Gay shaped a nation’s conversation for decades




When the broadcasting revolution happened in Ireland in 1989 – when legal local radio began – those of us who were interested in current affairs had a template for our work – and that was Gay Byrne. If you wanted to know how to do it than you could look no further than ‘Uncle Gaybo’, because he was simply the best.

  His passing on Monday has led to an outpouring of sorrow and more importantly respect, the like of which is seldom seen in this country – and it is well merited too.

  I was not a massive fan of Gay Byrne as I felt that he was condescending and intolerant at times when people disagreed with him, but there is no doubt that he more than anyone else shaped a nation’s conversation for decades.

  Since his passing on Monday, I have heard some people say that he was in the right place at the right time as there was little opposition when he as at his peak. RTÉ had the radio and TV sectors to themselves and he had a captive audience, but I think that is unfair on Gay Byrne. He still needed to have the skill to engineer the debate that was so badly needed in this country and he was a master at that.

  He raised issues that were never discussed in public in this country before and the women of the country hung on every word that he uttered on his radio and TV programme. He raised and took on issues that at the time no one else would have dared to. What I admired about Gay Byrne most of all was his fearlessness. If he thought the issue was relevant he discussed it and he didn’t care who didn’t like it.

  In fact Gay Byrne took the pressure off governments and major organisations in this country because he was addressing issues, particularly social issues like homosexuality, birth control, divorce, sexual and physical abuse and rural isolation. They were issues that the powers that be in the ‘70s and ‘80s were shying away from. But not Gay. If it was relevant, he took it on. He shone a light into the many dark corners of Irish society and we are a better country for it.

  He was obviously a man who loved broadcasting. After he retired he went on to present programmes like ‘The Meaning of Life’ and a radio show on Lyric FM. He had a brilliant broadcasting voice and those who worked on his shows always said that he was a hard taskmaster and a perfectionist.

  I never met Gay Byrne but I grew up with him. Every Saturday night ‘The Late Late Show’ was essential viewing in our house, as it was all over the country. His radio show was listened to by the majority of the women in the country and he rarely disappointed. Someone said this week that when the husbands walked out the door to go to work, Gay Byrne walked in with his radio show.

   More than anyone else Gay Byrne has been instrumental in this country growing up and becoming more accountable in a number of very important areas. He was an incredibly skilful broadcaster who knew how to get the best out of ordinary people and believe me that is a very difficult thing to do.

  The word legend is bandied about far too often in the media when people pass away but I can think of no more appropriate term for Gay Byrne. He was a broadcasting legend.

May he rest in peace.