After a tough and challenging couple of years healthwise, Gay Byrne is looking forward to 2019 with typical optimism. He reflects on his colourful life, and outstanding broadcasting career, with Shea Tomkins.
When Gay Byrne, the human paradigm by which Irish broadcasting standards will always be measured, takes stock on the year that has passed, there is a heartwarming display of affection that glows like a beacon in his mind and heart – a collective gesture of goodwill that was sent his way, fuelled by the often unheralded kindness of the Irish people.
It is widely known that one of the nation’s most treasured television and radio hosts has had to face serious health issues over the past couple of years, and he is the first to acknowledge that the support of his family, friends and the overwhelming outpouring of well wishes from the Irish public has helped him, beyond anything, to keep his spirits high.
“The kindness that has been shown to me and my family has been something special,” says Gay as he chats to Ireland’s Own during the recent the festive season.
“The amount of goodwill that flooded in from members of the public was simply staggering. There were truckloads of cards, Mass cards, holy medals, prayers, just a great outpouring of good wishes which took me completely by surprise. It was so thoughtful and well received and appreciated, and what is a prayer only a good wish.
“I have a lot to be grateful for. I got through 83 years of robust good health, aside from a couple of minor setbacks. I rode my bike, I went for walks in the mountain and all of a sudden it was like crossing the road from on one side where all the healthy people were standing, to the side with the infirm and disabled.
“If I had known ill health during my life I would probably have been better able to cope with being sick. The life I knew has changed forever. I can no longer ride my bike. I walk with a crutch, and am curtailed in my diet. The treatment is very heavy, and it really sets you back on your heels. But having said all that I’m still here, and looking forward to the new year.”
Gabriel Mary Byrne was born on August 5th, 1934, and raised in a little house, number 17, on Rialto Street off the South Circular Road in Dublin. It was a straightforward two-up, two-down building and it was from here that he and his brothers Edward (known as Raysie-baby), Ernest and Al, and his sister, Mary, were given their groundings in life. His parents’ eldest child, Joseph, died when he was just one week old.
“My father, Edward, fought in the First World War,” Gay recalls. “In fact, he had to marry my mother, Annie, in Belfast as he wore a British army uniform, and couldn’t get married in Dublin. Guinness’s had promised that any man who came back alive from the War would get a job. My parents reared four boys and one girl, and they got jobs in Guinness’s. My sister was a lady clerk, the highest ranking position she could get.”
Gay doesn’t have fond memories of his schooldays in Synge Street CBS, but in spite of this he had an inkling from early on which career path he would like to go down.
“I look at my grandchildren today and how much they love going to school full of joy and happiness and so upbeat that they are going to see their teachers again,” he says, “in my schooldays you turned into Synge Street in dread, knowing you were going to be beaten that day, everybody knew. The approach to education today couldn’t be more different and it’s great.