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Gay Byrne during the Late Late 50th anniversary show. by Michael Chester/

President pays tribute to Gay Byrne at lifetime achievement ceremony: 'His empathy threw light on dark corners in Irish life'

Michael D Higgins praised Byrne’s impact on Irish broadcasting at a ceremony this evening.

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has praised Gay Byrne’s “courage” and “compassion” as the legendary broadcaster received a lifetime achievement award. 

Higgins was speaking at a ceremony in Dublin Castle this evening, where Byrne received a lifetime achievement award from the Ireland-US Council. 

Before he presented the award from the council, which promotes business links between Ireland and the US, Higgins told the audience that Byrne’s name was “deeply embedded” in the history of Irish broadcasting. 

“His is a name that is, and will always be, held in affection across the country. His voice has, for so many years, been as integral to the rhythm of our lives as the passing of the seasons,” Higgins said in his speech. 

Byrne was unable to attend the award ceremony in person and was represented by his wife Kathleen Watkins and his daughter Suzi. Watkins told RTÉ this evening that Byrne was unable to attend in person due to a broken wrist and a chest infection. 

Byrne was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016 and described his “gruelling” chemotherapy treatment last year. 

Best-known as the first host of the Late Late Show, Byrne has been a fixture of Irish broadcasting – both TV and radio – for decades after joining Radio Éireann in 1958.

Higgins said the long-running programme – which Byrne hosted until 1999 – had helped shape modern Ireland:

His professionalism, empathy and inherent judgment threw light into many dark corners of Irish life, gave a voice to the vulnerable, shattered so many silences and uncovered so many truths.

“His courage as a broadcaster and his willingness to confront the harrowing issues of our times has impacted profoundly on our society,” Higgins said. 

Byrne “helped to give birth, not only to a new age of television and radio in Ireland, but to a nation that aspired to be kinder, more inclusive, more generously shaped in order that it might welcome and accommodate all its citizens,” Higgins added.  

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