do Pháisti which was originally designed to make middlebrow music accessible to children but quickly became hugely popular across all age groups.  A generation of Irish people was brought up on Ceoil do Pháisti which followed the Sunday Match.  His show changed names a few times over the years, for a while called Musical Cavalcade and finally settled on Planxty Gearóid. Gerry featured in the RTE Guide in October 1970 and said of his show:

“My intention and my hope at all times is to entertain. I’m not trying to educate (what presumption!) nor am I interested in playing ‘good’ music, but I hope in every programme to give pleasure to the average listener who, like myself, is a bit of a magpie in musical matters”. He goes on to say “I try to have variety in each programme – a bit of opera, a bit of ballet, a folk-song, a waltz, a march, something nostalgic, something stirring, a song to bring back memories, a piece of music to remind us we have deep feelings and emotions. I try to give pleasure and to entertain, but I also hope to touch people’s hearts. If some of the things I play sound trite or over-sentimental, it’s because they don’t sound that way to me”.

On RTE Television, he featured as a regular character – Dick – in an Irish language programme 'Labhair Gaeilge Linn’ which was an educational programme in conversational Irish aimed at those who had studied the language at school.  On radio, he also played the Quizmaster role on RTE's Twenty Questions quiz show with Dominic O’Riordan, Bill O’Donovan, Tony Ó Dálaigh and Séan Ó Murchú where each question was led by establishing whether it was "animal, vegetable or mineral?".  This show toured parish halls up and down the country – usually catered for brilliantly by the local Ladies clubs. It proved another firm RTE family favourite.

Gerry advanced rapidly within the Civil Service reaching the grade of Principal Officer in the Dept. of Justice having served in many departments throughout his career.  He collaborated closely with Jack Lynch (another St. Colman’s graduate) when Jack became Taoiseach, on speech writing and sensitive aspects of foreign diplomacy.  His work in the Justice Dept. required great skill behind-the-scenes to forge and maintain good Anglo-Irish relations.  Gerry was also highly involved in Ireland’s preparations to join the EEC.

Sadly, Gerry died suddenly of a heart attack in January 1979 at the age of 55.  He was a lifelong smoker (from aged 8 when he and his pals would buy Woodbine cigarettes one at a time from the local shop!), which must have contributed.  Gerry was honoured by a police-escorted funeral and Jack Lynch attended his removal along with many notable people of the day. But what struck everyone the most was the throngs of people from all walks of life who turned up to show their respects.  He was, by all accounts, a most likeable man.

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