Government and media figures alike have been paying tribute to famous broadcaster and presenter Gabriel “Gay” Mary Byrne, who passed away on November 4th. Gay Byrne was a longstanding figure in Irish broadcasting, and most notably presented the Late Late Show for 37 years, from its first episode in 1963.
While Gay Byrne was a prominent and much-beloved figure in Irish households, tributes have also been paid to the huge role he played in tackling social issues in Ireland. As one of the first Irish figures to publicly discuss issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and the Catholic Church, he has been credited for encouraging a more open, progressive Ireland.
“He moved Ireland from an insular establishment country to one that was much more emerging and outward looking. In a way, people could relate to this kind of an everyman of a modernising Ireland,” Dr Finola Doyle O’Neill, broadcast historian and lecturer at UCC, told the media in a statement. “He asked the questions we wanted to hear. He was the boldest and brightest star of the new media revolution.”
“He discussed sexual issues openly. He was the first to talk to David Norris about homosexuality and he always included the non-nuclear family. There was also the story in the 80s of a woman with AIDS on his radio programme. This was at a time when people were very ignorant about it and how it could be transmitted. It was hugely enlightening.”
Members of the Dáil have paid tributes to Gay Byrne from all sides. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Gay Byrne as “the most influential broadcaster in the history of the State,” who “provided an outlet for all of those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up”. Party leaders of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour have all praised Gay Byrne’s legacy.
Other Irish figures have also paid tribute— including Tayto, which had to delete a twitter post of the famous Mr. Tayto looking sad for eliciting controversy.
Éanna Brophy, former reporter and columnist with The Sunday Press, praised Gay Byrne’s legacy of speaking on progressive issues. “He got so well-established that if he was going to go for a bit of controversy he had the status to do it by then. I remember being told by an RTÉ producer that Gay was worth £8 million a year in ad revenue to RTÉ, and that was decades ago so you can multiply that a few times in today’s money.”
Loved ones and fans alike collected in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral on Friday 8th, where Fr Leonard Maloney SJ described Gay Byrne as “reflective, deep, serious, thoughtful, a person of values. Those who were closest to Gay knew him as a kind, generous and simple man who would counsel them always to give people the benefit of the doubt because, as he used to say, ‘You never know what they are going through’. He showed this same good grace and warmth wherever he went.”
On Tuesday 4th November some famous faces across Irish media from down through the years gathered together to pay a heartfelt and emotional tribute to the man often referred to as, ‘himself’. The Late Late Show put on a special, once-off show in tribute to celebrate their fallen star. Originally scheduled for two hours, the show extended beyond that, such was the incredible flow and beauty of the programme. Current and former Irish Presidents, joined some of the most prolific celebrities from this Island and all had a noteworthy contribution to the life and career of this country’s greatest ever broadcaster.
Four days later Gay was laid to rest at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, where many of his friends and family came together to say one last fond farewell. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar andPresident Michael D Higgins as well as current Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy were just a few of a number of notable names who attended the service. If funeral’s can have highlights, it was certainly delivered by the TV legend’s daughter, Suzy Byrne, who recited an extremely poignant poem in memory of her father and to pay our own homage the University Express would like to finish with the very same.
Thank you, Dad. You gave us words, ideas, music, songs.
“Often you made us laugh out loud and long.
“Beneath it all, you searched what was true. Thank you for that.
“And thank you most of all for being you.”