Your memories of Gay Byrne: ‘I feel like part of my childhood has died’

Gay Byrne photographed for the Irish Times Magazine with the Harley-Davidson that Larry Mullen and Bono of U2 gave him on his final Late Late Show, in 1999. Photograph: Peter Rowen
IRISH TIMES READERS PAY TRIBUTE TO THE PIONEERING BROADCASTER – HOST OF THE LATE LATE SHOW ON RTÉ TELEVISION AND THE GAY BYRNE SHOW ON RTÉ RADIO – WHO DIED ON MONDAY

Gay Byrne was the David Attenborough of Irish society. He opened our eyes and ears and paved a path over the shards of bigotry and judgment with compassion, humour and an innate sense of moderation. And he was kind to Sinéad O’Connor when she found it difficult to be kind to herself. – Avril Ingram London

Back in the 1980s my late father wrote to Gay Byrne about the trials and tribulations of trying to run a small engineering and construction business. Gay responded by asking Dad to come on his programme for 10 minutes. Ten minutes turned into more than 40, and Dad’s talk was voted the most popular item on The Gay Byrne Show that week. We still have it on an old Maxell tape. RIP, Gay, and thanks for giving a voice to the “little people”. – John O’Driscoll

Gay Byrne juxtaposed the conservative with the progressive with divine aplomb. He truly was a pioneer; as a man he made empathy the normal response in my life

I will always remember listening to his radio show as a preteen in the kitchen with my mother. Her nodding approval of his guests’ progressive narrative shaped my life forever. He juxtaposed the conservative with the progressive with divine aplomb. He truly was a pioneer; as a man he made empathy the normal response in my life. – Jim Dempsey Co Dublin

The Late Late Show marked, for me, the beginning of a lifelong obsession with current affairs. Very little has come close to the excitement of waiting to see what would unfold each Friday night and how it would change the way we saw ourselves, our society and the pillars that had underpinned it. This was something I could appreciate even in my very young years, as Gay Byrne had a way of relating to all, young and old, and making us part of the story of a changing Ireland. I was living on a quiet country boreen where the most exciting thing that happened each day was the passing of a car. I always felt an emptiness there and never returned to rural life after I left for college. Yet even in my loneliest times The Late Late Show on a Friday night was a window on to a wider world and made me feel hopeful for the future. – Lorraine M Co Galway

The Gay Byrne Show reunited all 13 Cronin siblings with their parents in 1998
The Gay Byrne Show reunited all 13 Cronin siblings with their parents in 1998

We in the Cronin family of Ballyfermot, in west Dublin, are forever grateful to Gay and his show for the gift of our family homecoming, live on his radio programme, on December 18th, 1998, when he surprised our parents with the reunion of all 13 children under the one roof after 26 years. Seven of us from Australia and one from South Africa were flown in to surprise our parents and five brothers and sisters living in Dublin. It was truly a magical time for our family, one we will never forget. As my mam used to say, “Gay, you’re my hero.” – Deirdre Cronin-O’Connor Sydney

I became part of a troupe of dancers who took part in a documentary on belly dancing in north Dublin. We had great fun dressing up in Arabian costumes for the RTÉ crew. The biggest highlight for me was when the great man himself came to chat to us in the green room. He was wonderfully charismatic and warm – so much so that we were not too disappointed when the film only revealed our bottoms swaying to the music. All those hours of applying make-up for a sharp let-down! It was the early 1980s, however, and exotic dancing in Ireland was too risque for the national appetite. – Anne Marie Hourigan Devon

It was February 1986, three months after the publication of my book The Destruction of Dublin, and I was sitting beside Gaybo on The Late Late Show, wearing a black leather jacket and a thin yellow leather tie, facing a panel that included Frank Feely, who was Dublin city manager at the time, and Sam Stephenson, the notorious architect, discussing the state of the city and what should be done about it. Without that debate the book wouldn’t have become such a bestseller. So, like so many other authors, I’m eternally in Gay Byrne’s debt. – Frank McDonald

He was the epitome of what makes us Irish: warm, loyal, in tune with common man and up for the bit of divilment

My earliest memory is of watching The Late Late Show with my family. I’ve probably watched almost every show ever since. I’m sure some of it was unsuitable for small ears, as my parents would send me on a job during the odd section. As a child it was The Late Late Toy Show, as a teenager the famous bands, the fashion shows, even the antiques night. Then, as an adult, the debates that changed decades of Irish thinking, the many success stories that “started on The Late Late Show”, and the one for everyone in the audience. Gay didn’t just create punchlines. This man from Howth changed the social fabric and was a beacon of light for those of my generation and before in an era so totally unrecognisable today. I loved Gay Byrne for his ability to draw information out of guests in a nice way, for his warmth and for always being on the button and relevant. This was perhaps his greatest feat. He was the epitome of what makes us Irish: warm, loyal, in tune with common man and up for the bit of divilment. Only last week, after 42 years, I finally made it into the Late Late Show audience. When the theme tune began the first person I thought of was Gaybo. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. – Alice O Gorman

During my many years in the hotel business in Lourdes, where we welcomed many thousands of Irish clients, the words I remember most if a (rare!) problem occurred were “Gay Byrne will hear about this!” It was the ultimate sanction. Thankfully, none of the complaints ever reached Gay’s desk – or, at least, were never broadcast. We have mutual friends, and all of us , like the entire country, mourn the passing of a one-off. – Audrey Kasselis

Gay Byrne presenting The Late Late Show in 1966. Photograph: RTÉ
Gay Byrne presenting The Late Late Show in 1966. Photograph: RTÉ

My first reaction when I heard the sad, sad news of Gay’s passing was to ring my mother, who is 87, to sympathise with her. I knew she would feel his loss as keenly as I did. We had both listened to his last broadcast on Lyric FM, three years ago, each of us distant in our own homes but united from 2pm to 4pm in the knowledge that we were both hearing his still wonderful voice entertain and uplift us. I have been a fan since the 1980s, when I was a young mother, homemaker and student both of his radio programme and of the Late Late. He helped liberate Irish society from the dark ages of church-led “values” that distorted the divinely created sex act between a loving couple into an act of shame, with the ultimate sanction of coercing the young mother to part with her baby, a punishment so disproportionate to the “crime”. Thanks to Gay for helping give women a voice in the patriarchal and sometimes misogynist society that was Ireland. – Frances McDonagh Co Roscommon

The night Gay demonstrated how a condom was used I was working at arranging an item for the next segment of The Late Late Show. Gay was heading for a short bathroom break, and I said to him, “You know all the lads will be rolling those on their fingers and saying, ‘Mary, we’re safe tonight.’ He quipped, “At last they are taking precautions.” – Noel Gilmore

During the book segment on one of the Late Late Toy Shows he said, “If you read a book you’ll never be lonely.” I often remember, and pass on, this nugget of truth to my pupils and my own children. He was an inspiration in so many ways. – Helen McBrearty

A pile of us boarders would run over to the dormitories on a Friday night to bag our places in the TV lounge to watch The Late Late Show. It was the only programme apart from the news that we were allowed to watch

My memory is from a long time ago. From 1979 to 1982 I was a boarder at Presentation College Currylea, in Tuam, Co Galway. It was a disciplined and strict regime, and we only got home for the big holidays, spending our weekends in the college. Some girls were from well-off families, so the nuns gave them preferential treatment. I was in the modestly housed bunch, as we were not from a wealthy background. To think of the parents of this lot scrimping and saving to send their daughters to this regime in the hope that they were getting a better start in life from the nuns. My memory is of a pile of us boarders running over to the dormitories on a Friday night to bag our places in the TV lounge to watch The Late Late Show. It was the only programme apart from the news that we were allowed to watch. The TV was tiny and black-and-white. I remember the smell of slippers, body odour and Tayto crisps as we watched the show, all huddled in that small room. We saw U2 for the first time and swooned over Georgie Best... It’s hard to capture the innocence of a different time and era. – Fiona Maye

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Gay Byrne in the Late Late Show studio in 1966. Photograph: RTÉ
Gay Byrne in the Late Late Show studio in 1966. Photograph: RTÉ

When we were growing up in our strange, orange-and-brown 1980s home in Glasnevin, in north Dublin, Gay Byrne was considered godlike by my mother. She devoutly tuned in, in her oddly arranged kitchen, to his morning radio show and shushed you if you uttered a word during the broadcast. Her dinner-time conversations began with “Gay said this morning...”, “Gay thinks that...” and “Gay said today...” My father would lower his newspaper a couple of inches, roll his eyes to heaven and say, “Well, if Gay said so, it must be right!” Friday evening was her favourite time of the week: she’d carefully turn the grey radiator knob a little to the right, to heat up the freezing sitting room, and settle into her fringed, tasselled 1970s green-velvet armchair in anticipation of the Late Late theme music. I’d hear it as I was applying make-up to go out to Tamango’s, back-combing my hair and pulling on my canvas boots, my mother’s laughter filling the icy hallway. She’d usher me out of the door for fear she’d miss a second of Gay and worried I’d let any heat out of the room while saying goodbye. She’d never ask who I was going with or how I was getting home. I’d run out of the door delighted I didn’t have to stay at home and listen to old people yakking on about serious subjects. Gay Byrne’s voice was constant in our home, a comfort blanket and a reminder of our house, like the sound of the doorbell and “I’m home.” My brother gritted his way through college and emigrated in the early 1980s. When he returned he was guaranteed the nostalgic voice of Gay with Superquinn sausages for breakfast. My mam would shush him to listen to her main man regardless of how many miles he’d travelled. Mam was a very quiet, gentle lady from an age when nobody spoke about mental health; she washed clothes in a twin-tub and ironed underwear and socks; and she made mashed potato Monday to Friday, with meat and some overcooked vegetables; occasionally she’d break out with a parsley sauce. She rarely went out and lived quietly and happily in her own world. Even though we slagged her endlessly over her Gay obsession, he filled a void in her otherwise dull life, amusing and entertaining her. He was my mam’s hero. I am so grateful to him for filling her with contentment. Thanks, Gay, for being my mam’s best friend. – Geraldine Murray Co Dublin

Every Rose of Tralee he’d say, ‘My wife, Kathleen, is a redhead. No hair... just a red head.’ Managed to make me laugh no matter how many times I heard it

Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of listening to the Gay Byrne radio show in the kitchen with my mom. I later went on, like most Irish children, to be enthralled by The Late Late Toy Show and finally, as a young adult, to appreciate his inimitable style on The Late Late Show. I loved how he didn’t shy away from topics and brought everyone to the same level – celebrities, politicians, etc – to create a fair playing field. Plus let’s not forget the Rose of Tralee: every year he’d say, ‘My wife, Kathleen, is a redhead. No hair... just a red head.’ Managed to make me laugh no matter how many times I heard it. – Emma Dempsey London

I was invited on a Late Late panel for a show about women working in traditionally male roles – I had recently joined CIÉ as one of the first bus conductors in Dublin. Marilyn French, the American feminist, was on the show too. She had just published The Bleeding Heart. I remember shaking so much it was agreed that I could have a drop of brandy in my coffee. Thanks, Colette. (Roll it there, Colette!) I remember every question Gay asked me and every other detail of that evening. In those days smoking cigarettes was permitted on the show, and my mother had given me a stern warning not to be seen on TV with a cigarette in my fingers. (I did smoke, but I observed the monitors, so the cameras did not catch me.) I now work in Epic, a museum about Irish emigration, and it was with astonishment one day that I was asked to conduct a tour, out of the blue and on the spot. It turned out it was for Gay and Kathleen and friends of theirs. Gay had been going through treatment for his health, but he was still that same Gaybo, and still very much in charge. – Susan Slane

Anne O Neill’s son William with Gay Byrne on O’Connell Street in Dublin
Anne O Neill’s son William with Gay Byrne on O’Connell Street in Dublin

More than 12 years ago, while a student at the National College of Art and Design, my son William spotted Gay Byrne as he waited, hat pulled low across his forehead, to cross O’Connell Street in Dublin. Being a student of fine art, William was armed with his camera. Wasting no time, he sidled up to him and asked if he could have his photograph taken with him. Hesitating for just a second, Gay obligingly stood smiling as William’s companion snapped the pair. When my son thanked him, Gay, observing that he was a little star-struck, said “Ah, son, you’ll have to get over this.” He then continued on his way, no doubt trying to regain a semblance of anonymity. We, as a family, were struck by Gay’s courtesy in allowing William to capture the moment, notwithstanding the intrusion. To this day the photograph has pride of place in our sittingroom. – Anne O Neill Terenure, Dublin

Many years ago, at a rugby match in Wales, I attempted to record Match of the Day on our newly acquired video recorder. To my horror, I discovered I had in fact recorded The Late Late Show. As I watched my recording, a certain Frank Harte appeared and sang The Maid of Cabra West. I stopped and rewound that video, so many times, until I had all the words. Eventually I learned it, and it became my party piece, which I have sung hundreds of times . When asked where I got the song I relate this story; I had hoped, if ever I met Gay, I might tell him. So this is my thank you to him, not just for my song but for all the work he did, and in playing such an important part in all our lives. – Paddy Ryan Co Dublin

In 1994 I was a young first officer at CityJet and was flying with Phil Barriball, a stiff-upper-lip Englishman who was our chief pilot. We were flying between Dublin and London City and had a request for the jump seat from Gay Byrne. Throughout the flight the captain referred to Gay as Terry. This was much to my embarrassment, and I was constantly saying that his name was Gay, not Terry. I think it all went over Gay’s head, though, as he was so excited about his visit to the flight deck. The approach to London City is unique, with great views. At the end of the flight Gay asked was there anything he could do for us. I said that I had many friends in RTÉ and that they could get me anything except tickets for the Late Late. The next day two tickets arrived at CityJet for me. I brought my late mum, who would always tell people about her visit to the Late Late. Some years later I was the captain on a CityJet flight between London City and Strasbourg. In the back were Blind Date, who requested permission to film on board. I granted it on one condition: they get me tickets for Blind Date. The tickets never arrived. I was at the marquee for Gay’s party after his last Late Late, and was the last person to talk to him as he left the tent. I relayed the story above and told him that, unlike Blind Date, Gay was true to his word. – John Rogers Abu Dhabi

We always admired Gaybo’s art in being able first to lay a finger in a festering wound and, moments later, to have us in stitches with a hilarious story

In 1981 my first husband and I bought a derelict cottage in Co Leitrim. We often flew in for a long weekend and were always glued to the telly on Friday nights. Ireland in the 1980s was quite a learning curve for Germans in their early 30s. We especially found the stronghold of the Catholic Church hard to fathom, the fact that Irish women (and men) had no access to birth control. We always admired Gaybo’s art in being able first to lay a finger in a festering wound and, moments later, to have us in stitches with a hilarious story. Maybe it is my age, but today’s version of The Late Late Show is indistinguishable from all the other junk on TV. So thank you, Gaybo, for introducing me to the Irish psyche and way of life. – Claudia Kaufmann

In the 1960s I was a part-time presenter on a part-time RTÉ programme called Home Truths. My then employer was not happy, and I was let go. My wife and I had four children, and my position was precarious. I was delighted when it was suggested that I address RTÉ staff on the issue. I was appalled when everyone drifted away after lunch. Except for one man, Gay Byrne. He said that he had £1,000 left in his budget and that I was welcome to join the Late Late as a researcher. Working for Gay turned out to be one of the happiest jobs. A star, kind and modest. – Joe MacAnthony Co Dublin

Gay Byrne on RTÉ radio in 1979. Photograph: Eddie Kelly
Gay Byrne on RTÉ radio in 1979. Photograph: Eddie Kelly

Despite having harboured a cool, on-trend teenage rejection of Uncle Gaybo, when I was faced with him in my late 20s, on the top floor of RTÉ, I was instantly won over by this charismatic, charming man, who seemed to float the length of the corridor towards me. When he learned I was in Montrose for training before joining Lyric FM he welcomed me to the RTÉ family as warmly as if I were to be part of his own show’s crew. The goodness just glowed in him. In 20 seconds he melted all residue of teenage coolness, and I felt a right fool. It is rare to meet such a bright soul. – Tanya Ni Ceirin

Whenever I hear the Gay Byrne radio-show jingle and his voice I’m back in the kitchen, age three and up, with with my mother. He was part of all our lives in Ireland when there were only a couple of TV and radio stations. We will never see his like again. I feel like a part of my childhood died today. – Aoife Moore Co Dublin

As a boarding student at Wesley College in Dublin in the 1960s, a highlight of my week was being allowed to watch The Late Late Show. It was not only fun; it was truly educational. I still recall learning of world events in a memorable manner. Gay Byrne was indeed a national treasure. – Douglas Syme Arizona

Kathleen, it should be well with your soul that you were the one to live this amazing life with your beloved Gay

Back in 1967, while still in St Louis’ Secondary School, I was asked to sing on The Late Late Show by Pan Collins, his researcher. Gay had heard about me winning the Oireachtas feis with an Irish song, Fill, fill a rûn ó. Fast-forward to 2017 and a cousin told me that her father was so proud of the way Gay introduced me that night that it brought tears to his eyes. She said it was the way he said “Mary Cooney”. It brought tears to my eyes as well. I loved how Gay would call his wife, Kathleen, after the show and get her opinion. I got her thumbs-up. A second visit to The Late Late Show was when I sang as soloist with the Young Dublin Singers and we had just recorded the soundtrack for Wanderly Wagon, the children’s programme. Gay remembered me and showed a genuine interest in our group. I was home from New Jersey last November and watched the Late Late when Kathleen came on to talk about her book and introduce a group of young harpists which included her granddaughter. Her words about Gay and his health were beautiful, and she demonstrated again why so great a man would wind up with so beautiful a soul, even though the grandchildren lovingly described her as daft. I enjoy being daft with my grand children too. Kathleen, it should be well with your soul that you were the one to live this amazing life with your beloved Gay. May he rest in peace. – Mary Lyons (nee Cooney) New Jersey

Gay Byrne with the Harley-Davidson that Larry Mullen and Bono of U2 gave him on his final Late Late Show, in 1999. Photograph: Peter Rowen
Gay Byrne with the Harley-Davidson that Larry Mullen and Bono of U2 gave him on his final Late Late Show, in 1999. Photograph: Peter Rowen

My first memory of Gay Byrne is from the late (Late Late) 1970s, via parentally sanctioned transgressions that allowed me to sneak down from my bed, while my younger sister was fast asleep, to watch the show on a Saturday night – only to be hooshed up the stairs again if something unsuitable was on. I managed to be in a Late Late audience in 1997 with the aforementioned sister, and we headed home with two 20lb hams for Christmas. Gay could interview real stars, real celebrities, who were on the show to talk, not sell. Since his retirement, in 1999, I don’t think I have sat through a full episode of The Late Late Show. I wonder whether he will have to account for what Stephen Fry said now that he has reached those Pearly Gates. RIP, Uncle Gaybo – Edward Crean

Gay Byrne was at heart a reactionary, part of the establishment. Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s was dominated by poverty and the Catholic Church, and Gay Byrne, despite his platform, did little or nothing to challenge that. The Irish Times is wrong to suggest otherwise, though The Irish Times could never have been accused of being progressive in those days itself. – John Scully France

In the 1960s Gay presented a Saturday-afternoon radio programme where people sent in an object and he’d play a song relevant to it. A listener sent in a dead flea, probably expecting Gay to play Spanish Flea, which was a hit for Herb Alpert at the time. It appears that this was not the first flea he had received, so instead he played PJ Proby’s hit song You’ve Come Back. – Des Bluett Co Galway

There were so many topics – political, religious, social, economic, philosophical – that, unknown to us, we were educated and liberated

His voice became part of the soundtrack of my life. I listened in the 1970s in my mother’s kitchen, then, when rearing my own family, tuned in each morning, as he kept me company, as he did so many others, while the children were at school. There were so many topics – political, religious, social, economic, philosophical – that, unknown to us, we were educated and liberated. At some point in the week somebody would say, “Did you hear Gay Byrne..?” Could anyone who heard it ever forget Ann Lovett’s story? After The Gay Byrne Show finished what a delight to discover his Lyric FM show each Sunday. Now, older, wiser and a bit more relaxed, I could sit and hear again that perfect pronunciation, his quirky taste in music, his ever-accurate reviews of theatre, poetry, places visited, all of which made us listeners feel we were his firm friends. With the ease of email we could contact him and almost immediately have a response from the man himself, on air. As I listened to his final show, that November afternoon, when he casually signed off, saying he needed some tests, there was a collective gasp from his listening family. I’m deeply saddened this evening, and struggling to be light-hearted in my memories of the giggles we shared. For now I’m finding it easier to honour and thank him for being my teacher, guide, entertainer, mentor and intellectual bridge from the Ireland of old to the 21st century. Rest in peace, old friend – Evelyn Hamm

Gay Byrne on Lyric FM in 2013. Photograph: Alan Betson
Gay Byrne on Lyric FM in 2013. Photograph: Alan Betson

Gay and I shared a great achievement: we both learned to swim as adults – a scary thing indeed. In 1993 I wrote to The Gay Byrne Show about my experience of going to my first swimming lesson, and Gay read out the letter. A proud moment for me. Gay went on to explain to his listeners that he too had learned to swim as an adult and that he could completely empathise with me about how hard that was. As a result of him reading out several more of my letters, on many topics, I took up creative writing, and am still writing to this day. Gay’s words of encouragement, and the sense of satisfaction I got from the fact that he thought enough of my writing to read out my letters, have inspired me ever since. I hope to soon publish a children’s novel, and I look forward to acknowledging Gay’s part in this achievement. A true legend. Total gentleman. There will never be the like of him again. – Valerie Wade

Back when I was a young reporter on the Evening Press he had butter-yellow curls, more confidence than the rest of us (or so it seemed, because none of us had much confidence then) and something special about him that should have made us realise he was going places. And so he was! – Joy Martin

In 1969, after graduating from University College Dublin, I was briefly employed as a programme researcher at RTÉ. I got to know Gay’s legendary researcher Pan Collins and often joined them for a cuppa in the Montrose canteen. Gay was an absolutely charming man, and he came across as highly intuitive and intelligent, possessing genuine empathy. Discovering I had a yen for creative writing, he encouraged me to submit humorous material for his radio show, which I continued to do for some years after moving to other employment. The feedback he gave me was invaluable. Gay was a totemic figure in Irish life, a brilliant broadcaster and a genuinely nice person. – John O’Byrne Co Dublin

As a new mother in 1980s Ireland I had given up my job to stay home and be the perfect mum. Gay Byrne helped me accept that the going was tough at times, to feel part of the wider world and to forgive myself for being human

As a new mother in 1980s Ireland I had given up my job to stay home and be the perfect mum. Gay Byrne helped me realise and accept that, as for many more young mothers, the going was tough at times. I listened to him every morning and felt part of the wider world – and forgave myself for being human. I still have his Halloween brack recipe, and baked it for last Thursday. I am now 61, and I continue to appreciate his influence on Irish society. – Maria O’Brien Co Waterford

In November 2003 my wife and I attended an interview that Gay held with Neil Armstrong at the National Concert Hall. Neil did not have the greatest reputation as a speaker and was particularly nervous at the outset. Gay was protective and gentle, and coaxed his life story out of him as if they were all alone in the snug of a country pub. By the end of the hour or so you really felt that you knew Neil Armstrong the man. Only an interviewer as skilled as Gay could effortlessly guide a subject from reticent nervous guest to articulate and passionate raconteur of his life and interests. It was amazing to observe an expert at work. The interview was the memory of a lifetime. – Declan Roche

I was born in Limerick towards the end of the 1970s and Gay Byrne was ever present in our house growing up. His passing has affected me greatly, more than I expected, which has taken me by surprise. I never personally met the man in real life, but feel I knew him from my childhood days listening to him on the radio in the kitchen, to The Late Late Show and of course most recently with The Meaning of Life show. Those words in the opening intro of The Late Late Show with the owl and the music are embedded into the conscience of anyone brought up in Ireland during those years. It is the end of an era. Rest in peace Gay. – Geoffrey O'Shaughnessy Toronto

My memories of Gay Byrne are of his humour and wit on his morning radio show while I was doing a PhD in Manchester. He was a great mimic and, with all the letters that were coming into the programme, articulated the voice of rural Ireland – and celebrated its ups and downs. In this way he kept the diaspora connected to the old country. He was also tremendously brave in tackling the accepted orthodoxies in post-independence Ireland, which he always did in a gentle way on The Late Late Show. He was a great listener, and that is why his interviews were so revealing and why everybody who came to Dublin wanted to be on the show. Ireland has lost one of his bravest defenders. – Prof Margaret Stack Glasgow

Some of these contributions have been shortened