Gay Byrne: He helped make a new Ireland

Gay Byrne: He helped make a new Ireland

It was once suggested, possibly incorrectly, that there was no sex in Ireland before Gay Byrne.

However, it would be a more accurate recognition of the social change he midwifed to say he made it impossible for his successors to have a career as influential, as provocative or as important as his was.

Gaybo, who died aged 85 yesterday, didn’t so much tilt at windmills as topple shibboleth after shibboleth. He worked when technology made mass communication real, when society wanted to kick the traces of conformity, and when new-found affluence fed the advertising market that supported his mission.

However, very few, certainly no-one in Ireland, maximised those opportunities so well. He recognised that controversy, occasionally spiced with spite or voyeurism, made good box office.

It was always possible, though, to believe he had more than a professional investment in the campaigns he fought — so much so it can be argued he had far more influence in shaping Ireland than the majority of his political contemporaries, secular or clerical.

It may be the best tribute to him to consider how public service broadcasting and the benefits of such a medium are threatened, and how to preserve them.

Gaybo would have used his steel-trap charm hidden in the velvet of his seductive voice to fight that fight. And anyone who saw him in his pomp would not bet against him. He helped make our world and we are all the poorer now that he has left it.

May he rest in peace.

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