24 October 2008
2 hours, 37 minutes
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Tommy Smyth was born in Knockbridge, County Louth, Ireland in 1945. Growing up Mr. Smyth attended his local public school, Knockbridge National School. After graduating he attended technical school at Dundalk Institute of Technology for two years. Mr. Smyth played Gaelic Football for his local team in Knockbridge.(1) Although it was forbidden by the governing body of Gaelic Football, the Gaelic Athletic Association, he also attended many soccer matches and developed a deep love for soccer. Prior to emigrating from Ireland, Mr. Smyth worked in a steel foundry for Dalgan Steel Founders.
When he was young Mr. Smyth’s Aunt Minnie, who lived in America, would come back to Ireland every year. This was very unusual at the time as Irish immigrants to the United States typically did not return home. Minnie was also one of twenty children on his mother’s side. On one of her visits, Mr. Smyth decided that he would go back to America with her. Thus, Mr. Smyth immigrated to America in 1963 when he was 17 years old with the promise to his parents that he would come back to Ireland in two years. For the next two decades Mr. Smyth would continue this cyclical migration pattern and come to America for a two year period, followed by a return to Ireland. This stopped when Mr. Smyth’s mother passed away in the early 1980s and he decided to remain in America for good.
This atypical immigration path caused problems for Mr. Smyth with his employers, as every two years he would have to quit his current job. When he came back to America for another two year period, he would have to find a new job. He started working in America as an electrician’s helper(2) and held various other positions such as maintenance man, cold storage snow shoveler, a position in a trucking company, and eventually house painter which he did for about 17 years before being hired by ESPN(3).
In 1990 Mr. Smyth got his first big break in the media. In March of that year, he was interviewed for 15 minutes by Jack O’Hara and Andrea McCarren on WNBC-NY television about the Gaelic Games(4) during the station’s broadcast of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. For the next couple of years he called the producers of the broadcast asking for work with the parade. Finally, in 1993, Mr. Smyth was hired as a researcher for the parade by David Maher. Eventually Mr. Maher told Mr. Smyth that he knew too much about Ireland not to be on the broadcast. So in 1993, Mr. Smyth became a co-host of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He says this was a life goal of his and it took him 17 years of bothering people in subtle ways, but he achieved it.
In 1993, Mr. Smyth also joined ESPN as a soccer analyst, but still painted houses on the side. In 1994, he was hired to announce some games for the 1994 World Cup for ESPN. On the Friday before the game Mr. Smyth was painting a house on Long Island. Over the weekend he announced Argentina vs. Nigeria at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts, and then returned to painting the house on Monday, much to the surprise of the house’s owner, who had expressed skepticism about his weekend assignment.
While at ESPN Mr. Smyth has called the last two World Cups, World Cup qualifying matches, Union of European Football Associations Champions League, and Italian Serie ‘A’(5). Aside from these premier events, Mr. Smyth has called over 2,000 international matches from soccer leagues in Brazil to Holland and has been seen in over 200 countries via ESPN International. Mr. Smyth broadcasts other sporting events for ESPN as well, including horse racing, harness racing, and Gaelic Games. He was also the voice of Major League Soccer’s New York Metro Stars from the team’s debut in 1996 until the early 2000s.
In 2008, Mr. Smyth was tapped to be the Grand Marshall of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He had been a co-host covering the parade for WNBC-4 in New York City since 1993. Known as the “People’s Grand Marshall”, he is viewed as one of the most popular Grand Marshalls of all time. Mr. Smyth made it a point to attend all of the dances and dinners before the parade, and claims to be the only person in parade history to have led the parade as the Grand Marshall and then returned in line to march with his home county contingent on the same day.
Mr. Smyth is currently married to Treasa Smyth. They have two children. He plans on staying in America long-term but wants to be buried in his hometown of Knockbridge in Ireland.
Excerpt No. 1
The Responsibilities of Being Grand MarshallDisc 2, Track 4, 1:24–2:39
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
Tommy Smyth: I decided when I was Grand Marshall, I was going to be Grand Marshall. I wasn’t going to be you know – on the night I was coming back from being announced as Grand Marshall. I’m a real New Yorker, I travel the subway all the time. The subway is my iron horse, I travel the subway. Even in and out the parade St. Patrick’s morning. People think, aw, you get a limousine. I don’t, I come in by subway. I got on the subway and I met a bunch of people who were coming from some dance, or concert that was on at Carnegie Hall. And two or three of them were Cork people, and I told this guy what was after happening, and he knew me and I knew him, not close, but we knew who we were because he played in Gaelic Park and things he said. Well, he said, I hope you’re not like a lot of the last Grand Marshalls he said, no matter what they were invited to, he said, they wouldn’t go. And right there and then I decided I that would go to every dinner dance that I get invited to. And I got a bad draw in the sense that St. Patrick’s Day was on Monday. If it had been on Tuesday it wouldn’t be so bad. On the run up on the weekend from Friday night to Sunday I went to 21 dinner dances. So you judge was it busy.
Excerpt No. 2
Witness to HistoryDisc 2, Track 1, 8:59–9:49
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
Tommy Smyth: My radio show was on a Monday night at 9 o’clock, 9 to 10, yeah 9 to 10. On a Monday night, 6th of December, I don’t know what year(1), senior moment, I was walking back from the radio show down along the west side and I heard a gunshot. And I said to myself, that somebody just got shot. And I seen a little bit of commotion out of the corner of my eye over in front of the Dakota’s building. And I ran over and there was a guy laying on the ground and there was a guy up against the wall, the guy had a hold of him. It was Mark Chapman that was up against the wall and John Lennon was laying on the ground shot. And I’m standing there and I had no clue who any of them were, and I hear the guard say to the guy, “Do you know what you just did?”
And the guy says, “Yeah,” he said, “I shot John Lennon.”
Excerpt No. 3
Devotion and Love of SportDisc 1, Track 6, 7:42–8:04
Transcription of Excerpt No. 3
Tommy Smyth: In the Gaelic Football there is nobody gets paid. It’s strictly an amateur organization. You play for the love of wherever you’re representing. Your county, your parish, wherever you represent that’s it. All the time you put in. If I had put in as much time into education as I put into the GAA(2), I’d be a professor inside the University.
- Derek Sellman
- Miriam Nyhan
- Tommy Smyth and Derek Sellman, New York University student and oral history interviewer, taken by Linda Dowling Almeida.
- Tommy Smyth at ESPN, courtesy ESPN-TV
- Tommy Smyth as Grand Marshall of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, courtesy The New York Post
- Gaelic football is played by teams of 15 on a rectangular grass pitch with H-shaped goals at each end. The primary object is to score by kicking or striking the ball with the hand and getting it through the goals. The team with the highest score at the end of the match wins.
- Electrician’s Helper is an official titled position.
- ESPN is a cable television network which covers sporting events around the globe.
- Gaelic Games are traditional Irish sports. The two most popular are Hurling and Gaelic Football. The two sports are both played on the same rectangular field and governed by the Gaelic Athletic Association. Mr. Smyth played Gaelic Football growing up.
- The UEFA and Italian Serie ‘A’ are premier soccer leagues known the world over and often attract the highest level of talent from around the globe. The World Cup is held every four years and pits players from around the world against each other in a soccer tournament in which the players play for their home countries.