Belfast Telegraph

Bono leads tributes to Gay Byrne on Late Late Show special

U2 singer Bono (Chris Jackson/PA)
U2 singer Bono (Chris Jackson/PA)

By Ian Begley and Aoife Walsh

Gay Byrne’s family tuned into Tuesday night's special episode of the Late Late Show where some of Ireland’s biggest names paid homage to the broadcasting legend.

The live special on RTE One featured contributions from the 85-year-old's friends and colleagues across the world of entertainment and beyond, including Bob Geldof, Andrea Corr, Pat Kenny, John Sheahan and Mary McAleese.

Even Bono called into the show from New Zealand to tell a comical story about how he once took a bus to Gay’s house in Howth after U2 were dropped from appearing on the Late Late.

“When U2 got dropped from what would have been our first appearance on the show I was irate,” he said.

“I got the bus all the way out to Howth to explain to Gay that the Late Late Show was making a big mistake.

“I had Ally with me and asked the driver where Gay Byrne lived and he replied, ‘I’ll drop you there’.

“So I went in and knocked on his front door… And I’m very pleased to report he was not there.”

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Gay with Sinead O’Connor
Gay with Sinead O’Connor

Bono also recalled when he presented Gay with a Harley Davidson during his last night presenting the Late Late Show in 1999.

“I think Kathleen [Gay Byrne’s wife] thought we were trying to kill him,” he laughed.

“But he really loved the bike and wouldn’t get of it. Eventually, when I met him again, he said that Kathleen talked me down of it because she thought he was a danger to myself and others.

“But it was a nice thing to have Gay join the Hells Angels, don’t you think?”

Irish actor Gabriel Byrne said he will always remember Gay for his kindness and generosity over the years.

In a statement read out on the show, he said: “Gay was absolutely unselfish in his encouragement, not just towards me, but towards so many other people starting out their careers.

Head to head: Gay Byrne interviewing Gerry Adams on The Late Late Show in 1994
Head to head: Gay Byrne interviewing Gerry Adams on The Late Late Show in 1994

“Over the years, I’ve done all the major chat shows in the US and in Britain and spoke to all the famous hosts, but Gay Byrne was the best one.”

Bob Geldof also talked about his first appearance on the Late Late Show in 1977 when Gay Byrne defended him as he was getting booed from the audience.

“He [Gay] represented everything that needed to be done away with and changed. I thought it would be the only time I’d be on television so everything had to be vented and thrown out.

Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen Watkins
Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen Watkins

“I was going on about how we’re all living in a terrible, immoral and corrupt country… But half way through my rant I realised that I was the one being spun out. The crowd started booing and telling me to shut up.

“Gay then turned to the audience and said ‘some of you are probably hating this, but your parents probably hated Elvis. Some of you probably remember your parents hating the Rolling Stones too, but these guys are going to be a very big band.”

The first guest of the night was President Michael D Higgins who referred to Gay as a man who unveiled modernity.

Gay presenting his show
Gay presenting his show

“Between 1955 and 1960 a quarter of a million people had emigrated, but what many people forget was that they were coming and going and bringing aspects of modernity back into the country.

“Gay was aware what was happening and gave people a safe, non- judgmental space where they could think in a modern way,” he said.

Former Late Late host Pat Kenny recalled how he attempted to kidnap Gay as part of a student prank during the 1960s.

“Before The Troubles, we decided to play a student jape to kidnap the most famous broadcaster in the country,” he said.

“A number us framed an accident on Howth Hill as he was heading to the Late Late Show one night… We emerged from the bushes, but he sped off.

“We told The Sunday Independent and they reported on it, but on the Monday that followed we got a call from Gay who, instead of giving out, said “How would you like to recreate that on “The Late Late Show?”

Comedian Tommy Tiernan described talking to Gay Byrne as a surreal, “out of body experience”.

“I think Gay was very attracted to people who he thought were mavericks and outsiders. He had a great grá for Bob Geldof and a great gra for Sinead O’Connor. I remember at the IFTA awards when Bob was receiving a life time achievement awards, Gay said in a very emotional way, ‘Bob Geldof, you did it your way and nobody can take that away from you’.

Also appearing included Irish Icons, such as, Joe Duffy, Sharon Shannon, John Sheahan, Finbar Furey, Pat Shortt, Eamon Dunphy, Twink and Mary Black.

Saluting he Late Late tribute programme as a “happy wake”, Ryan Tubridy described his “great friend” as a “magnificent mentor”.

"It makes perfect sense that we gather the troops, gather the family, the friends and to say a final thank you,” he said.

The Late Late host used the story of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to explain how Gay Byrne had inspired him.

Gay hosting the Rose of Tralee pageant
Gay hosting the Rose of Tralee pageant

"I just love the story about the little boy who saw this extraordinary man and thought, 'If I can get into that factory, I'd love to meet that man and learn all his tricks and maybe even run the factory someday [laughs]," he said.

“And that's what it felt like sometimes: 'Could I get through those gates and work in, what I felt was, this magnificent factory that makes sweets and chocolate and all the best things in life for people?' And that's in many ways the story.

"I watched Gay, and I was in awe, as many people were, and thought, 'God, someday I'd love to meet him'.

“I watched him doing the Toy Show and thought, 'Is that a job? All he's doing is...' But of course he was doing nothing of the sort; he was making a very difficult job look easy. As he did every day, and every Friday night or Saturday night depending.

Meanwhile, fans of Gay came out in their droves to sign a book of condolence for the late broadcaster.

A never-ending queue of people made their way through the doors of the Mansion House on Dublin's Dawson Street to thank Byrne for providing years of entertainment and for shining a light on the most obscure parts of Irish society.

Among the crowd was retired nurse Nicky Clarke, who reminisced about watching 'The Late Late Show' with a cup of tea and a bun while working a weekend shift at a nursing home.

"My fondest memories are when I started nursing in the nursing home.

"If you were on at the weekends I have fond memories of getting organised after my shift on Saturday. You'd have your fancy bun, your tea and sit down to watch 'The Late Late Show'," she said.

"It might be a cold, bare common room but you knew you'd have a connection with your television, and that your family was watching it at home.

"You could watch it in the comfort of the nursing home but you could talk about what was on 'The Late Late' the following weekend when you were home.

"He opened our eyes to what was going on in parts of the country that I wasn't aware of half of the terrible things for families that were going on. Communication between people was bad...I will miss him," she added.

Another fan, Sean Lattin, said he has "millions" of memories from Gay's early career, but he fondly recalled how the broadcaster often played a particular song on his radio show.

"Every year, religiously, on May 1, on his radio programme he always played 'Bring Flowers of the Rarest for a Blessed Lady' - that's my one abiding memory of Gaybo."

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