Monday 27 January 2020

'We'll never see like of him again'

Country mourns death of original Late Late host, radio icon and beloved broadcaster Gay Byrne

Gay Byrne, pictured here in 2016, passed away surrounded by his family in Howth yesterday morning
Gay Byrne, pictured here in 2016, passed away surrounded by his family in Howth yesterday morning
Gay with his wife Kathleen
Gay with Ryan Tubridy and Gerry Ryan in 2004
Gay in the radio studio

The head of RTE has said "we'll never see his like again" as the country mourns the death of broadcasting legend Gay Byrne at the age of 85.

The RTE broadcaster and former host of The Late Late Show died yesterday in Howth surrounded by his wife Kathleen, their daughters Crona and Suzy, and their families.

The father-of-two was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago.

In a statement yesterday, his family said: "It is with sadness that Kathleen, Crona and Suzy wish to announce that their beloved Gay has died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family. We wish to thank everybody for their love and support during Gay's illness. Particularly the wonderful teams in the Mater Hospital, St Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society."


RTE director-general Dee Forbes said: "We are all greatly saddened by the passing of Gay Byrne, who has been a household name in this country for so many years.

"Gay was an exceptional broadcaster whose unique and ground-breaking style contributed so much to the development of radio and television in this country. Gay's journalistic legacy is as colossal as the man himself - he not only defined generations, but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation.

"Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne and we will never see his like again. My deepest sympathies to Kathleen and his family."

A book of condolences will be opened by the Lord Mayor of Dublin today to allow members of the public pay tribute to the late broadcaster, who was also a Freeman of Dublin.

Members of the public will be able to sign the Book of Condolence at The Mansion House on Dawson Street from 11am - 5pm today and tomorrow.

Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe said: "[He] showed the true meaning of active retirement through his ongoing broadcasting and as chairman of the Road Safety Authority.

"As a mark of respect, the Dublin flag on the Mansion House will be flown at half-mast."

A special Late Late Show in tribute will be shown at 9.35pm tonight on RTE One.

The 90-minute live special will include contributions from many friends and colleagues across the world of entertainment and beyond, including Bob Geldof, Andrea Corr, Pat Kenny, John Sheahan and Mary McAleese.

Born in Dublin in August 1934, Gay Byrne grew up on the South Circular Road.

He started work as a newsreader and continuity announcer on Radio Eireann in the late 1950s before moving to Granada Television in Manchester, where he worked on a variety of shows, interviewing acts including The Beatles.

For a time Byrne commuted between Dublin and UK, working for both the BBC and RTE, but came back to Ireland full-time in the late 1960s as the presenter and producer of The Late Late Show - one of the world's longest-running chat shows.

He also presented a long-running programme on RTE Radio 1, first known as The Gay Byrne Hour and then The Gay Byrne Show. He won a Jacob's Award for the show in 1976.

Over his long career Byrne presented The Rose of Tralee, The Calor Housewife of the Year competition, as well as penning a weekly column for this newspaper in the 1960s.

He presented his final daily radio show in 1998 and his final Late Late Show the following summer.

While he officially retired in 1999, Byrne continued presenting programmes, including The Meaning Of Life.


Byrne revealed he had cancer on air while presenting Lyric FM in November 2016.

At the time, he told listeners: "They think they may have discovered a bit of cancer in the prostate and they think it may have moved up into my back.

"I've had the most wonderful, fantastic, robust, good health all my broadcasting life. It's my turn now ... Many, many people [are] much worse off. Thank you for your good wishes."

Byrne was described as a man "of great charisma" by President Michael D Higgins.

Mr Higgins added: "Gay Byrne was someone who exuded warmth and presence, who was possessed of effortless wit, charm and who had a flair for broadcasting. This was combined with an innate gentleness as a person, professionalism and humour.

"Through his work in radio and on television he challenged Irish society, and shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life.

"In doing so, he became one of the most familiar and distinctive voices of our times, helping shape our conscience, our self-image, and our idea of who we might be."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Byrne was "the most influential broadcaster in the history of the State" and a "much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways".

Mr Varadkar added: "I knew him when he was chairman of [the Road Safety Authority] and saw the effectiveness of his campaign against the needless tragedy of road deaths.

"On radio and on television over so many decades 'Uncle Gaybo' provided a voice for all those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up, and helped us confront things that needed to be changed."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said: "Gay Byrne has left an indelible mark, not only on Irish broadcasting, but on Irish society as a whole.

"His intellect and emotional intelligence was unparalleled and his ability to sensitively approach delicate and sometimes controversial issues set him apart from other presenters.

"Gay Byrne was a rare treasure who touched the lives, not only of his family and friends, but the hundreds of thousands of people who welcomed him into their lives and their homes on the radio and TV."

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