Legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne sat down with Ray D’Arcy this afternoon to take a look back at his 60 years working in television and radio ahead of the screening of Once More with Meaning, a programme documenting 13 years of Gay’s acclaimed interview series, The Meaning of Life.
Gay is currently being treated for cancer. How is he feeling?
“I’m okay. I get around very well indeed. I do as much as I can. I’m certainly not strong.”
Gay explained that he uses one crutch to walk these days. He told Ray that he worries he may be “slowing down” his wife Kathleen, who has been “neverendingly good and kind” to him throughout the ups and downs of treatment. Even when the chemotherapy drugs affect his mood.
“I’m on something like 18 tablets a day. Some of them make me agitated and you get very, very worked up and you’re trembling a bit as if something awful is happening and you don’t know what you’re agitated about.”
Gay is of the opinion that, even though he doesn’t “suffer gently”, he has
“… got away with it for 83 years and here I am, I’ll be 84 in August. And I just have to cope with what’s happened to me.”
Gay and Ray discussed some of the more memorable interviews Gay conducted on The Meaning of Life. Bob Geldof’s expletive-laden diatribe against the Church had him in “hysterics of laughter”, he remembers. On the other extreme, Brenda Fricker relaying her experience of abuse at the hand of a family friend, the first time she had ever discussed it publicly, was unexpected and insightful. Gay told Ray that he made it a “policy” not to make his own religious views known, so as not to influence his guest’s answers.
“I’m just a cute hawk, that’s all.”
“The Town Hall of the air” is how Gay remembers shows like The Gay Byrne Hour and The Gay Byrne Show. At their peak, they reached an audience of almost 1 million people. Bringing events and people like Ann Lovett, Christine Buckley and The Kerry Babies to the consciousness of the general public. Ray wanted to know if Gay has any regrets about his work.
“I do. Great regrets…I have only brief little snatches of memories of [his daughters] Crona and Suzy growing up…Generally speaking, I regret now the amount of time I gave to this place, you know? It was an awful lot of time and I should have taken time to do other things.”
Regrets as they are, Gay acknowledges what a rare position he has occupied in his career.
“I ended up being what I had wanted to be for the time I was 14 or 15 years of age. To how many people in the world is that given?… I lived my dream.“
Ray asked how he felt about his mortality. Gay is circumspect.
“Obviously I’m closer to the exit than the entry door and it’s coming faster. And there’s nothing I can do to avoid it. And this thing that I have will probably hasten it but if that’s to be, that’s to be. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not afraid of dying, I’ve no fear of dying whatsoever but I don’t want to die in agony and I don’t want to lie in a bed with 15 tubes coming out of me for, you know, two years or something. Give me the morphine switch and I’ll look after myself. Thank you very much.”
How do 60 years in broadcasting feel as an accomplishment?
“It doesn’t feel like anything. It just feels like 60 years and now I am as you see me here today. I think that’s all you can say about these things.”
Listen back to the full interview with Gay Byrne on The Ray D’Arcy Show here.
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