Fans tune in to hear Byrne fade out

Thu, Dec 17, 1998, 00:00

The Gay Byrne Show yesterday hardly heard its host at all as 150 celebrities and guests gathered for a surprise tribute to the veteran broadcaster.

Yesterday, as Gay prepared his morning show, colleague Mike Murphy went on air to announce the farewell party.

Politicians, celebrities, musicians, staff from the show and some listeners were either in the studio or phoned in to contribute to the party which marks his retirement from the radio show on Christmas Eve.

The first caller was the President, Mrs McAleese, who phoned from Belfast. Asked what she felt was the most important aspect of the show, she said: "I think it is Gay Byrne himself and the way he can mix humour and fun with the serious issues."

In between there were musical offerings live in the studio from artists such as Mary Black, Paddy Cole and Christy Moore, who came out of his self-imposed retirement.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, told him: "If I can say, just as another politician, that in the 26 years almost of the programme, it's been very much part of all our lives. Nobody could ever ignore the programme and from the fun and from the current affairs and the interest and the fact that I think it had a huge influence on how things happened in this country for 26 years, it was a great success."

From London, Terry Wogan said: "I do know the immense effect he's had on Irish life and I do know he is the most outstanding broadcaster ever produced in Ireland."

The former Taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey, was in the studio. Describing him as the Crown Prince of Irish radio, he said: "I think possibly one reason why Gay and the show stayed up there for so long unassailably was that there were never any ordinary people as far as The Gay Byrne Show was concerned. They were all special."

In the studio was Gay Byrne's wife, Kathleen Watkins, his two daughters, his sister, and brother Al Byrne.

Other tributes included those from broadcaster Marian Finucane; the Director-General of RTE, Mr Bob Collins; and Dr Austin Darragh, the show's doctor for many years. Brendan Kennelly then recited a poem which he said addressed Gay Byrne's originality and his value as an educator.

Gay did find his voice at the end of it all: "If I'd known I was half as popular, not only would I have stayed but I would have asked for more money."