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'This will be my last walk for Gay': Crowds gather to sign book of condolence for late broadcaster

The RTÉ broadcaster passed away yesterday aged 85.

Photo of Gay Byrne at the Mansion House, Dublin.
Photo of Gay Byrne at the Mansion House, Dublin.
Image: Cónal Thomas

“I’M HERE TO honour Gay Byrne, who was simply a good man,” said Walter McNicholas, standing outside the Mansion House in Dublin, walking stick in his right hand, his left hand tucked into his coat pocket. 

McNicholas travelled on the Dart this morning from Sandymount, walking from Pearse St Station up to the Lord Mayor’s residence on Dawson Street where, by 10.45am, a crowd had gathered to sign the book of condolence for broadcaster Gay Byrne, who died yesterday aged 85. 

“The people who listened to him, they thought about him,” McNicholas told TheJournal.ie. “He gave them a great feeling of succor. They felt good about him and he felt good about us.”

Byrne, who hosted RTÉ’s The Late Late Show for almost four decades, was one of the country’s best-known broadcasters. 

His passing will be marked today at the Mansion House where members of the public will be able to pay their respects until 5pm and tomorrow between 10am and 5pm. 

First to pay tribute today was Lord Mayor of Dublin Paul McAuliffe who signed the book of condolence at 10:55am. “Gay Byrne gave the nation its voice,” McAuliffe told TheJournal.ie. “He was a very loud voice in a very small Ireland. He helped make Ireland a very different place”. 

“In many ways, Gay gave people opportunity, too” said McAuliffe. “He shared his wealth of knowledge about broadcasting. 

“I’d like to particularly pass my condolences on to [his wife] Kathleen and the girls. But also to the wider RTÉ family who will feel his loss today,” he said. 

McAuliffe’s tribute was followed this morning by Liveline presenter Joe Duffy, a protégé of Byrne who said of his passing yesterday: “More so than any one individual, Gay Byrne represented modern Ireland and through his daily broadcasting on radio and television he propelled this country and its people forward.”

By 11.15am, a queue had formed at the Mansion House stretching from the main door to the Dawson St pavement. 

Dubliner Mick O’Brien arrived this morning to honour “an icon”. 

“He was just one of those people you can’t find many bad words to say about. I saw him once or twice in public and he was just as affable off-air.”

“[Ireland] has lost one of its greatest characters,” said O’Brien.” I think he should be afforded a State funeral.”

Since news of Byrne’s passing was announced yesterday afternoon, commentators, former colleagues, politicians and friends have about spoken how the veteran broadcaster was not only a master of his craft, but seemingly had a direct line to the nation’s pulse, breaking down social mores in an country undergoing seismic cultural shifts. 

“Isn’t it extraordinary that even then, when we had nothing to compare him to, we seemed to understand how good he was,” BBC presenter Graham Norton told RTÉ’s The Ryan Tubridy Show this morning. 

“His quality shone through even though as an audience, we were clueless, because he was the only thing there was.”

Fellow RTÉ presenter Mike Murphy, meanwhile, described Byrne today as “a once-off”. 

And for many paying tribute at the Mansion House this morning, Gay Byrne was always there. 

“I liked everything about him,” said Wendy Hall, who travelled from Rathfarnham to sign the book of condolence today. 

Hall says she’d not only watch the Late Late Show every Friday but, in Byrne’s retirement years, tune into his show on RTÉ Lyric FM every week. 

“I used to go for a walk for those two hours and listen to him. It was just so relaxing. Everything about him was so lovely.

So, I decided to walk in this morning because it will be my last walk for him.

A special live edition of The Late Late Show will be broadcast tonight in tribute to Gay Byrne, who is survived by his wife of over 50 years, the writer and broadcaster Kathleen Watkins, their two daughters, Suzy and Crona, and their grandchildren. 

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