When I was growing up in the 80s Gay Byrne was the most influential person in Ireland, bar none.
Between his daily morning radio show & the friday Late Late on TV he had the ear of a majority of the country, & people listened to what he had to say and to all he brought on to speak.
It’s not possible in the era of one million channels, netflix, youtube etc for a single figure to dominate the consciousness of a nation the way Gay Byrne did in the 80s when there were only two channels on TV. He used that immense power to do good in the world. Gay was huge – he mattered to public life in Ireland in a way that no-one else did back then, no-one has since, & no one ever will again.
Gay was not as blatantly class-prejudiced, not as starkly a man of the right as most rte big names – not least his late late successors Pat Kenny & Ryan Tubridy. It was hard to follow in Gay Byrne’s diversity-encouraging footsteps and, well, they haven’t.
He was genuinely interested in bringing a variety of voices to the airwaves and he played an extremely honourable roll in facilitating public debate around issues such as gay rights, the sadism of the catholic church, divorce, contraception, mental health, etc.
All of those debates would have been even more onesided than they were in the mainstream media but for Gay Byrne.
He also knew something about the arts and wasnt an art snob – punk was as likely as jazz on the Late Late Show.
I learned much about our country – past & present – from him and because of him.
Sorry to hear of his passing & of his painful final days.