independent

Saturday 14 December 2019

Fond memories of young girl's letter to Gaybo in 1980s

Remembering broadcasting legend Gay Byrne

Sinead with the letter
Sinead with the letter
Sinead (12) with her mother back in 1988

Simon Bourke

The death of Gay Byrne last week led to much reminiscing throughout the country, misty-eyed recollections of the golden era of Irish broadcasting and the totemic presence of a man affectionately known as 'Gaybo'.

And for one Castlebridge woman it brought back memories of an interaction with the Late Late Show host which showed that, underneath it all, the no-nonsense presenter was just a big softie.

In 1988 Sinéad Winters was a sixth class pupil at the St Mary's School for Deaf Girls in Cabra. For one of her projects she had been asked to write a pretend interview addressed to any famous person in Ireland.

'I only knew Gay Byrne because my mam use to watch him all the time and when I brought what I'd written home and showed it to her she was delighted with it and decided to post it for me,' says Sinéad.

The 12-year-old's letter included questions ranging from Gay's favourite interviewee (Peter Ustinov), how many seats are in the Late Late Show studio (124), and how long Gay expected to host the programme for (God knows!).

Yet, as one of the most famous men in the country, Sinéad thought the chances of receiving a reply, let alone a hand-written one, were remote.

'I told mam he wouldn't reply, but I was happy to be proved wrong when I got the letter. It had been a good while since I'd posted it but nevertheless, a few months after Mam posted it, he replied,' she recalls.

At the time she sent the letter subtitles weren't available for the hearing impaired, meaning Sinéad had to rely on her mother to relay Gay's words to her every Friday night.

This didn't hamper her enjoyment of the programme however, and when, a couple of years later, subtitles became available a new television was purchased by the family.

'I think the subtitles started when I was around 16 and mam had to buy new a TV with subtitles to support my needs. Though I sometimes fell asleep after the long journey back from school in Dublin earlier in the day.'

Like so many of her generation Sinéad has fond memories of one annual event in particular, 'The Toy Show was a magical night when I was young,' she says.

Having watched those shows, and countless others, with her mother, last week's news caused Sinéad to reflect on the woman who shared her love of Uncle Gaybo.

'I was shocked when I got a text message from my husband and straightaway I was thinking of my mam too. She passed away in 2015. I watched all of the six o' clock news last Monday which I don't really do. And then I remembered the interview, mam had kept the letter safe in my baby journal book.'

And what does Sinéad make of the current iteration of the long-running chat show and current host, Ryan Tubridy.

'I do sometime watch it but it's not the same without Gaybo,' she says.

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