TV Viewpoint: Farewell to Gay Byrne

That was the week that was. The farewell to Gay Byrne was certainly a long goodbye, from the endless radio chatter to the Late Late Show special last Tuesday, to the televised funeral on Friday. But Gay was unlike any other on Irish screens and airwaves; for at least two generations he defined RTE television and radio – even when he retired from the Late Late, and later from his flagship RTE Radio One show he remained a constant presence, on the likes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and his passion project, The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne.

Like Elizabeth II, the local eccentric and Bosco, Gay Byrne was a ubiquitous, semi-mythological presence in the life of this 30 something year old, and I’m sure countless more of my ilk. A constant, a fixture, an institution, it wasn’t until the news of his death that it became clear he was flesh and blood like the rest of us and not just beams of light transferred from the studios of Donnybrook to our television screens.

Gay Byrne: Photo by Mark Condren

The special tribute show that aired a mere two days after the news of his death was hastily assembled and haphazard in places, but had all the hallmarks of an Irish goodbye. Everyone who is, was and has been anyone was called in to pay their respects and all who could, did. It was joyful in tone, if somewhat bittersweet, with anecdote following anecdote, musical interludes and stories, steered by his second successor, an emotional Ryan Tubridy.

Most people will say Tubridy doesn’t hold a candle to Uncle Gaybo, and though unfair in some respects, they’re probably right. Gay was more than a presenter, he was an icon, and one of a kind. Listening in to Tubridy’s Radio One show during the week, it was largely taken up with listeners calling in to tell their tales of their brushes with Gay; it seemed like there was literally one for everyone in the audience! R.I.P Mr. Byrne, and thanks for the memories.

There’s nothing as pressing in our collective lives at the moment than the global climate crisis. We are fast approaching a path of no return when it comes to human’s impact on the environment, and it’s clear from the chaotic weather Ireland has been subjected to for the past number of years that we are not to be spared from the catastrophes that await.

Will Ireland Survive 2050? That was the question posed in a Monday night documentary on RTE1, led by former weather presenter, head of forecasting at Met Eireann and all-round trustworthy guy, Gerard Fleming alongside Dr. Cara Augustenborg. We’ve already had a hint of things to come – reports of local flooding have increased year on year in the pages of this very newspaper – and according to the stark warnings in the documentary they are only going to continue, and worsen.

The programme is part of a week-long focus by RTE on the climate crisis, running across TV, radio and online. Sombre and serious in tone, as befitting the subject matter, it included sobering projections of an Ireland under water if we don’t take action now. Bye bye Cork, see ya Dublin; Galway won’t get off lightly either. Compared with other nations, desperate as the situation is in Ireland it will still be seen as a “lifeboat nation” – in addition to the loss of whole chunks of land how are we to sustain an influx of “climate migrants”? These questions and more need answers now, and it is down to the citizens of this country to address them.

If you didn’t catch the programme on Monday night, I urge you to watch it on the RTE Player. It’s an urgent issue that needs immediate addressing, and everybody needs to start doing their bit, if they haven’t started already. There are other online-only and repeated programmes also on the player with a focus on climate which are well worth a watch, and most are child friendly which means a family-inclusive educational opportunity. We must start our plan of action, because there is no Planet B.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 13.11.19

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