Mary Sheerin pays tribute to the iconic broadcaster

When news of Gay Byrne’s death broke, I was reminded of President John F. Kennedy’s death. The way most of us remember where we were when we heard the news. I predict it will be the same with Gaybo; we will remember where we were and how we heard the sad news.

The circumstances surrounding both deaths are very different but that said, death is death. It always comes as a shock when that final curtain is drawn.

A Dubliner, Gabriel Mary Byrne lived on the South Circular Road and attended Synge Street, Christian Brothers School. He was the youngest of five children. After his Leaving Certificate, he worked in the Guardian Insurance Company, but from a young age he was obsessed with show business and radio entertainment.

His dream was that one day he might somehow manage to work in the industry. Little did he realise as a 14 year old how successfully he would fulfil that dream. He says he never wanted to be famous but he just knew in his heart that radio work was the road for him. He was driven and strove very hard to achieve his aim.

His mother was a determined and apparently quite a formidable woman who, in Gay’s words “wanted them all to be a cut above butter milk”. I think it fair to say that Mrs Byrne’s ambitions were achieved!

Over the years, reams have been written and broadcast about Gay Byrne. Since his death, TV networks, radio stations, newspapers and social media have been saturated with tributes and anecdotes about Gay’s extraordinary success as Ireland’s greatest broadcaster ever.

Tributes have flooded in from all sectors of society, headed by President Michael D Higgins who described Gay as a man of great charisma and compassion; possessed of effortless wit and charm … “who challenged Irish Society and shone a light, not only on the bright but also on the dark sides of Irish life.”

Gay worked for RTE and for Granada Television at the same time flying back and forth to both jobs. He described how the money in Granada was great for that time. “I was paid £5,000 per annum, the cheque went home to the South Circular Road. My mother logged it in a housekeeping book and then banked it in the local bank. And when I needed money I’d just ask her for it.”

I can’t help but think that had Mrs Byrne been around when Russell Murphy defrauded Gay of his life savings might things have been different?

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own