Thursday 14 November 2019

'The voice of the most beloved man in Ireland over the last 60 years' - RTÉ stars past and present pay tribute to 'Gaybo'


Melanie Finn, Kirsty Blake Knox and Allison Bray

Joe Duffy paid tribute to his RTE friend during an emotional broadcast on his afternoon RTE Radio One show.

He said that his was "the voice of the most beloved man in Ireland over the last 60 years."

He said that it's impossible to put into words the impact that he's had on Ireland as a nation.

"If Ireland in all its creativity, if the Ireland of the last 60 years was a voice. If Ireland of the last 60 years had a voice, it was the dulcet, reassuring tones of Gay Byrne.

"We as a country are all the better for his life."

He said there was no doubting that he saved lives, thanks to his eight-year-long tenure as the chairman of the Road Safety Authority.

Duffy also spoke about Gay's strict routine when he came in every day to the RTE campus.

"He would drive in every morning, go over to the other side of the campus as he was also the producer of the Late Late Show.

"He would listen to the eight o'clock news and you could time him like clockwork, he was straight down in his chair where he laid everything out.

"I was told that you don't talk to him - he's concentrating. He had his little scalpel and his little brown satchel and he would be filleting the paper for stories to start his programme with.

Annie Murphy on the Late Late
Annie Murphy on the Late Late
Kathleen Watkins and her husband Gay Byrne. Photo: David Conachy
Pat, Gay and Ryan at The Late Late Show 50th anniversary in 2012
Family story: Broadcasting legend Gay Byrne and Kathleen Watkins with grandchildren Cian, Saoirse and Sadhbh. PHOTO: VIP MAGAZINE
Wesley Snipes pictured with Gay Byrne at the opening of Planet Hollywood last night.(picture taken at press reception in conrad) Pic Tony Kelly.7/12/97
Broadcaster Gay Byrne with his wife Kathleen Watkins.
Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen Watkins for VIP Magazine. Picture: Lili Forberg/VIP Magazine
Gay Byrne feeling the love with a Valentine's Day card, February 1993
Gay with his family, Suzy, Kathleen and Crona: 'It is simply a truth to say without them I would not have survived'. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Broadcaster Gay Byrne pictured with Frank McNamara and Theresa Lowe on their wedding day in 1987
Broadcaster Gay Byrne Photo: Mark Condren
Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen Watkins enjoying the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ray D'Arcy with Gay Byrne at RTE Radio 1
Gay Byrne, pictured in April 1964. RTE Stills Library
Gay Byrne pictured in 1982. RTE Stills Library
Gay and Kathleen. Photo: David Conachy
Gay Byrne. Photo: Kip Carroll
Gay and Kathleen
Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne has died at the age of 85 after a long illness, RTE said (Brian Lawless/PA)
Derek Hill's portrait of Gay Byrne, commissioned by RTE

"I was like, 'Is Gay praying in there?' And I was told, 'No', he's actually rehearsing how he's going to start the programme."

Duffy said that when he left his home in Clontarf this morning, he cast his eyes towards Gay's beloved home of Howth as he had heard the sad news that his passing was imminent.

He said he died surrounded by his loving family, his wife Kathleen, their daughters Crona and Suzy and family members who had flown back from Florida to say their final goodbyes to the legendary broadcaster.

Newstalk's Pat Kenny, who was his successor on the Late Late Show in 1999, described him as “the inventor of modern Irish radio and broadcasting.”

He said a final goodbye to his mentor and friend at his home in Howth yesterday, where he died peacefully this morning in his beloved family home overlooking Dublin Bay.

“He had a voice that my generation of teenagers could identify with and at that time, Radio Eireann as it was then before it became RTE was very stuffy and very proper and Gay brought an informality to radio that shocked some people and surprised others but certainly it marked the beginning of a new era.

“And then of course, I got to know him later on as a friend and mentor and one of the greatest honours of my broadcasting life was when I took over from him in 1999. I had been doing Kenny live for the previous 11 years when he retired from the Late Late Show.”

Taking over from Gay was “at once, the most exciting and intimidating thing,” he told

“I realised I wouldn’t find a place quickly in the affection of the Late Late Show audience. It took a year or two before they said, ‘Your man’s OK, he can do it.’

“But there are people who will never accepted Gay in the same way that there are people who would never accept Ryan (Tubridy).”

His only regret for his great friend was that he didn’t have more time enjoying his leisure years in his 80’s after a lifetime of working hard.

“The thing that saddens me most if that he didn’t have more years to enjoy his retirement. The fact that he became ill felt like a betrayal. He always took great care of himself. He was a great cyclist and a great walker. It just feels so unfair that he has been taken from us,” he said.

Ray D’Arcy said that Gay was “Olympic gold” when it came to broadcasting and a consummate professional.

“It has to be said, he singlehandedly changed the face of television in Ireland,” he said.

“He was a genius in getting people to say things that they probably shouldn’t have said, that was his great gift.”

He said that labelling of the Late Late Show as a light-entertainment show was a genius move as it meant that Gay could easily delve into areas like sex, religion and politics.

“He was the total package and we definitely won’t see the likes of Gay Byrne again,” he said.

In a statement Ryan Tubridy spoke of the sadness he felt when he heard his 'friend and mentor' had died.

"He was the master, a once off and the likes of which we will never see again. I watched him as a child, worked alongside him as a young man and he guided me as I grew older and I will forever be indebted to him. We in RTÉ have lost a friend, a family have lost a father and a husband and the country has lost an icon. May he rest in peace," he said.

Former RTE doyenne Anne Doyle said that “the whole nation seems to be in mourning.”

“He was very kind to me when I started in television,” she said.

“He went to the trouble of paying attention to a rank outsider with no background in broadcasting or journalism.

“Over the years, our paths crossed many times. He was the daddy of them all.”

She said that she had heard that his health was failing in recent days but that it’s still “quite hard to take in really.”

“The man was a genius in his own way. He was a wonderful producer so that part of his skill-set shouldn’t be forgotten but to me, more than anything else, he was a most wonderful broadcaster.

“He kept the rest of us on our toes.”

She said he had a particular quirk for picking up on presenters using a “soft t” in their pronunciation and he was “quite picky about it.”

“To the end of his career, we learnt from him. We all understand the scope of his work, the nature of his achievements but to the end, we were learning and I can’t think of a greater tribute I can pay to anyone,” she said.

Showband legend Dickie Rock was shocked when he heard the news this afternoon.

“Oh my God, I’ve worked with him for many years,” he said.

He recalled the first time he met Gay, when he was at a car wash in Donnybrook, south Dublin in 1962 and Dickie told Gay he was going to do the Late Late Show.

Gay said, ‘we’ll chat then,” he said.

“He was very reserved but I respected that.”

After many appearances on the show over subsequent years, Dickie said Gay never lost his warmth and kindness.

“I think he would have made it anywhere in the world,” he said.

Chair of RTÉ, Moya Doherty, said Byrne possessed a gift for seeing around "societal corners and predicting what the next emerging social, political, or cultural issue was, the new issue which needed to be brought to the public stage, whatever the ensuing controversy."

"To these issues Gay brought an unswerving curiosity asking exactly the questions his audience needed answered. Most importantly Gay was a listener. He did not so much interview as allow his guests to almost interview themselves while he listened carefully interjecting only to push them on key points.


"Combined with this he had an unerring capacity to spot new talent and even if he did not personally much like what that talent might be he still knew the significance it might have in showcasing Ireland to the world.

On a personal level he was a true and trusted friend, happy to chide when necessary but always gentle and loyal in his support. The Ireland we know today was in many aspects framed by the work which Gay Byrne did over many years and when we look at RTE today we can only feel blessed that we stand on the shoulders on one of the giants of world public service broadcasting. Thank you Gay. We, as a nation, owe you a great debt.”

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