He can’t sing but he can certainly talk, in fact that’s exactly how one-time Gaeilgeoir pin-up and radio mad-hatter Seán Bán Breathnach has built up such a successful career over the last 40 years.
The popular sports commentator and TV personality, who celebrates his 60th birthday today, brought pop music to Irish language radio, performed daring acts live, and brought exciting goals and punches to radio listeners across Ireland. SBB will not be hanging up his headphones just yet as he is determined to break a record, to be roaring down the air waves and commenting on All-Ireland matches for another 30 years. Might as well ring up Guinness now then.
The Inverin native didn’t grow up to be your typical Connemara teenager. At the age of just 16 he headed over to England where he got involved in “spinning discs” at the local youth clubs and dj-ing at weddings. One day came the call to return home as Radio Eireann was looking for a young dj who could speak Irish and spin the charts for the unscripted Popseó na Máirte (1969 ). He soon became the first Gaeilgeoir pin-up and broke the mould for the conventional image of Gaeltacht people in the media at the time.
“I had long hair down my back and would put curls in an envelope and sell them to girls all over Ireland. I was a bit of a hippy which was unusual in Connemara at the time.”
After a stint in 1971 on the TV show Imeall SBB began his long career with Ráidió na Gaeltachta six weeks after it opened in 1972 and soon established himself as one of the best and most liked sports commentators and presenters in the country.
“I started my sports broadcasting in 1975 commenting on Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta. I did my first All Ireland in 1981, the Galway versus Offaly match, and I have been covering the All Irelands ever since. I’ve covered 12 different sports, two Olympics and two World Cups. The highlight for me would be Michelle Smith. I still don’t think she was guilty. Other highlights include the Ray Houghton goal in Italy during World Cup (1994 ), Sean Mannion, and Steve Collins. The Joe Connolly speech (1980 ), and Seán Óg De Paor’s decisive point for Galway in the All-Ireland. I cried on air. Galway hadn’t won an All Ireland since 1966. It was really emotional. It was the fact that he was one of my own, he is from Connemara. I’m very fond of my own people, and he brought back the All Ireland cup.
“I’m still doing sport. I’ve been presenting the Saturday sports programme Spórt an tSathairn for 16 years. It is Raidió na Gaeltachta’s flagship sports programme every Saturday. I thrive on the energy. I also do a magazine programme SBB Aniar on Fridays which can be about anything. There’s also a music programme Siar is Aniar le SBB on Saturday nights. It’s in its second year and I love it,” says SBB.
In 1973 he hit the headlines when his marriage of a week and a half broke up. While taking part in film he was introduced to his future wife by Mick Lally and Michael D Higgins in the Cellar Bar in Galway on a Monday, married her on a Friday, and by the following Wednesday it was all over.
He also made a name for himself on RTÉ’s SBB ina Shuí (1976 to 1982 ), which had the highest TAM ratings of any Irish show ever in 1979, and there were plenty of antics.
“One time I laid down on a bed of nails and was holding a plank of wood. A motorbike doing 60mph drove over me and one of the six inch nails went up into me. I still have the hole in my back. It could have killed me. I was going to jump off a roof in one show but the big boys in RTE thought there were health and safety issues and told me not to. I would have done it. I did drive a motorbike through a wall of fire once. I was kinda wild back then,” says SBB who 10 years later went on to present the popular show Scaoil Amach an Bobailín (1992 ) with Cynthia Ní Mhurchú.
Never one to take a back seat, SBB hit the headlines again when he battled it out on Charity You’re A Star in 2007, had a spat with judge Brendan O’Connor, and then came second winning €84,000 for the Carers’ Association. “Everyone knows I couldn’t sing. I’m very proud of the money I raised. It was a wonderful couple of weeks,” he says.
Still young at heart the star says he loves spending time with wife Brighid and their four grown-up children who are his “best friends”. However there are no plans to put the retirement slippers on just yet. He’s more likely to put on a rucksack and travel the world, or maybe he’ll just attempt to break a record by commenting on the All-Ireland at the age of 90.
To help celebrate this milestone RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta will broadcast SBB @ 60 today at 2.04pm so don’t miss it. To find out more about the legendary SBB log onto www.rte.ie/rnag/sbb html.