Gay Byrne reveals his father’s trauma from first World War

Edward Byrne would wake up ‘shouting and screaming’ while reliving trench horrors

Gay Byrne’s father, Edward, fought at Ypres and the Somme

Gay Byrne’s father, Edward, fought at Ypres and the Somme


Gay Byrne has revealed that his father Edward was so traumatised by his experiences in the first World War that he would get up in the middle of the night shouting and screaming in “absolute terror”.

Byrne has made a documentary entitled My Father’s War which explores Private Edward Byrne’s involvement in the war.

Pte Byrne joined the 19th Royal Hussars, a cavalry regiment, before the war and served until 1919. He fought at two of the five Battles of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme and was nearly killed in a cavalry charge near the end of the war.

Byrne says his abiding memory of growing up on Rialto Street in Dublin was his father “roaring and shouting and screaming and tossing his hands around and going mad” after waking in the night.

‘Fright in extremis’
“The entire street seemed to me to come awake because he was bellowing and he was a big strong man. He was roaring in absolute terror, absolute fright in extremis.”

Byrne says his mother and five siblings had come to the conclusion that his father was suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Regimental diaries show a German assault on his father’s trench killed dozens of his comrades in 1915; Pte Byrne must have been involved in close hand-to-hand combat.

Byrne says he remains angry that his father’s experience and that of the other 200,000 Irishmen who fought in the first World War were written out of Irish history after it ended.

His father was one of eight Byrne brothers who fought in the war. “I can safely say that in Synge Street in the Christian Brothers [where he went to school], we heard all about 1916 and everybody about Pearse and Connolly, but not one single mention ever was there of the Great War. It was if it never happened. It never existed, not a single mention of it,” the broadcaster says.

‘Contrary things’
“We have always had the gift in Ireland of believing two contrary things at the same time. As a nation we are schizophrenic in that way.

“In a peculiar way, most people were aware of the fellows who came back from the first World War, but it wasn’t a popular thing to be involved in, because this approved history, this authentic history, had overtaken that history. It’s as if ‘we know about that, but we don’t want to know about it’.”

Byrne also reveals that his father referred to the 1916 Rising “disdainfully” as “that local skirmish in Dublin”.

He added: “Most of the men who fought in the first World War resented it. They would have regarded the 1916 people as somehow traitors.”

Gay Byrne’s My Father’s Wa r is showing on RTÉ 1 on Monday, April 14th, at 9.30pm

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.