Gay Byrne, TV star who ‘challenged Irish society’, dies aged 85

Tributes pour in for host of long-running, taboo-breaking The Late Late Show.BUT NOT ONE FROM MR MARBELLA AS THE LATE SHOW WAS THE SHOW HE LUSTED FOR BUT WHEN GAY RETIRED HE AND THE NETWORK MADE SURE HE DID NOT GET IT. SAD REALLY AS HE COULD HAVE GOT IT BUT HE TREAD ON TOO MANY TOES .If the truth were know his religion was not the right one for ireland and the network possibly.

Gay Byrne with his wife Kathleen in 2004.
 Gay Byrne with his wife Kathleen in 2004. Photograph: Jeremy Craine/Rex/Shutterstock

It was said there was no sex in Ireland until the The Late Late Show, and for that a nation owed thanks to Gay Byrne.

Generations grew up watching the host of RTÉ’s long-running chatshow blend light entertainment with current affairs and taboo-shattering moments, a cultural rendezvous that dominated Friday night viewing and presaged a new Ireland.

The Gay Byrne era officially ended on Monday when he died at home in Dublin, surrounded by family, aged 85. Tributes flowed.

“Through his work in radio and on television he challenged Irish society, and shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life,” said the president, Michael D Higgins. “In doing so, he became one of the most familiar and distinctive voices of our times, helping shape our conscience, our self-image, and our idea of who we might be.”

Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach, said: “The story of his remarkable contribution to Irish life is the story of how we changed and evolved as a society over the past 60 years. A consummate entertainer, he also provided a voice for all those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up, and he forced us to confront things that needed to be challenged in our society.”

Ireland had braced for the death of Uncle Gaybo, as many called him, since he revealed he had prostate cancer in 2016.

Byrne hosted The Late Late Show from 1962 to 1999, one of the world’s longest chatshow runs, as well as a radio show and other gigs such as the Rose of Tralee.

Gay Byrne in 1962.
 Gay Byrne in 1962. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

He was an affable everyman who could banter with guests and audiences while precipitating controversy in a socially conservative society dominated by the Catholic church.

During a quiz item for married couples in 1966 Byrne asked a contestant what colour nightie she had worn on the night of her honeymoon. She hadn’t worn any, she replied.

The bishop of Clonfert, Thomas Ryan, protested in what became known as as the “bishop and the nightie” incident, splitting the country into those who were scandalised and those who roared laughing.

A prominent Fine Gael politician, Oliver Flanagan, was among the former. “Sex never came to Ireland until Telefís Éireann went on the air,” he said.

Byrne seemed equally at home interviewing celebrities, children during the Christmas toy show or guests with stories about seldom-discussed topics such as divorce, abortion and sexual identity. There were awkward moments – not shaking the hands of Gerry Adams; patronising Annie Murphy, who had had a child with a bishop, Eamonn Casey.

Moya Doherty, the chair of RTÉ, said Byrne had worked during a golden age for television and radio when Ireland was grappling with change.

“Gay brought two unique gifts. He was able to see around societal corners and predict what the next emerging social, political, or cultural issue was, the new issue which needed to be brought to the public stage, whatever the ensuing controversy. Most importantly Gay was a listener. He did not so much interview as allow his guests to almost interview themselves while he listened carefully interjecting only to push them on key points.”

Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, said Byrne had left an indelible mark on Irish society. “His intellect and emotional intelligence was unparalleled and his ability to sensitively approach delicate and sometimes controversial issues set him apart from other presenters.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s