MacGabhann, Liam (1908–79), journalist and broadcaster, was born William Cyprian Smith on 16 September 1908 at Laharan, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry, son of William Smith, gardener, and Mary Anne Smith (née Granville). He was educated locally before moving to St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin, to train as a national school teacher. He became deeply involved with the republican and socialist movements while in college, and after graduating (1928) taught for just one year before taking a job as a union organiser with the ITGWU. He also became a frequent contributor to the republican newspaper An Phoblacht and later the short-lived periodical An Camán.
In the early 1930s he gave speeches on republicanism and socialism throughout the country while working as assistant editor on An Phoblacht, and in 1934 he published a collection of poems, mainly with republican themes, under the title Rags, robes and rebels. As assistant editor and later editor of An Phoblacht he fought an energetic campaign against government interference and censorship before joining the Irish Press in 1934 as a reporter and features writer. A powerful if overly emotional writer, he had an uncanny eye for stories that could catch the public mood, first demonstrated (1937) in his evocative coverage of the Kirkintolloch disaster, in which seven Donegal migrant labourers burned to death in a bothy in Scotland. His sensitive treatment of the disaster and its aftermath, which was all but ignored by the other papers, made his reputation as a champion of the underprivileged, a reputation enhanced by his reporting of the bombing of the North Strand in 1941, and the funeral of Jim Larkin (qv) in 1947.
Perhaps the peak of his journalistic career came in 1948 when he adopted the cause of a young German woman, Aga Muller, who had lost her father in a shipwreck off Liberia during a doomed attempt to sail from war-ravaged Germany to Australia. He persuaded a reluctant Irish Press management to fly Muller from Liberia to Dublin and published a series of interviews detailing her experiences. The series was a huge success and the paper's circulation almost doubled during its run. He built on the resultant fame by moving to the newsroom at Radio Éireann. He also became Dublin correspondent for the British People newspaper in 1952.
A committed socialist, he visited the USSR (1955), but the series of sympathetic articles he wrote on the country for the People caused uproar in Dublin and he was castigated by the conservative media. He remained as a news editor at Radio Éireann until the late 1950s, when he left to edit the new Sunday Review. After the failure of that paper he moved to the Irish Times before finally joining the Sunday World as news editor on its foundation in 1973. His 1973 piece for the paper on the victims of the northern troubles, ‘Mothers in mourning’, won a Gallagher press award. Although he stayed at the Sunday World until a year before his death and was responsible for some of its most important investigative journalism, he was deeply disappointed by the failure of the paper to develop a powerful social voice.
He married (1937) Phenie Franklin, singer; they had two sons and one daughter and lived at Weirview Drive, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin. He died 15 January 1979 after a long illness and was buried at Deansgrange cemetery.