“We pray for Ra Ra. May he rest in peace and forever be in our hearts.”
This morning, the nation said goodbye to Uncle Gaybo – and his five grandchildren paid tribute to their beloved “Ra Ra”.
Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne was laid to rest this morning at a dignified funeral at St Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin. The 85-year-old passed away on Monday after a long illness.
At 11am, the funeral cortege left Howth, where Gay lived with wife Kathleen Watkins for many years, and travelled along the Coast Road into the city centre. People gathered at various points along the route to pay their final respects, with hundreds converging outside the Cathedral itself to give a round of applause as the hearse arrived.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greeted Kathleen, their daughters Crona and Suzy and his grandchildren – Cian, Sadhbh, Saoirse, Kate and Harry – and led them to the top of the church, where they were embraced by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Members of the public lined the street the Pro Cathedral to pay their respects to Gay Byrne
Gay’s oldest grandson, Cian, was a pallbearer for the man he had first called “Ra Ra” as a baby, a name that stuck.
Also in the congregation were many familiar faces from across all sections of Irish society, from former RTE colleagues to representatives of the Road Safety Authority, of which Gay Byrne was chair for a number of years, and the organisers of the Rose of Tralee which he hosted for 17 years.
At the request of Kathleen, the ceremony was a simple and traditional Catholic funeral, with hymns sung by the Palestrina choir.
The cortege arriving for the funeral ceremony
Gay’s daughter Suzy O’Byrne welcomed the mourners for “our darling dad and grandfather”. She spoke of how Gay had an “unwavering loyalty and trust” in his broadcasting colleagues, which three years ago he transferred to the team at the Mater hospital and, in particular, “the captain of this ship”, Professor John McCaffery.
Thanking the medical team for the care of her father, Suzy said: “You enabled so many extra memories for us all.”
She also paid tribute to the “unsung heroes” who had made Gay’s cancer journey somewhat easier to bare – the hospital’s catering staff and porters. Suzy recounted how her dad was so well cared for by them “not as Gay – but because he was a Dub and one of their own.”
She paid further tribute to the staff of the St Francis Hospice and the Daffodil Nurse who had cared for Gay in his final days.
“Dad had no fear of death, however he had two wishes: to be in his beloved Howth and not to suffer.”
Current Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy was among the mourners
Suzy thanked all of the people who had lined the route from Howth, describing it as a “stunning and so humbling”. She colluded with a few lines that Brendan Kennelly had written about Gay Byrne.
“You gave us words, ideas, music and song. Often you made us laugh out loud and long. Beneath it all, you searched for what was true. Thank you for that, but thank you most of all for being you.”
Gay’s grandchildren brought up the offertry gifts and remembered him in the Prayers of the Faithful.
Later in the ceremony, Gay was remembered by Fr Leonard Maloney as a kind and gentle person who would always give other people the benefit of the doubt, and as a loving family man with a great sense of humour.
He was also praised as someone who had listened to the plight of women around the country over the years on his radio show, giving voice to issues that before that had been kept hidden in Irish society.
As the ceremony drew to a close, former RTE Director General Bob Collins recalled Gay’s talents as a broadcaster, saying he was “reflective, deep, serious and thoughtful – a person of values” and also an “innovative and adventurous host”. He hailed Gay as a “companion and guide into the modern era” for the nation, and recalled how he had dazzled a New York television crew with his down-to-earth manner when presenting an episode of The Late Late Show in the city.
“Here was the genuine article. He was one who spoke to and for the masses. He was one who could and did make a difference in their lives. Our society will be forever in his debt.”
Gay Byrne will be laid to rest by his family this afternoon in Sutton.