Monday 27 January 2020

'Gaybo helped us change and evolve for the better as a nation and society'

Joe Duffy at the Mansion House yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Joe Duffy at the Mansion House yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Gay Byrne's place in the hearts of the nation was never in doubt.

However, many still wanted to come and pay their respects and say a personal thanks for the memories, following the death of the legendary broadcaster on Monday.

Hundreds of people made their way through the doors of the Mansion House on Dawson Street to write a final goodbye in the book of condolence to Byrne, a man who many thanked for both years of entertainment and for shining a light on the most obscure parts of Irish society.

His death, at the age of 85, has been mourned by his former colleagues at RTE, and among those who turned up to sign the book were broadcasters Ryan Tubridy and Joe Duffy.

Tubridy, who took over as host of the Late Late Show, left a message for Gaybo.

It read: "You wrote the rule book - we all followed. RIP my friend."


Preparations are under way for the broadcaster's funeral which will take place on Friday at 12pm at St Mary's Pro- Cathedral.

RTe will broadcast live coverage on television and online.

Beginning at 11.30am, Bryan Dobson will present the special programme featuring coverage of the funeral mass.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was among the well-known faces who signed the book yesterday.

Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin TD at the Mansion house. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin TD at the Mansion house. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The crowds were also swelled by many people whose lives Byrne touched in their homes every day.

Among others who signed the book was retired nurse Nicky Clarke, who reminisced on watching Byrne's Late Late Show with a cup of tea and a bun while working a weekend shift at a nursing home.

"My fondest memories are when I started nursing in the nursing home," she said.

"If you were on at the weekends, I have fond memories of getting organised after my shift on Saturday.

"You'd have your fancy bun, your tea and sit down to watch the Late Late Show."

Another Gaybo fan, Sean Lattin, had "millions" of memories from Byrne's early career, but he fondly recalled how the broadcaster often played a song he likes on his radio show.

Nicola Clarke pays her respects. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Nicola Clarke pays her respects. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

"Every year, religiously, on May 1, on his radio programme he always played Bring Flowers of the Rarest for a Blessed Lady - that's my one abiding memory of Gaybo," he said.

"There's millions of them, of course. I met him on one occasion after his show."

Carmel Dempsey signed the book of condolence on behalf of her late mother, who held close ties with the family of Byrne's wife, Kathleen Watkins.

"I would know the family going back a long time. My family were very friendly with Claire, Kathleen Watkins' sister," she said.

"We've known the family a long time and really loved Gay in our family, in our home, in our kitchens, our sitting rooms all down through the ages.

"On behalf of my own family, in particular my late mother, who would have known the Watkins family personally, so that's why I'm here.

"The Toy Show stands out as a leading memory."

Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe had opened the book for Byrne - a Freeman of Dublin.

"I was just thinking this morning, we'd get to stay over at my nan's house and we'd be just in bed, and my grandad would bring in the tray with the toast and my grandad would always be listening to Gay Byrne," he told the Herald.

"I think, in many ways, that's the memory people will have of Gay.

"He could do the most intimate interview on a Tuesday, and that would shape the social debate in Ireland for the following week.

"He could have an interview on the Late Late Show - and it would change the social discourse.

"In many ways, he gave the nation its voice, and we will always have that to thank him for.

"It's the protocol for the Freeman, the flags on the Mansion House here will be lowered to half-mast."

Micheal Martin remembered being "awestruck" when Byrne interviewed him on the Late Late Show while he was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1982.


"When I became the Lord Mayor, the Late Late came to Cork for the Jazz Festival and he interviewed myself and my wife Mary, as Lord Mayor of Cork," he said.

"That was a really big thing, we were really awestruck to be interviewed by the man himself.

"My earliest memories would be as a child with my late mother watching the Late Late Show on a Saturday evening."

Speaking about the Toy Show, he said: "That was the big thing in childhood, the Late Late, if you could be allowed to stay up to watch it.

"There was that sense of warmth that emanated from him, then later on you're watching the big current affairs debates, the big sort of controversies of our time, all that were articulated on the platform of the Late Late itself."

Politicians yesterday suspended business in Dail Eireann to pay tribute to the six decades of work by the broadcasting legend, and they then stood for a moment's silence.

Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail said that for him, growing up in 1960s Ireland, it was the voice of Byrne on radio and television which was most commonly heard.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Byrne was simply the most influential broadcaster in the history of the State and had a truly remarkable career.

"It's a story of how we changed and evolved for the better as a nation and as a society," Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said he had afforded a "voice for the voiceless and raised questions which were previously taboo".

Mr Varadkar also noted his serious work promoting road safety as chairman of the Road Safety Authority.

He cited especially the affection ordinary people had for the broadcaster.

"For generations of people, he was 'Uncle Gaybo' - a welcome presence in every home," the Taoiseach told the Dail.

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