'We will never see his like again': Tributes paid as Gay Byrne dies aged 85

'We will never see his like again': Tributes paid as Gay Byrne dies aged 85

RTÉ broadcaster Gay Byrne has passed away at the age of 85 following a long illness.

His family confirmed he passed away at home today surrounded by his loved ones.

"We wish to thank everybody for their love and support during Gay's illness. Particularly the wonderful teams in the Mater Hospital, St Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society".

President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to the broadcaster.

He described Gay Byrne as a man of great charisma, who was possessed of effortless wit, charm, and who had a flair for broadcasting.

He said through his work in radio and on television he challenged Irish society, and shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life.

"In doing so, he became one of the most familiar and distinctive voices of our times, helping shape our conscience, our self-image, and our idea of who we might be. Beyond compassion, which he had in abundance, he had a sense of what was just," President Higgins said.

Gay Byrne with Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy, who both hosted the Late Late Show
Gay Byrne with Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy, who both hosted the Late Late Show

RTÉ Director-General, Dee Forbes, today paid tribute to Mr Byrne, who she credited with "the growth and development of a nation".

"We are all greatly saddened by the passing of Gay Byrne who has been a household name in this country for so many years. Gay was an exceptional broadcaster whose unique and ground-breaking style contributed so much to the development of radio and television in this country," she said.

"Gay’s journalistic legacy is as colossal as the man himself – he not only defined generations, but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation. Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne, and we will never see his like again. My deepest sympathies to Kathleen and his family."

Gay Byrne with his wife, Kathleen Watkins
Gay Byrne with his wife, Kathleen Watkins

Mr Byrne was born in Dublin on August 5, 1934 and grew up on the South Circular Road.

He started work as a newsreader and continuity announcer on Radio Éireann in the late 1950s before moving to Granada Television in Manchester, where he worked on a variety of shows, interviewing acts including The Beatles.

He returned to Ireland full time in the late 1960s as presenter and producer of The Late Late Show. The programme went on to become the world’s longest running chat show.

"It is with enormous and profound sadness that I heard of the passing of my friend and mentor, Gay Byrne," said broadcaster, Ryan Tubridy.

"He was the master, a once off and the likes of which we will never see again. I watched him as a child, worked alongside him as a young man and he guided me as I grew older and I will forever be indebted to him. We in RTÉ have lost a friend, a family have lost a father and a husband and the country has lost an icon. May he rest in peace."

The Late Late Show has announced that there will be a special live edition of the show tomorrow night at 9.35pm on RTÉ One.

The 90-minute special will include contributions from Gay's friends and colleagues including Bob Geldof, Andrea Corr, Pat Kenny, John Sheahan and Mary McAleese.

Gay Byrne hosting his final Late Late Show in 1999
Gay Byrne hosting his final Late Late Show in 1999

Gay Byrne also presented a long-running radio show on RTÉ Radio 1, first known as The Gay Byrne Hour and then The Gay Byrne Show.

The show had a close relationship with its listeners, many of whom wrote to or phoned Gay to comment on the issues of the day, and with their own stories.

He won a Jacob’s Award for the programme in 1976.

Over his long career Gay presented The Rose of Tralee, The Calor Housewife of the Year competition, as well as a range of special programmes.

Gay Byrne presented his final daily radio show in 1998 and his final Late Late Show the following summer.

However he did not retire from public life, presenting other acclaimed television shows, including The Meaning of Life.

Gay also returned to his first love - radio - and presented Sunday with Gay Byrne. His loyal listenership on RTÉ lyric fm shared in his love of big band and jazz programme.

"Irish broadcasting has lost a true giant and his loss will be keenly felt by all his colleagues, both past and present," said RTÉ Director of Content, Jim Jennings.

"Not only was Gay a brilliant presenter but he was also the best producer that I ever worked with. Gay was always very supportive of his younger colleagues; on a personal level I will miss his wise words and friendship."

The Road Safety Authority joined in the tributes to Gay Byrne who served as Chairperson from its inception in September 2006 until September 2014.

It described him as a tireless campaigner for road safety.

"He put road safety at the top of the political and social agenda in this country," the statement from the RSA said.

It said that he put road safety at the top of the political and social agenda saying that his voice was "instrumental in winning over public acceptance for action on road safety".

He championed road safety at a time when 365 people were dying annually on Irish roads. During his time as Chairperson the number of people dying in road trauma was reduced almost by half in Ireland.

"Over the years since his retirement he always remained a friend and advocate for road safety.

"Gay leaves a road safety legacy that will endure."

Gay is survived by his wife Kathleen, who he has been married to since 1964, their daughters Crona and Suzy, and their families.

A book of condolences will be open to the public at Dublin's Mansion House, Dawson Street, the Lord Mayor has announced.

Lord Mayor Paul Mc Auliffe said: "I am opening a Book of Condolence to allow the people of Dublin to express their sympathies to the family of Gay Byrne.

"Gay had a huge impact on Irish society and was more than just a broadcaster.

"During his time as the host of the Late Late Show, he offered a platform for many varied and controversial issues and changed the social dialogue of the country.

Even after his retirement from the Late Late Show, he did not retire from public life and showed the true meaning of active retirement through his ongoing broadcasting and as Chairman of the Road Safety Authority.

"On 11 May 1999, he received the Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin at the Mansion House and as a mark of respect, the Dublin flag on the Mansion House will be flown at half-mast.

"I would like to offer my personal sympathies to his wife Kathleen Watkins and their daughters Suzy and Crona, his extended family, friends and colleagues.

"He will be sadly missed.”

The book of condolences will be open tomorrow, Tuesday, November 5 from 11am until 5pm and on Wednesday, November 6 from 10am until 5pm.

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