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'
StarringGay Byrne
Country of originIreland
Original language(s)English
No. of series9
No. of episodes50
Original networkRTÉ One
Original release19 April 2009 –
16 October 2016
External links

The Meaning of Life is an Irish television programme, broadcast on RTÉ One. Presented by Gay Byrne, each edition involves the veteran broadcaster interviewing a prominent public figure.[1]

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.

Episode list[edit]

First series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
19 April 2009Colin Farrell
The actor spoke of topics such as his father and his addictions.[1]
26 April 2009Gerry Adams
The Sinn Féin leader 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.[1] 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".[2]
3 May 2009Maeve Binchy
The writer 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".[1]
10 May 2009Ronan Keating
The singer was described by Byrne as "a revelation" after the episode.[1] Keating spoke of his disagreements with his manager Louis Walsh, the death of his mother from cancer and the Marie Keating Foundation which resulted.[1][2]
17 May 2009Sinéad O'Connor
The musician spoke of her views about the deity of her belief system and how this affects her artistic output.[1] She later said she an Byrne had had "a lovely morning together".[3] The interview was filmed in January 2009 at O'Connor's house.[3] Byrne referenced the interview in an article he wrote for the Sunday Independent later that day.[4]
24 May 2009Neil Jordan
The writer and filmmaker 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.[1] Jordan recalled his father telling him he would return after death and their subsequent post-death encounter during a stormy fixed-wing aircraft flight.[1]

Second series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
17 January 2010Gabriel Byrne
The actor 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.[5][6]
24 January 2010Tommy Tiernan
31 January 2010Brenda Fricker
The actress spoke about being beaten by her mother and sexually abused by a friend.[7]
7 February 2010Bertie Ahern
The former Taoiseach 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.[8]
14 February 2010Mary Robinson
21 February 2010Edna O'Brien[9]

Third series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
26 September 2010Terry Wogan
The BBC broadcaster discussed his atheism.[10][11][12]
3 October 2010Fionnula Flanagan[13]
10 October 2010Deepak Chopra[14]
17 October 2010Ian Paisley[15]
TBAMícheál Ó Muircheartaigh
TBADana Rosemary Scallon

Fourth series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
TBAMichael Parkinson
TBABrendan O'Carroll
TBAMark Patrick Hederman
TBABrian Cody
TBAMartin Sheen
The actor spoke of 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."[16][17][18]
TBABen Dunne

Fifth series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
8 January 2012Andrea Corr
15 January 2012Paddy Moloney
22 January 2012Shay Cullen
29 January 2012Richard Branson
5 February 2012Bob Geldof
TBAMary Byrne

Sixth series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
9 October 2012Mary McAleese
The former President of Ireland spoke about same-sex marriage.[19]
14 October 2012Noel Gallagher
22 January 2012Seán Gallagher
The businessman gave his first televised interview since his presidential failure.
28 October 2012Niall Quinn

Seventh series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
6 January 2013Colm Tóibín
12 January 2013J. P. Donleavy
20 January 2013John Lonergan
Former governor of Mountjoy Prison
27 January 2013Maureen Gaffney
UCD Clinical Psychologist
3 February 2013Maria Doyle Kennedy

Seventh series (Special episode)[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
25 June 2013Bono
The musician talked about his humanitarian work, his religious faith, and also his parents' marriage and father's death. He granted the interview on the understanding that it would be a purely personal one and insisted his episode be aired separately from the rest of the series. Uncle Gaybo and RTÉ obliged.[20]

Eighth series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
6 October 2013Colm Wilkinson
The musical star spoke of his absence of faith.[21]
TBAEmily O'Reilly[22]
TBAPeter McVerry[23]
TBACeline Byrne[24]

Ninth series[edit]

The ninth series began airing on 4 May 2014.

No. Original air date Guest
4 May 2014Majella O'Donnell
Interview with the cancer sufferer.[25]
TBARory O'Neill
Interview with the man behind the make-up.[26]
TBASean O'Sullivan
Interview with the ex-Dragons' Den star.[27]
TBAEamon Dunphy
Interview with the soccer man.[28]
TBADavid Puttnam
Interview with the film producer and British Lord.[29]
TBAEnda Kenny
Interview with the man behind the make-up.[30]

Tenth series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
TBACecila Ahern
Interview about growing up with Bertie Aherne.[31]
TBAStephen Fry
TBABarry McGuigan
Boxer taks about his Catholic faith.[31]
TBAMary Black
Talks about her disillusion with the Church, her struggles with depression and her mystical experiences.[31]
TBARowan Williams
Former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.[31]

Eleventh series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
TBAJoan Burton
Tánaiste talks about adoption, her early influences, politics and morality.[31]
TBARichard Dawkins
Evolutionary biologist.[31]
TBAStanislaus Kennedy
TBAEckhart Tolle

Twelfth series[edit]

No. Original air date Guest
TBARuby Wax
TBADolores Keane
Singer who shares her fight against alcoholism, breast cancer and depression.[31]
TBAJohn Sheahan
Former member of The Dubliners.[31]
TBAGarry Hynes
Theatre director and founder of Druid Theatre Company.[31]


Gay Byrne is the presenter.

John Boland of the Irish Independent claimed the series became "more religious in thrust and tone as it progressed".[32] 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.[32] 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".[32]

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.[33]

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.[2] The episode featuring Keating attracted the most viewers, with a total of 258,000 reported.[2] Next was the Adams interview, with 251,000 viewers.[2] This was followed by the interview with Binchy which had 231,000 viewers.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "About the show". RTÉ. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b "Sinead reveals X Factor fantasy". Evening Herald. Independent News & Media. 16 May 2009. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
  4. ^ "'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.
  5. ^ McDonald, Henry (19 January 2010). "Gabriel Byrne tells of childhood sexual abuse". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 12 February 2010.
  6. ^ "Gabriel Byrne: I was abused as a child". The Daily Telegraph. London. 20 January 2010. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 12 February 2010.
  7. ^ Byrne, Andrea (31 January 2010). "Fricker reveals a childhood of abuse". Sunday Independent. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
  8. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (8 February 2010). "Ahern reveals deep religious conviction and hope of heaven". The Irish Times. Irish Times Trust. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
  9. ^ Dubliner's Diary (9 February 2010). "Dunphy goes on a Haunted date night". Evening Herald. Independent News & Media. Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. 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.
  10. ^ "Wogan joins Byrne on Meaning of Life". RTÉ Ten. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 25 September 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Terry Wogan tells of anguish over death of baby girl". The Belfast Telegraph. Independent News & Media. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  13. ^ O'Brien, James (4 October 2010). "Fionnula Flanagan reveals she returned to God when granddaughter disappeared". Irish Central. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  14. ^ "Upfront". The Irish Times. 10 October 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  15. ^ "The Red Hand of Paisley". The Belfast Telegraph. 17 October 2010. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
  16. ^ Hayes, Cathy (17 April 2011). "Martin Sheen opens up about his strong anti-abortion views". IrishCentral. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  17. ^ Martin Sheen Sheds Light on Reasons for His Pro-Life Views
  18. ^ Raidió Teilifís Éireann interview
  19. ^ "Former president Mary McAleese 'not troubled' by gay marriage". RTÉ News. 9 October 2012. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  20. ^ "Bono did not want his 'Meaning of Life' shown with rest of series". Irish Independent. 25 June 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  21. ^ "Series 8 Programme 2". RTÉ. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  22. ^ "Series 8 Programme2". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  23. ^ "Series 8 Programme 3". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  24. ^ "Series 8 Programme 4". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  25. ^ "Series 9 Programme 1". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  26. ^ "Series 9 Programme 2". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  27. ^ "Series 9 Programme 3". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  28. ^ "Series 9 Programme 4". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  29. ^ "Series 9 Programme 5". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  30. ^ "Series 9 Programme 6". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "List of programmes". RTÉ. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Courtney, Kevin (23 January 2010). "In God, we curry flavour". The Irish Times. Irish Times Trust. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
  34. ^ 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]