Gay Byrne in 2008
5 August 1934 |
|Residence||Sandymount, Dublin 4, Ireland|
|Other names||Uncle Gay,
|Education||Rialto National School,
Synge Street CBS,
Honorary doctorate in literature from Trinity College, Dublin (1988)
|Occupation||Broadcaster of radio and television|
|Employer||Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ)|
|Notable work(s)||The Late Late Show,
The Late Late Toy Show,
The Gay Byrne Show,
Rose of Tralee,
People in Need Telethon,
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,
The Meaning of Life,
For One Night Only
Board member of
|Chairman of the Road Safety Authority (2006–)|
|Spouse(s)||Kathleen Watkins (1964–present)|
Gabriel Mary "Gay" Byrne (born 5 August 1934; affectionately known as Uncle Gay, Gaybo or Uncle Gaybo) is a veteran Irish presenter of radio and television. His most notable role was first host of The Late Late Show over a 37-year period spanning 1962 until 1999. The Late Late Show is the world's longest-running chat show. His time working in Britain with Granada Television saw him become the first person to introduce The Beatles on screen.
From 1973 until 1998, Byrne presented The Gay Byrne Hour—later The Gay Byrne Show when it expanded to two hours—on RTÉ Radio 1 each weekday morning. Since retiring from his long-running radio and television shows, Byrne has presented several other programmes, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, The Meaning of Life and For One Night Only on RTÉ One and Sunday Serenade/Sunday with Gay Byrne on RTÉ lyric fm. In 2006 he was elected Chairman of Ireland's Road Safety Authority. Since retiring he has become the "Elder Lemon of Irish broadcasting".
In 2010, The Irish Times said Byrne was "unquestionably the most influential radio and television man in the history of the Irish State". In 2011, he was approached to become President of Ireland but declined to run, despite topping opinion polls.
Byrne is the son of Edward Byrne, who joined the Irish Volunteers in 1912, and subsequently joined the 19th Hussars, Infantry Division, at the commencement of World War I. He later fought during the Irish War of Independence. He fought throughout most of the War, including at O'Connell Street. Shortly after the War, Edward Byrne was employed by Guinness' St. James's Gate Brewery where he worked for most of the rest of his life. He worked on the barges that operated on the river Liffey, transporting wooden casks from St. James's Gate Brewery to ships at the North Wall, Dublin. Edward Byrne was the son of Alexander Byrne, a coachman to the Earl of Meath, who lived at a lodge on the Earl's estate near Kilruddery, County Wicklow.
Byrne's father, Edward, married his mother, Annie Carroll (from Bray), at Belfast, in 1917, when briefly home on leave from the War. The two had met near Bray just before the War began. Both of them were from County Wicklow. Gay Byrne is the youngest of six children from that marriage. However, one child, his brother Joseph, died as a one-week old infant. Listed in descending order (according to age), the other children are Edward, Al, Ernest, and Mary.
Byrne was born on 5 August 1934 and grew up in Dublin. He first lived with his family at 17 Rialto Street, Rialto, Dublin, before his parents moved to 124 (later renumbered 512) South Circular Road, Dublin, in 1944. Byrne's mother, Annie, died in late 1964.
Byrne attended Rialto National School (since closed) and a number of other schools for short periods. Subsequently, he was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers at Synge Street CBS. He and two classmates bought a jazz record when Byrne was fourteen years old in January 1948, at a time when Radio Éireann refused to play it because of its "licentious" content. In December 2009, Byrne returned to his old primary school on Synge Street to launch an online children's book club, and read an extract from Marita Conlon-McKenna's storybook In Deep Dark Wood.
After attending Synge Street CBS, Byrne worked at the North Strand cinema. He subsequently became a clerk in an insurance company. He then worked as a sales representative. He also met foreign dignitaries at Dublin Airport and welcomed them to Ireland. In 2009, whilst celebrating the 250th anniversary of Guinness, he revealed that he had once tried unsuccessfully to earn a job in the brewery near his childhood home.
Whilst young, Byrne was inspired by the broadcaster Eamonn Andrews, who had a successful career on British television, and "wanted to be what he was". Andrews was friendly with Byrne's eldest brother. In 1958 he moved over to broadcasting when he became a presenter on Radio Éireann. He also worked with Granada Television and the BBC in England. Whilst at Granada, Byrne became the first person to introduce The Beatles on television when they made their small screen debut on local news programme People and Places. In 1961, Telefís Éireann (later Radio Telefís Éireann and now Raidió Teilifís Éireann) was set up. Byrne finally worked exclusively for the new Irish service after 1969. He introduced many popular programmes, with his most popular and successful programme being The Late Late Show.
The Late Late Show
On 5 July 1962, the first episode of The Late Late Show was aired on Irish television. Originally the show was scheduled as an eight-week summer filler. The programme, which is still broadcast, has become the world's longest running chat show. The show became a forum where controversial topics such as the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, contraception, AIDS, unemployment, homosexuality, abortion, divorce, and other hitherto taboo subjects were discussed openly in Ireland, alongside book reviews, celebrity visits, and music acts like The Boomtown Rats, U2, Sinéad O'Connor, Elkie Brooks, Boyzone, and Noel Gallagher. Other guests included Presidents of Ireland, successive Archbishops of Armagh, minor members of the British Royal Family, politicians, actors, authors and countless others.
The show had much to do in shaping the new Ireland that was emerging from the 1960s. Indeed it was famously said by politician and Papal Knight, Oliver J. Flanagan that, "there was no sex in Ireland until Teilifís Éireann went on the air". Bishop of Galway Michael Browne called him "a purveyor of filth" after he asked a woman what colour nightie she wore on her wedding night and she had replied that she believed she'd worn nothing. However, Byrne saw himself as a presenter, not a radical social reformer, though his style was more challenging and less deferential than the style of his successor as presenter of The Late Late Show, Pat Kenny.
More than a decade after departing his role as host of The Late Late Show Byrne is remembered for conducting memorable interviews with former politician Pádraig Flynn and then Bishop of Galway Eamon Casey's lover Annie Murphy, among others. Another memorable moment to occur on The Late Late Show was when he called the winner of a prize car live on air only to discover the woman's daughter had died since she had entered.
During the early years of Byrne's time hosting The Late Late Show, prior to about 1978 when the second national Irish TV channel was launched, he was employed by RTÉ on a continuously renewing 3-month contract, lest his employer might want to fire him any time they choose.
On 21 May 1999, Byrne presented his last edition of The Late Late Show. He was presented with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle by Bono and Larry Mullen, Jr. Pat Kenny succeeded Byrne as presenter in September 1999, subsequently succeeded by Ryan Tubridy in September 2009. Byrne gave Tubridy his blessing upon taking over the role, saying: "He has all the qualities required, the light deft touch together with a serious mind. I think it's a great adventure that he's setting off on". Byrne returned to The Late Late Show as a guest twice during Tubridy's first season as presenter, the latter appearance on the day of Gerry Ryan's death.
Byrne began his broadcasting career on radio.
He is now best remembered for his two-hour morning show, The Gay Byrne Hour, which was later renamed The Gay Byrne Show (1972–1999). For many years the show was produced by John Caden. Joe Duffy was a reporter on The Gay Byrne Show and subsequently succeeded him as presenter.
Byrne has featured on radio occasionally during his "retirement" years – in 2006, he began presenting a weekly Sunday afternoon show entitled Sunday Serenade on RTÉ lyric fm. Since 2010, he can be heard playing Jazz on Sunday afternoons on lyric fm. This show began after an encounter with Head of lyric fm Aodán Ó Dubhghaill at the National Concert Hall. Sunday with Gay Byrne attracted 55,000 listeners through "word of mouth": no advertising and no mention in the RTÉ Guide. Byrne once commented on the emptiness of RTÉ at this time of the week:
|“||As soon as Marian finishes at one [o' clock], there is a clear-out. There are a couple of fellas down the corridor doing sport, and that is about it. You have the place to yourself and it is wonderful".||”|
Other television work
Byrne compered the finals of the Castlebar Song Contest in 1966 and 1967. He also presented The Rose of Tralee festival for 17 years until 1994. Between 1988 and 2001, Byrne hosted the RTÉ People in Need Telethon several times.
Since "retiring", Byrne has appeared regularly on television. He hosted for one season, the Irish version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. He also hosted The Gay Byrne Music Show and Make 'Em Laugh, a series about comedy in Ireland, Gaybo's Grumpy Men and Class Reunion. In the summer season of 2000, Byrne hosted The Gay Byrne Music Show, which was a studio-based show aired on Saturday nights as a summer filler between 8 July and 19 August 2000 and showcased all genres of music in the company of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. In April 2009, RTÉ One began broadcasting a series called The Meaning of Life, during which Gay Byrne interviewed public figures about issues of meaning and life. He prefers not to discuss his own faith:
|“||I am not going to say, because it would compromise me in terms of the show if people knew I had a position. What you find is that they are all searching. No one has the truth.||”|
In 2011, he presented more summer filler light entertainment in the form of For One Night Only.
In March 2006, Byrne was appointed as the Chairman of the Irish Road Safety Authority, a public body given the task of improving road safety in the Republic of Ireland. The role has seen him visit hospitalised survivors alongside then President of Ireland Mary McAleese.
In "retirement", Byrne has continued to make his political views known, including questioning then Taoiseach Brian Cowen and "whether you can be Taoiseach and still sit up and have a pint in the local pub. You have to dignify the office". In recent years he has become known for his anti-EU stance. Bookmakers suggested Byrne might become Mayor of Dublin.
In August 2011, Byrne was approached by the once dominant political party Fianna Fáil as a possible independent nominee for that year's Irish presidential election. The media advised Byrne, who had enjoyed an avuncular relationship with the public as a performer over many decades, against such a move. An editorial in the Irish Independent said that
This isn't some sort of a reality TV show but a contest for the highest office in the land.
The Irish Times queried the distinction between Byrne as a performer versus Byrne as an individual.
But who is it that the Irish people really love? Is it Gaybo or Gabriel Byrne? Given they don’t really know the man himself – a man who has retained his privacy throughout a lifetime of fame – the love is surely for the persona rather than the person.
 Byrne topped polls as the candidate people were most likely to vote for.
On 13 August 2011, Byrne announced that he would not be a candidate for the Presidency. Appearing later on TV3's Midweek programme he called Martin McGuinness, formerly of the IRA who was contesting the election as a representative of Sinn Féin, a "liar".
Byrne performed a one-man show in front of a sold-out audience at the Gate Theatre on 18 September 2011. The performance was part of a benefit night to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society. British Ambassador Julian King and Senator David Norris were among those in attendance.
"To Whom It Concerns" was published in 1972. "The Time of My Life" which was co-written with Deirdre Purcell was published in 1989. 
Byrne is married to Kathleen Watkins, formerly a well-known harpist. Byrne first met Kathleen Watkins, a native of Saggart, Co. Dublin, in 1957. They married in the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saggart, in 1964. The couple have two daughters (both adopted). They are called Suzy and Crona. The Byrne family lived on Howth Head in Dublin but have, in recent years, lived in Sandymount in Dublin. Byrne became a grandfather on 15 September 2004 when Suzy gave birth to a boy at Holles Street Hospital.
Byrne relied on an accountant friend, Russell Murphy, to manage his finances, and was personally distraught when upon the accountant's death in 1986, it was found that most of his savings had been squandered, and this had been hidden from him.
He is a qualified private pilot.
Honours and awards
- In 1988, Byrne was awarded an honorary doctorate in letters from Trinity College, Dublin.
- In 1999 he was granted the Freedom of the City of Dublin.
- He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in February 2007 from Irish Film and Television Network.
- He holds the record for the greatest number of Jacob's Awards received, winning a total of six for his radio and television work.
- He was appointed chairman of the Road Safety Authority in Ireland in 2006.
- Outstanding Achievement PPI Radio Award (2009) "The only surprise is that it has taken so long for Gaybo to get it".
- Marking RTÉ's 50th anniversary in 2011, Byrne appeared on a postage stamp, part of a set of three that also featured Anne Doyle and Emma O'Driscoll.
- A wax figure of Gay Byrne has been put on public display at Wax Museum Plus on Dublin's College Green.
Byrne is credited with being a catalyst in the transformation of Irish society since the 1960s. He has broken several Irish social taboos by discussing topics like contraception, homosexuality, and abortion and is considered "a catalyst for social change". When Barry Galvin, then as Cork's state solicitor, appeared on The Late Late Show with Gay Byrne in 1992 to speak of the increasing problems Ireland was experiencing with the illegal drug trade, he was subsequently given the post of first ever head of the important Criminal Assets Bureau. Byrne is, alongside Terry Wogan, one of Ireland's two most notable broadcasters, but also described as "the most famous Irish broadcaster in history", lauded by the media as "the man who changed Ireland".
According to the Irish Examiner, Gay Byrne has "had more influence on changing life in this country than any of the political leaders", including Taoisigh W. T. Cosgrave, Éamon de Valera and John A. Costello as well as Ruairi O Bradaigh, John Charles McQuaid, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland for over 30 years. A 1998 poll found Byrne level with notorious former Taoiseach Charles Haughey as the most hated public figure in Ireland but Byrne was also named the most popular public figure in the same poll.
- Byrne, Gay (13 February 2010). "The chameleon of Montrose". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 13 February 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
- Sweeney, Ken (19 September 2011). "'Masterful' Uncle Gay enthralls full house". Irish Independent. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
- O'Brien, Jason (2 October 2009). "Radio Veteran Gay is walking on air". Irish Independent. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
- "Dima performs at The Late Late Show". Eurovision. 31 May 2008. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- "Paisley on RTÉ's Late Late Show". BBC News. 24 January 2009. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- "Late Late show getting new face". BBC News. 12 May 2009. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- "Kenny's final viewer figures released". The Irish Times. 2 June 2009. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- Questions are sometimes raised over whether The Tonight Show on US television, which began broadcasting in 1954, should be described as the longest running. However there is little continuity between the show launched in 1954 and the current format, with the show existing under different guises and names ('Tonight' and 'Tonight! America after Dark' are just two of its names in its early years). The show in its different formats ran as a variety show, then as a news show that was modelled on breakfast show, before adopting the current format and the name The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson took over as permanent presenter in October 1962, some months after The Late Late Show was launched. Having kept the same name and format continuously, The Late Late Show is perceived in the media as more entitled to the term "the longest running show".
- Courtney, Kevin (23 January 2010). "In God, we curry flavour". The Irish Times. Retrieved 14 February 2010. "There’s no special trick to Gay’s interview technique – it’s his status as the Elder Lemon of Irish broadcasting that elicits your trust. You can’t imagine this format working with anyone who isn’t already familiar with Gay’s paternal persona. If he asked an American to talk about their faith, he might get the answer: “Well, Jay, in my new movie, coming to a cinema near you, my character is very much on a spiritual journey.”"
- "Broadcaster Gay Byrne tipped for Irish presidency". BBC News. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- McDonald, Henry (7 August 2011). "Gay Byrne considers standing for Irish presidency". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 August 2011.
- Byrne, The Time of My Life, p. 5
- Byrne, The Time of My Life, pp 6 – 7, & pp 11 – 12.
- Byrne, The Time of My Life, p. 18
- Irish Examiner, 5 August 2004. (The Irish Examiner is an Irish newspaper).
- Byrne, The Time of My Life, p. 89
- Hickey, Shane (2 December 2009). "Gay top of class as he launches online children's book club". Irish Independent. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
- "Gay remembers life in the Liberties". Dublin People. 26 November 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
- "Gay Byrne, this is not quite your life". The Sunday Business Post. 6 February 2005. Retrieved 30 July 2009.
- "Gay Byrne talks Tubridy and Late Late Show". RTÉ. 17 August 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
- Public discussion of.
- Bielenberg, Kim (29 December 2001). "From polygamy and orgies to the Late, Late 'scandals'". Irish Independent. Retrieved 17 September 2009.
- "The Sex Factor". Irish Independent. 7 October 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- RTÉ television documentary aired in March 2007
- Mcguire, Kevin (10 December 2009). "The longest journey home". Galway Advertiser. Retrieved 11 December 2009. "Coughlan leaped ahead of her contemporaries when she was invited to appear on The Late Late Show. After a memorable television debut she was ready to take on the world. “Shay Healy and Siobhan McHugh had done a show called Sounds Promising and I recorded three songs for that,” she says. “When they were mixing it in the studio Gay Byrne heard my voice and a few days later booked me to appear on The Late Late Show. Back then it meant so much more than it does now because we only really had one channel in Ireland. [...] On the back of her slot on the show Mary’s debut release, Tired and Emotional, shot to the top of Irish album charts. Within a few short years she was also enjoying success in Britain and across Europe."
- "Late Late Show guests are revealed". RTÉ. 18 December 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
- Sweeney, Ken (5 May 2010). "Record numbers tuned in for the 'Late Late' tribute". Irish Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- "The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne", RTÉ.ie.
- Sweeney, Ken (14 October 2011). "Friends book out Joe's big night". Irish Independent. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
- Melia, Paul (26 November 2009). "Christmas road carnage has claimed 500 lives in 10 years". Irish Independent. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
- "Call for 'extra care on roads this Christmas' from McEntee". Meath Chronicle. 3 December 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
- O'Brien, Tim (26 November 2009). "President urges road users to give each other gift of safe Christmas". The Irish Times. Retrieved 11 December 2009. "The article has the following photograph caption: President Mary McAleese with motorcycle crash patient Derek Dooley and Gay Byrne at the National Rehabilitation Hospital yesterday. Photograph: Robbie Reynolds/CPR"
- Reilly, Jerome (14 February 2010). "Gay finds Cowen's social habits difficult to swallow". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- Kelly, Fiach (11 August 2011). "Gay rants at 'mad people' in EU running the country". Irish Independent. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- Byrne, Cormac (5 February 2010). "City needs a mayor with track record". Evening Herald. Retrieved 14 February 2010. "Celebrities such as Bono, Bob Geldof, Gerry Ryan and Gay Byrne have appeared in the betting for the coveted role."
- "Decision time, Gaybo". Irish Independent. 12 August 2011. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
- "Fianna Fáil not commenting on Gay Byrne". RTÉ. 5 August 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
- O'Toole, Fintan (12 August 2011). "Gaybo's crafted persona and the man named Byrne". The Irish Times. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
- Smyth, Sam; Sweeney, Ken (13 August 2011). "'I don't want to be President' Gay Byrne pulls out of race". Irish Independent. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
- "Gay Byrne will not contest Presidential race". RTÉ. 28 September 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
- "Gay Byrne attacks McGuinness in TV rant". The Belfast Telegraph. 23 September 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Irish broadcasters 'poles apart' on McGuinness presidency bid". BBC News. 23 September 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Martin McGuinness branded a ‘consistent liar’ by Gay Byrne". The Journal. 22 September 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2011.
- "McGuinness dismisses Byrne’s comments". TV3 News. 22 September 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2011.
- "Race for the Aras: Gay Byrne calls presidential candidate McGuinness a 'consistent liar'". Irish Independent. 22 September 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2011.
- The Time of My Life: An Autobiography Author: Byrne, Gay & Deirdre Purcell, Published by Gill & Macmillan Dublin 1989, ISBN 0-7171-1615-8
- Boland, Rosita (13 February 2010). "Grafton Street loses some of its sparkle". The Irish Times. Retrieved 13 February 2010. "“Unfortunately, I don’t have anything from West’s,” admits Kathleen Watkins, “but I do like those earrings.” (If her husband, Gay Byrne – interviewed on page 7 – is reading this, they are the only heart-shaped diamond earrings in the window, and they cost €3,800.)"
- Dubliner's Diary (9 February 2010). "Dunphy goes on a Haunted date night". Evening Herald. Retrieved 14 February 2010. "Meanwhile, veteran Montrose star Gay Byrne told the Diary how he was flying solo for the evening, given that his wife Kathleen Watkins was enjoying a getaway to Paris. "She was meant to be here but she abandoned me for Paris. It was a tough contest but I obviously lost so I'm here alone," he laughed."
- Byrne, The Time of My Life, p. 99
- "DCU Educational Trust- Board of Trustees". Dublin City University.
- "Grandson for broadcaster Gay Byrne". RTÉ. 16 September 2004. Retrieved 17 August 2009.
- This is referenced on the Irish Independent website in an article by Tom Brady at "The day a cheque for £1m was left on Gay's table", 22 July 2000.
- Dwyer, Ciara (7 December 2008). "Waking hours: Gay byrne". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
- "TCD to honour leading Dubliners for millennium", The Irish Times, 30 October 1987.
- "Dublin honours one of its favourite sons with freedom of the city", The Irish Times, 12 May 1999.
- "Lifetime award for TV's Gay Byrne". BBC News. 10 February 2007. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
- Lambe, Fintan (11 October 2011). "Anne stamp will mark RTÉ anniversary". New Ross Standard. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
- "Tubridy set to become wax figure". RTÉ. 11 November 2011. Retrieved 11 November 2011. "Tubridy will join his Late Late Show predecessor broadcasting legend Gay Byrne in the museum display."
- "The Impact of RTÉ 1962–1972". ScoilNet. Retrieved 17 December 2006.
- Dwyer, Ryle (16 May 2009). "Tubridy gets his chance to match the man who changed Ireland". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 17 September 2009.
- Brown, Rob (16 May 1999). "Why Sinead O'Connor proved a mixed blessing for Ireland's chat show". Sunday Herald. Retrieved 17 September 2009.
|Host of The Late Late Show
6 July 1962 – 21 May 1968
|Host of The Late Late Show
September 1969 – 21 May 1999
|Host of The Rose of Tralee
|Eurovision Song Contest Ireland Commentator
|Eurovision Song Contest Ireland Commentator