Voice of Ireland Gay Byrne dies

Ireland’s best known TV and radio broadcaster Gay Byrne, aka Gaybo, has died, age 85. In a statement, his family said: “It is with sadness that Kathleen, Crona and Suzy wish to announce that their beloved Gay has died peacefully at home today, surrounded by his family. We wish to thank everybody for their love and support during Gay’s illness. Particularly the wonderful teams in the Mater Hospital, St Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society”.

He started presenting the Late Late Show in 1962. It went on to become one of the world’s longest running chat shows with such notable guests as former EU Commissioner Pádraig Flynn who spoke about his European salary and lifestyle and Annie Murphy, who had had a child with Bishop Eamonn Casey. The show also featured discussions on issues such as divorce, abortion and LGBTQ, which were then rarely spoken about on Irish TV.

He also hosted a long-running radio show on RTÉ Radio 1, first known as the Gay Byrne Hour and then the Gay Byrne Show, which he called “The Town Hall of the Air”. Listeners were encouraged to write in and phone the show with comments and with their own stories. A native Dubliner, Gay Byrne grew up in Dublin 8 and attended Synge Street CBS.

Before joining Raidió Eireann in the late 1950s, he worked on sponsored shows. As Hugh Oram wrote in The Advertising Book, Desmond O’Kennedy of O’Kennedy Brindley (OKB) gave him his first break presenting the Urney’s chocolate show. He was an instant success and after quitting his day job with Guardian Insurance, he hosted the show for nine years.

He moved to Granada Television in Manchester where he worked on current affairs and entertainment shows, interviewing acts including The Beatles. For a time he commuted between Dublin and UK, working for both the BBC and RTÉ but came back to Ireland full time in 1967 as presenter and producer of the Late Late Show.

Other shows he presented included the Rose of Tralee and the Calor Housewife of the Year competition. Byrne hosted his final daily radio show in 1998 and his final Late Late Show the following summer. However, he did not retire fully from public life, becoming chairman of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and presenting The Meaning of Life.

In one show in the series, an interview with British actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry made international headlines due to his guest’s controversial comments on atheism. Gay Byrne returned to his first love, radio, and presented a regular jazz show each Sunday on Lyric FM up to the time he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

Gay Byrne pictured with RTÉ current affairs presenter Claire Byrne  

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