Seán Bán Breathnach — a pioneer of the culture of cráic

When historians try to source the creators of the culture of craic that is associated with Galway, they will surely hover for a considerable while over the name of Seán Bán Breathnach.

Patenting a sort of west of Ireland zaniness at a time when conservative Ireland was in the twlight of its years, SBB tore through the mores of the time to start a career that reached its fiftieth birthday on Monday last.

To mark the occasion, RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta broadcast a special programme live from Dublin at 4.30 pm to mark the occasion, with special guests in studio to celebrate Seán’s long and varied media career.

Seán Bán was born in An Chathair in Conamara, and started his broadcasting career at just nineteen years of age with Popseó na Máirte on Radio Éireann on April 1, 1969. It was the first Irish-language pop music show and the first live radio show to be broadcast without a script.

SBB became the first Gaeilgeoir pinup, with fans writing to him looking for a lock of his golden blonde hair. In the years since then, he has worked across almost all of RTÉ’s services including 2FM, where he presented the breakfast show for two years, RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, where he continues to broadcast, and RTÉ TV, as well as TG4.

Some of Seán’s best known TV programmes include SBB ina Shuí with Gráinne Gleoite, or Gráinne Uí Mhaitiú, from 1976 to 1982, and Scaoil amach an Bobailín with Cynthia Ní Mhurchú, which had viewing figures up at 600,000. On TG4 he was a regular guest on Seó Spóirt, and presented the dating programme Cleamhnas.

Seán Bán started with Raidió na Gaeltachta back in 1972 shortly after it opened. He has worked on almost every kind of programme on the station since then, except for news, but his heart has always been in sport, particularly boxing, horse racing and hurling. He has been presenting the Saturday sports programme Spórt an tSathairn for more than twenty years now. Seán went viral in 2012 with his passionate commentary on Katie Taylor’s Olympics win.

Seán recalls some of his many career highlights.

“My top moment has to be Joe Connolly lifting the cup for Galway in 1980 after 57 years. The Katie Taylor win in 2012 is another outstanding moment, what an athlete. From a professional point of view, winning the Jacobs Award in 1991 was really special, particularly because it was in a category with English-language programmes, so we won for best overall, not best Irish-language. It was the equivalent of the radio Oscars.”

Seán recalls the boxing match between Chris Eubank and Steve Collins as being “up there with anything, ever” as well, and of course Seán Óg de Paor’s point for Galway in the 1998 All-Ireland football final. Seán Bán’s commentary on that is now commemorated on a sign in Croke Park.

Congratulating Seán on his achievements, RTÉ Director General, Dee Forbes said Seán occupies a unique place in Irish broadcasting history.

“Not only is his career remarkable for its longevity, but also for Seán’s versatility. His ability to connect with people across media and genres, and in both Irish and English, have made him a household name and given him legendary status in Irish culture. And he’s not done yet. Comhghairdeas, Seán.”

Gearóid Mac Donncha, Head (Ceannaire ) of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, said “Seán Bán Breathnach has always been a pioneering broadcaster, and a total professional. He joins a very small group of presenters who can say they have been on air for 50 years, and I’d like to congratulate him on this outstanding achievement.” Seán was inducted into the PPI Hall of Fame in 2012.

Seán is married to Brighid, and they have four children, Brighid Bheag, Katie and twins Léan and Cárthach. It gives him particular pleasure that two of his children – Brighid Bheag and Cárthach - have also gone into broadcasting.

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