'Gay is truly unforgettable. He was an integral part of Irish life' - Branson
The founder of Virgin Group has paid tribute to the late Gay Byrne, saying the "unforgettable" broadcaster helped to shape modern Ireland.
Richard Branson said he was an "incredible entertainer", and recalled the time he had his name written on his hand when Byrne was interviewing him.
"Being dyslexic, I'm apt to forget names from time to time, especially if I have lots of interviews in short succession," he said.
"Three-quarters through the show, Gay asked me: 'What have you got written on your hand?' I sheepishly turned it over to reveal I had 'Gay Byrne' on my skin. He was crestfallen!"
Byrne recalled the incident when he and Branson were filming The Meaning of Life some years later.
"He brought up the name-on-hand incident and we shared a joke about it," said Branson.
"Despite my mishap, Gay is truly unforgettable. He was an integral part of Irish life and I wish all the best to his loved ones."
The country is set to tune in to the broadcaster's funeral tomorrow. Bryan Dobson will present the RTE One programme from 11.30am.
Live coverage from St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, will stream on the RTE Player and on rte.ie and will be available to audiences worldwide.
Byrne died on Monday at the age of 85 after a long illness.
Books of condolence were opened in the Mansion House for members of the public to record their respects.
Five books were open on Tuesday and yesterday, and queues formed in Dawson Street to say their final goodbyes.
Speaking to the Herald, Rathmine residents Patricia and Robert Wilson said they grew up watching Byrne on The Late Late Show.
"He was an absolutely wonderful man and I had the privilege of meeting him one day with his grandchild in Stephen's Green by accident. He was an absolute gentleman," said Mrs Wilson.
"I watched The Late Late special last night and it was a wonderful tribute to him.
"I watched him when he was on The Late Late and he was wonderful.
"We grew up watching him around the fire. He was an absolute treasure who we can never replace, and he'll be greatly missed."
Cleo Clancy, from Ballsbridge, said Byrne triggered discussion on topics in Ireland that normally would have been taboo.
"I would have seen Gay over the 37 years he did The Late Late," he said.
"He was a great educator for the Irish people.
"I'm from the gay community and he helped to inspire people to be themselves, even though families would have been upset as to what was discussed.
"He didn't focus on any particular front, but the platform was there to discuss the subjects that weren't publicly discussed.
"He has done a great service for the country and he was dedicated to Ireland and stuck with his roots in RTE.
"RTE gave him a lot of support in the last couple of years and he was able to draw the audiences.
"Gay got us on the path to where Irish people are today."
Mr Clancy said he had watched the special Late Late Show on Tuesday night at his sister's retirement home.
"I made sure they were going to have it on last night, they were all big fans of him," he said.
Carmel Warmington, from Finglas, said there will be no replacement for her favourite broadcaster.
"He was so good to people and everybody was a very big fan of his," she said.
"I couldn't believe he was gone when I heard it. I knew he was sick, but I thought he had got over it."