Remembering Gay Byrne
A chara, – An appearance on the Late Late Show guaranteed almost instant household-name status to any artist who appeared on it. It is difficult to explain the cultural and sociological significance of Gay Byrne both on radio and television to anybody under the age of 30. In the past, in pre-internet Ireland, television was a live collective experience. You could reasonably start a conversation with, “What did you think of so and so on the Late Late?”, knowing that it would have been watched.
Television was what it can never be again, an almost theatrical moment that instinctively you knew would never be repeated again. No doubt we watched with greater attention then. Now, like so many things, it has become a privatised and personally customised experience. We watch when we choose in our own time, often alone. The demise of television as a shared experience is one example of the erosion of a sense of community that is not explored often enough.
The argument that television destroyed much community is a well-worn idea but the reverse is also true, that pre-internet television fostered a profound sense of the collective too. The Late Late was at the centre of that. It was there to be argued with, agreed with, outraged by, entertained by, and shocked by. No other programme could silence the banter in a pub and during the ads have the clientele debate what was being discussed on the show.
That Ireland is buried now in the silence of the smartphone.
Gay Byrne was arguably more cunning and perhaps even more influential than any politician the country has ever produced. He was as slippery as an eel, one moment urbane, the next self-deprecating, often disguising his own sharp intelligence. Sometimes cruel or even patronising and often brilliant and incisive. He was one of the most gifted and empathetic listeners ever. That sense of being many things is a trait not much in vogue in our very divided age.
Everybody my age had that awkward Late Late moment at home in the 1970s and 1980s when watching it with our parents and a topic came on that was then controversial. An interview with a flamboyantly gay David Norris, a demonstration of how to use a condom, an interview with a gay couple years before legislation, Eamonn McCann telling it like it was on the North of Ireland. Many of the social reforms that have been legislated for in recent years started as Late Late studio discussions and in turn living-room debates. In many ways the Late Late was our social media and our internet before we had them, and in an ironic sense, it was, for better or for ill, a more communal place, and the loss of that community is something we fill so much of our time on social media lamenting.
Anybody writing the social history of the country will have to consider Gay Byrne as one of the key figures of modern Ireland.
If we find some of it awkward and cringe-inducing or even shameful to watch and remember, it is because our past is exactly that mix of emotions and we remember our place, part and role in that Ireland that is now gone. – Is mise,
BILLY Ó HANLUAIN,
Dublin 12 .
Sir, – Gay Byrne was a constant broadcasting presence, even if only in the background, of my regular childhood visits to Dublin grandparents from my home in London.
Gay retired from his signature Friday evening show several years after I permanently moved to Ireland. And I tuned in regularly while he was still in the presenter’s chair. After all, I was still “a blow-in” and watching the Late Late Show felt like it was a valuable part of acclimatising to my new surroundings. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – For all the wit and elegance of his Late Late Show, and the breadth of his Radio 1 programmes, what I remember with most affection was his time on Lyric FM. – Is mise,
ANNA WYN BRYAN,
Sir, – A lone voice when Ireland was stuck under the control of the Catholic Church. He had so much gentle influence that made such a difference when people started to think for themselves. Thank you, Gay. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Listening to the sad news of Gaybo’s passing and hearing the theme tune to his radio show transported me back to my Nana’s kitchen with its orange curtains and smell of homemade brown bread.
May he rest in peace. – Yours, etc,
Straffan, Co Kildare.
Sir, – The passing of Gay Byrne reminds me of his enormous influence on our life experience right from the 1960s. As a Northerner I needed educating in what Ireland was all about, from history to culture to attitudes to almost everything else .
Gay Byrne provided that so well in an accessible way that opened up our minds and made us more understanding of each other, whatever our creed or credentials. Thank you, Gay, for making this a better life and a much better place. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Gay entertained us in a way that made him famous for 15 minutes, every day, for 40 years. – Is mise,
Sir, – Gay Byrne’s spoken English was flawless. His diction was perfect while maintaining a definite Irish accent. Clearly Gay knew that his broadcasting message would be more effective if it were delivered faultlessly, and his effectiveness as a presenter and journalist will never be forgotten. – Yours, etc,