Herald legend George Byrne has died.
The highly respected and much-loved journalist passed away yesterday at St James Hospital after a short illness.
John ‘George’ Byrne (57) was film critic for the Herald for several years as well as a hugely knowledgeable music critic and television and book reviewer.
He started his media career in Hot Press and went on to spend several years as a critic for the Irish Independent before joining the Herald.
A life-long Shamrock Rovers fan, he commanded loyalty, friendship and respect in media, music and sporting circles.
He was a former bass guitarist with the rock bands Autobop and The Gorehounds.
Shocked colleagues remembered George as a witty, pithy and incisive reviewer of films and music with an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subjects. They recalled he was never afraid to nail his colours to the mast, often admitting to his own prejudices at the outset of his reviews.
Group Editor-in-Chief of Independent Newspapers Stephen Rae said: “George was a dear friend in Independent House. His highly intelligent articles were greatly valued by the newspapers’ editorial teams.
“We are all deeply saddened at his untimely death. George had a great sense of fun and huge intellect. We all turned to him on the topics of music, football and film.
“We’ll miss him immensely. We send on our deepest sympathies to his parents, family and wide circle of friends,” he said.
Herald Editor Alan Steenson said: “George Byrne was a friend, a colleague and a massive presence on the pages of both the Herald and Irish Independent for over 20 years.
“His legendary wit and passion for his craft was a joy to behold. Whether it was movies, music or football, George could hold court with the best.
“As a film critic, he had few if any peers, lifting a classic with his prose or slaying a turkey with a single, cutting remark.
“His untimely death has left all his friends at the Herald shocked and saddened. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.”
Independent Newspapers Managing Editor Michael Denieffe said: “George Byrne was a gifted, gentle soul with an ironic, perceptive analysis on life that was irreverent, engaging and eternally entertaining.
“His writing was intelligent and always engaging. His company was joyous, challenging and inevitably memorable. A star in the heavens of genuine talent and character has fallen tonight. May he rest in peace.”
His close friend, journalist Ian O’Doherty, said: “It is a terrible day for all his friends who loved him dearly. And it’s a good day for the makers of terrible music as he was the scourge of bad bands everywhere.”
Friend and fellow Herald writer Eamon Carr said: “He was incredibly erudite, witty and insightful. In terms of wit, he would have more than held his own at the Algonquin. His one-liners were brilliant and he was a cross between Luke Kelly and Barney McKenna in that regard.
“A huge soccer fan, he enjoyed slagging the GAA by coining phrases such as ‘bog ball’ and ‘stick fighting’.”
Journalist Declan Lynch tweeted: “George Byrne and I went to Butlins for the weekend to do a feature for Hot Press. George wrote: “Not so much a holiday complex, more a complex holiday.”
George’s beloved Shamrock Rovers also paid tribute, saying: “All at Shamrock Rovers are saddened at the passing of George.”
Father Ted creator Arthur Matthews expressed his own sadness, saying: “Rough, tough George has gone. He was a true romantic – and one of the wittiest people I’ve ever known.”
Stuart Clark, his former Hot Press colleague, stated: “Journalistically, he pulled no punches, but George was a great colleague, loyal friend and evangelical about the bands he loved. He was the scourge of many a music quiz entrant who couldn’t match his encyclopaedic knowledge of everything from Brian Wilson and The Go-Betweens to The Smiths and The Clash.
“This incredible recall of rock ‘n’ roll facts and figures also led to him compiling questions for a variety of RTE radio and TV shows including The Blackboard Jungle and The Vinyl Curtain. Beneath that fabulously gruff exterior he was a kind soul and the most loyal of friends.”
George is survived by his parents Michael and Kay, his sister Andrea, girlfriend Julie, relatives and legions of friends.