The Meaning of Life (TV series)

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The Meaning of Life
The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne.jpg
Also known as The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne
Genre Interview
Starring Gay Byrne
Country of origin Ireland
Original language(s) English
No. of series 9
No. of episodes 50
Original channel RTÉ One
Original airing 19 April 2009 -
External links
Gay Byrne is presenter

The Meaning of Life is an Irish television programme, the first series of which was broadcast on RTÉ One in 2009. It is presented by the veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne. Each episode involves Byrne interviewing a well-known public figure. The series is broadcast each Sunday night at 22:20.

In 2010 The Meaning of Life returned for both a second and, later, a third series. Interviews with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and actors Gabriel Byrne and Brenda Fricker during the second series attracted media attention. Ahern spoke of his religious habits; Byrne and Fricker of being sexually abused as children.

Gay Byrne appeared on The Late Late Show on 18 December 2009 to discuss the programme.[1]

First series[edit]

Colin Farrell[edit]

The first episode was broadcast on 19 April 2009. It featured an interview with actor Colin Farrell, who spoke of topics such as his father and his addictions.[2]

Gerry Adams[edit]

The second episode was broadcast on 26 April 2009. It featured an interview with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, who spoke of the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offence, difference or mistake, and ceasing to demand punishment or restitution, the great unknown, Final Judgment and how his beliefs have affected his life as a republican.[2] Byrne said this meeting with Adams had lacked any confrontation but described it as "an interview where you certainly had to think on your feet".[3]

Maeve Binchy[edit]

The third episode was broadcast on 3 May 2009. It featured an interview with author Maeve Binchy, who spoke of losing her beliefs as a Roman Catholic during a journey to Jerusalem as a young adult, describing it as "the Road to Damascus experience in reverse".[2]

Ronan Keating[edit]

The fourth episode was broadcast on 10 May 2009. It featured an interview with singer Ronan Keating, who was described by Byrne as "a revelation" after the episode.[2] Keating spoke of his disagreements with his manager Louis Walsh, the death of his mother from cancer and the Marie Keating Foundation which resulted.[2][3]

Sinéad O'Connor[edit]

The fifth episode was broadcast on 17 May 2009. It featured an interview with musician Sinéad O'Connor, who spoke of her views about the deity of her belief system and how this affects her artistic output.[2] She later said the two had "a lovely morning together".[4] The interview was filmed in January 2009 at O'Connor's house.[4] Byrne referenced the interview in an article he wrote for the Sunday Independent later that day.[5]

Neil Jordan[edit]

The sixth episode was broadcast on 24 May 2009. It featured an interview with writer and filmmaker Neil Jordan, Jordan immediately denied being religious, but indicated spiritual beliefs when he stated his view that life continues after the permanent termination of the biological functions that define a living organism.[2] Jordan recalled his father telling him he would return after death and their subsequent post-death encounter during a stormy fixed-wing aircraft flight.[2]

Second series[edit]

Gabriel Byrne[edit]

Broadcast 17 January 2010

Gabriel Byrne spoke for the first time about sexual abuse he had received from the Christian Brothers when he was a boy and also said he had left the priesthood after he "walked up the stairs behind two girls in miniskirts" while on a bus in London.[6][7]

Tommy Tiernan[edit]

Broadcast 24 January 2010

Brenda Fricker[edit]

Broadcast 31 January 2010. In which the actress spoke about being beaten by her mother and sexually abused by a friend.[8]

Bertie Ahern[edit]

Broadcast 7 February 2010.

Ahern confessed he had not confessed in the past 40 years but often went to Mass and spoke of the intimacy he shared with Ian Paisley over their religion while in London in 2004.[9]

Mary Robinson[edit]

Broadcast 14 February 2010.

Edna O'Brien[edit]

Broadcast 21 February 2010.[10]

Third series[edit]

Terry Wogan[edit]

Broadcast 26 September 2010.

In which Irish BBC broadcaster Terry Wogan discussed his atheism.[11][12][13]

Fionnula Flanagan[edit]

Broadcast 3 October 2010.[14]

Deepak Chopra[edit]

Broadcast 10 October 2010.[15]

Ian Paisley[edit]

Broadcast 17 October 2010.[16]

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh[edit]

Gay Byrne meets the legendary sports broadcaster.

Dana Rosemary Scallon[edit]

Gay Byrne meets the singer and politician.

Fourth series[edit]

Michael Parkinson[edit]

Gay Byrne meets his long-time friend and former colleague, Sir Michael Parkinson.

Brendan O'Carroll[edit]

Gay Byrne meets the comedian.

Mark Patrick Hederman[edit]

Gay Byrne meets the Abbot of Glenstal.

Brian Cody[edit]

Gay Byrne meets the Klkenny hurling legend.

Martin Sheen[edit]

Gay Byrne meets the Hollywood acting legend. Sheen discussed his pro-life views and said his wife was conceived through a rape and he says had her mother aborted her, or dumped her in the Ohio River as she had considered, his wife would not exist. He also talked about three of his grandchildren who were conceived out of wedlock, saying his sons "were not happy at the time but they came to love these children. We have three grown grandchildren, two of them are married, they're some of the greatest source of joy in our lives."[17][18][19]

Ben Dunne[edit]

Fifth series[edit]

Andrea Corr[edit]

Broadcast 8 January 2012. Interview with Irish musician, songwriter, and actress Andrea Corr.

Paddy Moloney[edit]

Broadcast 15 January 2012. Interview with founder and leader of Irish musical group The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney.

Fr. Shay Cullen[edit]

Broadcast 22 January 2012. Interview with Fr.Shay Cullen.

Richard Branson[edit]

Broadcast 29 January 2012. Interview with entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Bob Geldof[edit]

Broadcast 5 February 2012. Interview with singer, songwriter, and authorBob Geldof.

Mary Byrne[edit]

Interview with Irish singer-songwriter Mary Byrne

Sixth series[edit]

Mary McAleese[edit]

Broadcast 9 October 2012. Interview with former president of Ireland Mary McAleese. In which she spoke about same-sex marriage.[20]

Noel Gallagher[edit]

Broadcast 14 October 2012. Interview with singer and songwriter Noel Gallagher.

Sean Gallagher[edit]

Broadcast 21 October 2012. Interview with the entrepreneur, businessman and 2011 presidential candidate Seán Gallagher. His first televised interview since his presidential failure.

Niall Quinn[edit]

Broadcast 28 October 2012. Interview with former professional footballer Niall Quinn.

Seventh series[edit]

Colm Tóibín[edit]

Broadcast 6 January 2013. Interview with ward-winning writer Colm Tóibín.

J. P. Donleavy[edit]

Broadcast 12 January 2013. Interview with Irish American novelist and playwright J. P. Donleavy.

John Lonergan[edit]

Broadcast 20 January 2013. Interview with the former governor of Mountjoy Prison.

Maureen Gaffney[edit]

Broadcast 27 January 2013. Interview with UCD Clinical Psychologist Maureen Gaffney.

Maria Doyle Kennedy[edit]

Broadcast 3 February 2013. Interview with award-winning actor and singer Maria Doyle Kennedy.

Eight series[edit]


Broadcast 25 June 2013 on RTÉ 1.[21] Bono agreed to the interview which was broadcast outside of the rest of series 8 on condition that it wouldn't clash with any of U2's upcoming promotion for their forthcoming new album and on the understanding that it would be a purely personal interview. In the interview Bono talked about his humanitarian work, his religious faith, and also his parents' marriage and father's death.[22]

Colm Wilkinson[edit]

Broadcast on 6 October 2013. Musical star, Colm Wilkinson talks about his absence of faith.[23]

Emily O'Reilly[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to new European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly.[24]

Fr Peter McVerry[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to Fr Peter McVerry.[25]

Celine Byrne[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to soprano Celine Byrne.[26]

Ninth series[edit]

The ninth series began airing on 4 May 2014.

Majella O'Donnell[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to cancer sufferer Majella O'Donnell.[27]

Rory O'Neill[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to Rory O'Neill, better known as Panti Bliss, Mayo's famous drag artist.[28]

Sean O'Sullivan[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to ex-Dragons Den star Sean O'Sullivan.[29]

Eamon Dunphy[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to Eamon Dunphy.[30]

Lord David Puttnam[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to Oscar-winning movie producer, Lord David Puttnam.[31]

Enda Kenny[edit]

Gay Byrne talks to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.[32]


John Boland of the Irish Independent claimed the series became "more religious in thrust and tone as it progressed".[33] He described the episode featuring Neil Jordan as a "bizarre encounter", in which the writer and filmmaker "grew more and more bemused" as Byrne questioned him in great detail about his religious faith.[33] Jordan answered such questions as "Do you think your religion might return to you on your deathbed?" and "Do you think there's a day of reckoning?" with "I really haven't got a clue" and "I don't know, Gay" but when he commented that "every time I'm in a plane and it's hit by lightning I bless myself", Byrne replied "Hah!", as if, according to Boland, Jordan had "just revealed a basic faith in the Catholic Almighty rather than a reflex reaction to imminent catastrophe".[33]

The Irish Times '​s Kevin Courtney said of The Meaning of Life: "The title is a bit grandiose – you could just as easily call it Tell Uncle Gaybo All About It.[34]

Byrne prefers not to discuss his own faith:

Viewing figures[edit]

An average of 247,000 viewers tuned into the first four episodes of the series, featuring interviews with Farrell, Adams, Binchy and Keating.[3] The episode featuring Keating attracted the most viewers, with a total of 258,000 reported.[3] Next was the Adams interview, with 251,000 viewers.[3] This was followed by the interview with Binchy which had 231,000 viewers.[3]


  1. ^ "Late Late Show guests are revealed". RTÉ Arts (Raidió Teilifís Éireann). 18 December 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Meaning Of Life with Gay Byrne". RTÉ. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Gaybo shows why he's still pulling in the viewers". Evening Herald (Independent News & Media). 14 May 2009. Retrieved 2 June 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Sinead reveals X Factor fantasy". Evening Herald (Independent News & Media). 16 May 2009. Retrieved 2 June 2009. 
  5. ^ "'A caller said "I know for a fact that he had his hand up her skirt for the whole interview." And I thought, dammit, they miss nothing...'". Sunday Independent (Independent News & Media). 25 January 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2009. 
  6. ^ McDonald, Henry (19 January 2010). "Gabriel Byrne tells of childhood sexual abuse". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 February 2010. 
  7. ^ "Gabriel Byrne: I was abused as a child". The Daily Telegraph (London). 20 January 2010. Retrieved 12 February 2010. 
  8. ^ Byrne, Andrea (31 January 2010). "Fricker reveals a childhood of abuse". Sunday Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  9. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (8 February 2010). "Ahern reveals deep religious conviction and hope of heaven". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  10. ^ Dubliner's Diary (9 February 2010). "Dunphy goes on a Haunted date night". Evening Herald (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 14 February 2010. Gay interviewed Edna O'Brien for his current RTÉ series, The Meaning of Life. "Edna will appear on the series in the next few weeks, so naturally I had to be here to offer my support. "He's on it the week after Mary Robinson and I must say I really enjoyed our conversation," said Gay. 
  11. ^ "Wogan joins Byrne on Meaning of Life". RTÉ Ten (Raidió Teilifís Éireann). 25 September 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  12. ^ Hurley, David (25 September 2010). "Limerick's Terry Wogan gives Gay Byrne his thoughts on the meaning of life". Limerick Post. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  13. ^ "Terry Wogan tells of anguish over death of baby girl". The Belfast Telegraph (Independent News & Media). 27 September 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010. 
  14. ^ O'Brien, James (4 October 2010). "Fionnula Flanagan reveals she returned to God when granddaughter disappeared". Irish Central. Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  15. ^ "Upfront". The Irish Times. 10 October 2010. 
  16. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ Cathy Hayes (17 April 2011). "Martin Sheen opens up about his strong anti-abortion views". IrishCentral. 
  18. ^ Martin Sheen Sheds Light on Reasons for His Pro-Life Views
  19. ^ Raidió Teilifís Éireann interview
  20. ^ "Former president Mary McAleese 'not troubled' by gay marriage". RTÉ News. 9 October 2012. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  21. ^ "Bono opens up about faith, tax and his father". RTÉ News. 25 June 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  22. ^ "Bono did not want his 'Meaning of Life' shown with rest of series". Irish Independent. 25 June 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  23. ^ "Series 8 Programme 2". RTÉ. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  24. ^ "Series 8 Programme 2". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  25. ^ "Series 8 Programme 3". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  26. ^ "Series 8 Programme 4". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  27. ^ "Series 9 Programme 1". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  28. ^ "Series 9 Programme 2". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  29. ^ "Series 9 Programme 3". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  30. ^ "Series 9 Programme 4". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  31. ^ "Series 9 Programme 5". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  32. ^ "Series 9 Programme 6". RTE. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  33. ^ a b c Boland, John (30 May 2009). "A funny comedian? Don't make me laugh". Irish Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 2 June 2009. 
  34. ^ Courtney, Kevin (23 January 2010). "In God, we curry flavour". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  35. ^ Byrne, Gay (13 February 2010). "The chameleon of Montrose". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). Archived from the original on 13 February 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2010. 

External links[edit]