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Tuesday 12 November 2019

One final round of warm applause before Gay laid to rest

Farewell: Gay Byrne’s funeral cortège outside the Pro Cathedral in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Farewell: Gay Byrne’s funeral cortège outside the Pro Cathedral in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney
A member of the public sheds a tear. Photo: Gerry Mooney
A mourner holds a Mass booklet. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Former President Mary Robinson. Photo: David Conachy
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greets Gay’s wife Kathleen Watkins and daughters Crona and Suzy. Photo: David Conachy
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

In earlier times, the staunch army of women so determined to get a good seat near the front of the church had been glued to the radio in their kitchens, equally determined not to miss a single word.

Their fierce loyalty to 'Uncle Gaybo' in life was not something they were prepared to shed upon his death.

One woman even managed to find a retro disposable cardboard camera to record this most momentous occasion.

They were being let into the church in batches of 20, and while there were many men too, perhaps not surprisingly, it seemed to be women who dominated.

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The presence of so many hardcore fans was something Gay himself would have greatly appreciated.

But there were many other things about this day that summed up the spirit of Ireland's most legendary broadcaster.

In the beautiful diction of his young grandchildren who read the prayers of the faithful, we recalled his notorious distaste for the 'soft Irish T' and his frequent precise intonation of the word 'Budget' as an elocution lesson for the nation.

In the litany of household names who turned up, surely all had turned up as 'Late Late Show' guests at one stage or another.

And it seemed entirely natural that this last 'show' would be beamed live across the country, as a host of cameras and crew carefully kept their positions behind the scenes.

There was, perhaps, just one minor point that might have made him sigh. He was late.

Being the household figure that he was, Gay Byrne's fastidiousness when it came to the matter of punctuality was well known.

But he did, too, have a legendary sense of humour and so may have appreciated the irony of his remains arriving some five minutes late for his own funeral - having taken the sweeping seaside route from his beloved Howth to the Pro Cathedral on Marlborough Street in the city centre.

"That's showbiz," he might have ruefully quipped.

It was amid the classic 'Late Late Show' format of sorrow, laughter and song that Ireland said a final farewell to the man who was so instrumental in cracking open the rigid, silent, cocoon of our society to allow human stories to shine.

The determined, delicate flutterings of a Red Admiral butterfly amid a pool of sunshine in the church came as no real surprise because if anybody deserved an unseasonal butterfly at their funeral in early winter, it was surely Gay.

As soon as his family had taken their seats in the church, President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina were up to warmly embrace Kathleen Watkins and daughters Crona and Suzy, and to spend some time with them.

The President was followed by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, each offering words of quiet condolence.

Former Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese were both present, as was former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

RTÉ director general Dee Forbes and former DGs Cathal Goan and Bob Collins were there, along with Moya Doherty and John McColgan.

Current 'Late Late' host Ryan Tubridy and former host Pat Kenny were both present, as was the great TV favourite Mike Murphy.

The whole of the broadcasting body from Montrose had turned out for the occasion, it seemed, with Miriam O'Callaghan, Joe Duffy, Mary Kennedy and Marty Whelan amongst the mourners.

Ray D'Arcy, Marty Morrissey, John Bowman and former news doyenne Anne Doyle were also present, as was developer Harry Crosbie and Fr Brian D'Arcy.

And there were many of Gay's loyal team there too, with John Caden, who won a 1985 Jacobs Award for producing the 'Gay Byrne Show', Maura Connolly, Gay's personal assistant for over 30 years, and Joan Tuohy, his PA in the 1960s.

Frank McNamara, former resident pianist on 'The Late Late Show', was also there with wife Teresa Lowe.

Applause rang out as the simple oak coffin arrived in the church.

The funeral Mass was simple and beautiful, with music by the Palestrina Choir.

Gay's daughter Suzy O'Byrne spoke first, saying her father's "unwavering loyalty and trust" in his team was, three years ago, handed over to Prof John McCaffrey and his team at the Mater hospital.

"You enabled so many extra memories for us all," she told the medics.

And in a very Gay Byrne moment, she had a special word of thanks for the Mater's "catering ladies and gentleman porters", saying: "To say they brightened our journey would be a gross understatement."

"Dad had no fear of death," she said. "But he had two wishes: to be in his beloved home and not to suffer."

"Today our farewell is one of thanks," said Suzy.

Chief Celebrant Fr Leonard Moloney said those closest to Gay knew him as a kind, generous and simple man who would counsel them to give people the benefit of the doubt because "you never know what they are going through".

He devoted large segments of his radio show to reading moving, often harrowing, letters sent in by women from all over Ireland telling of sufferings and violations visited on them when there was "little space in the public realm for stories like this", Fr Moloney said.

"He recognised their dignity and he validated their experience." His was a life well lived, Fr Moloney said.

Former director general of RTÉ Bob Collins said Irish society would be forever in Gay Byrne's debt, giving a voice to people who had not been heard before.

"Just over 20 years ago, in the television programme 'States of Fear', we heard such a voice - the first of its kind, the voice of a man talking to Gay Byrne on the radio in 1986 and breaking the silence about the pain of his childhood," he said.

As the remains left the church, there came that familiar sound. That of warm, appreciative and prolonged applause ringing out for Gay Byrne. For one last time.

Irish Independent

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