Kathleen Watkins opens up on how she keeps mind off loss of husband Gay Byrne

Kathleen Watkins opens up on how she keeps mind off loss of husband Gay Byrne
Get all the very latest news in Ireland straight to your email every single day”,”buttonText”:”Sign up!”,”contentId”:6321963,”newsletterImage”:”https://i2-prod.irishmirror.ie/incoming/article22352084.ece/BINARY/1_Covid-19-Scenes90466558.jpg”,”endpointUrl”:”https://response.pure360.com/interface/list.php”,”profile”:”Irish_Mirror”,”isPure360NewsLetter”:true,”pure360MailingListId”:”Irish Mirror – Daily Newsletter”,”newsletterSiteName”:”Irish Mirror”}” data-mod=”skinnySignup”>

When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. OurPrivacy Noticeexplains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Invalid Email

Kathleen Watkins has told how her series of podcasts and new poetry book have kept her mind off the loss of beloved husband Gay Byrne.

The projects provided a much-needed distraction for the 86-year-old writer who topped the podcast charts with her Senior Times poetry insights.

And with her new Pigin kids book out as well, the grandmother and beloved mother to Crona and Suzy is proving that age is just a number.

Kathleen’s wide range of interests – from watching ballet to reading poetry – also means she is filling her days to the brim.

She revealed to the Irish Sunday Mirror: “When Mike Murphy said, ‘Would you do a podcast?’, I mean a few years ago none of us knew what a podcast was.

“We did the Yeats poems from Maude Gonne MacBride. We did a general chat too and we did it in a room turned into a studio in Jurys hotel.

“I don’t claim to be a Yeats expert but I’m intrigued at the way they worked – the whole family were artistic.”

At Gay’s launch of The Meaning of Life book, Kathleen was approached to write a series of children’s books which, she said, “happened quite by accident”.

Gay Byrne and his wife Kathleen Watkins

She explained: “Now this is the third Pigin book. On this occasion the little pig goes off on Aer Lingus. How he gets on to the plane is a bit unusual, but blame the fairies!

“I couldn’t believe it when Nicky Howard from Gill asked me again to write a second poetry book.”

Revealing on how these projects helped her cope with losing her husband last year she said: “It was a great reason to jump out of bed every day.

“There were three pieces I chose about Gay, the first piece was written for the last Gay Byrne radio show by Brendan Kennelly.

“Then darling Rita Anne Higgins wrote a piece and Gay’s Sunday Lyric FM producer Eithne Hand wrote a lovely short piece in November when he was dying at that point.

“I ended with Derek Mahon’s wonderful piece – Everything Is Going To Be Alright, – which I recently recited on the Late Late Show.

“The interesting thing is, it was a difficult time nationwide when I was asked to write the book, there was a mention of poetry all the time, everyone was mentioning poetry during the first lockdown. I think occupation and distraction is provided by books, if you can just read something and get hooked.

Gay Byrne

Gay Byrne at the Irish Book Awards

“I found it a total distraction for me. Suddenly I was self-isolating here. The day Nicky rang me I was thinking I must really get a structure to my day now.

“My family were dropping me hampers of food at a distance so I had no cooking to do.”

Asked whether she found that time helped to heal her grief Kathleen said: “I have my moments, the first anniversary was a very special day and we all went to the grave and said prayers.

“We had a lovely family day. We’re comforting each other and we’re doing our best let’s put it like that.”

Gay and Kathleen were like peas in a pod, so what was their secret to happiness? She revealed: “Some people don’t get married but still have good fulfilled lives. Lots of people I know didn’t get married but they’ve had great careers. So I think it’s up to individuals to get on with their own lives no matter what kind of a life you have.

“It’s up to you to make the most of your life, it’s terribly important in life to be aware of other people and to have time for them. The most precious and valuable thing in the world is time, there’s always somebody who needs you to lend a listening ear.”

Gay Byrne and Kathleen Watkins

Fame was part of their existence, the former broadcaster and first-ever female host of the Rose of Tralee explained: “It
was just part of our life, everywhere we went people knew us, they knew Gay particularly well.

“We were huge theatre goers, we loved the Gate, we loved the Abbey. We really enjoyed our own performances, we did over 40 performances around the country.

“With Gay’s One Man Show, we did the Pavillion in Dun Laoghaire several times… about 46 theatres in total.

“I only had a tiny part, I gave Gay a break in the second half. He loved knowing that I would do 10 or 12 minutes and he did the run-up to the grand finale.

“What’s it he called it?… One Man show with Woman.

“It was just before he became ill, about four years ago, he was ill for three years so this was hugely enjoyable.

Suzy Byrne, Kathleen Watkins, Gay Byrne & Crona Byrne at launch of Gay Byrne’s new book

“Gay had the whole show on his back,
he didn’t sit down for any of it, he just entertained people. He was really the raconteur, talking about past bits of the show, stories, bits and pieces.

“It was wonderful to see the crowds pouring in from everywhere.”

Asked why Gay is regarded the best broadcaster this country has seen, she replied: “The act is to talk less and listen more. He listened very, very well. He was very astute but he put in a huge amount of homework – preparation, preparation and more preparation.

“I remember a group of us went to the Andre Rieu show and we went backstage to see him, he had been interviewed by people all over the world.

“He said to me he had never disclosed things to anybody that he had disclosed to Gay.

“Lady Diana’s brother Earl Spencer wrote a beautiful letter to me, saying he felt the same.
He said something similar, it was very complimentary.

“But Gay was just doing his job whether it was Andre Rieu or Bertie Ahern or any of our local wonderful people here, the preparation was the same. As he would say himself, ‘it was about putting in the flying hours’.”

As to whether Ryan Tubridy is on the same level, she said: “I think Ryan is very much his own man. He’s a great performer himself but
I know he was a great fan of Gay’s going way back.”

Kathleen says the highlight of her own glittering career was filming Faces and Places around the country for six years. She explained: “I think it’s one of the nicest jobs in television, to go around the country filming. We went to the UK and to America too, to New Orleans.”

And in terms of her children, she added: “My words of wisdom… I only hope that by example you’re giving them strength of character and they’ll know right from wrong in all areas. You do your best, you do the best you can. That is what you’re meant to do. There were so many special moments over the years.”

  • To listen to Kathleen’s Senior Times Podcast, see www. seniortimes.ie

XL subscribe to our newsletter banner

Get the latest news and advice on COVID-19, direct from the experts in your inbox. Join hundreds of thousands who trust experts by subscribing to our newsletter.

Send your news and stories to us news@climaxradio.co.uk or newstories@climaxnewsroom.com and WhatsApp: +447747873668.

Before you go...

Democratic norms are being stress-tested all over the world, and the past few years have thrown up all kinds of questions we didn't know needed clarifying – how long is too long for a parliamentary prorogation? How far should politicians be allowed to intervene in court cases? To monitor these issues as closely as we have in the past we need your support, so please consider donating to The Climax News Room.

Leave a Reply