Gerry Ryan’s legacy

Right now, like thousands (millions?) of people around Ireland, I’m listening to 2FM‘s special programming dedicated to the life of Gerry Ryan, who sadly passed away yesterday morning. People are ringing in, devastated at the news – not just his friends and colleagues, but everyday people like you and I who listened in to his show.

Just yesterday morning, I had a short twitter conversation with a friend of mine about Gerry – before news of his death broke. She told me about his coverage of the Hunky Dorys ad campaign and my flippant reply was: “Gerry Ryan’s a prize eejit at the best of times anyway”. And yes, to me he was an eejit on-air sometimes – and I’m sure Gerry knew that he was a very controversial and polarising person who had as many people who disliked him as loved him. And yet, anyone who said they didn’t like him – like myself – curiously had listened to many hours of his shows in years past…

The more I think about Gerry Ryan, the more I realise what a huge voice he was in my life growing up. I have really clear memories of listening to his shows on subjects that hitherto had been uncovered on Irish radio. Many radio presenters were afraid to talk about sex, rape, divorce, or even ghosts (or sex with ghosts!). Gerry wasn’t. He talked about whatever his listeners wanted to talk to him about – he spoke to Lavinia Kerwick about her rape trial, giving rape victims a voice on Irish radio for possibly the first time. He spoke about his marriage, his wife Morah, and their courtship, parenthood and subsequent break up – he invited listeners into his life, whether they wanted to be there or not.

I remember when I was about 10 or 11, doing some work for my dad in his office and listening to Gerry talk to young women who had had children out of wedlock. In the early 90s in Ireland, this was still a pretty taboo subject, and for many of these women, it was their first time being given a platform to speak about the hurt, shame and shock they felt about their situation. It opened my young eyes to the fact that for women, pregnancy doesn’t always come at the perfect time; and that women are frequently ostracised or shamed because of being unmarried and pregnant.

One young mother said that she had covered up her pregnancy because of how ashamed she was – she’d walk down the road eating Mars Bars so that her neighbours would think she was getting fat, not carrying a child. This image has never left me, and probably did much to strengthen my feminist beliefs.

Radio is such an important media, but it was even more so when there were two Irish TV channels and a small handful of radio stations. As society changed, radio and television changed to reflect that – and in many cases, spurred on this change. If it wasn’t for Gay Byrne covering the topics he did on The Late Late Show, and Gerry Ryan talking to the people he did on 2FM, Irish people would have been lacking a voice and an insight to that change. We sometimes don’t appreciate that, as these days Irish society is a lot more open and we have more outlets to communicate with each other.

On a more simplistic level, radio is a friend – when you’re on your own at home, in your car, or minding your children. And so Gerry, like all radio presenters who engages with their listeners, became a friend to his loyal listeners.

As I got older, I drifted away from listening to his show, and often his bolshy approach to subjects relating to sexism in particular. I wouldn’t have said I was a big fan of his in latter years. And yet, he left an impact on me that contributed towards me wanting my own career in radio.

We all want to be remembered when we are gone, and there will certainly be no forgetting Gerry Ryan. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and colleagues.

A book of condolences has been opened for Gerry Ryan in RTE.

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7 thoughts on “Gerry Ryan’s legacy

  1. Really lovely Aoife, well done. I remember almost getting to be on School Around The Corner with my class when I was five. I got sick they day before they travelled up to Dublin and had to watch them on tv instead. Was sickened. I used to really fancy Gerry Ryan. Excellent photo! (the first one with the deadly casio)

  2. As someone who didn’t grow up in Ireland, I’ve been unfortunate to only experience the latter (i.e. the bad years) of Gerry Ryan. It was really nice for me to read your perspective on himself and to hear about the good things he did at the beginning of his career. It makes more sense to me now why everyone is so upset about his death.
    Obviously I’m sad that he died, it’s tragic for his family – it’s sad when anybody dies. But I have been ignorant to any of the positive aspects of his broadcasting career and always thought he was a pompous ass. So it’s nice to get your perspective on it and to hear about a time when he was more than just a pain on the radio.
    And yeah, the photo is amazoballs.
    Thanks for writing such a lovely tribute 🙂

  3. I used to always listen to his late night show as a kid. As with Dave Fanning, he seemed to me to have aged into a very different animal. Nice to be reminded of some genuinely important broadcasting of his which might otherwise be forgotten amid the current deluge of hyperbole.

    1. Along with Dave Fanning and Dermot Morgan, Gerry Ryan is a total childhood hero of mine! He’s one of the reasons I gravitated towards radio. Kudos for the kind words Aoife, and for reminding one how significant his contribution to Irish broadcasting is.

  4. Before I start giving out about Jerry Ryan, May I say I an sorry for his family an friends, his listeners and many in our country. A death is a death.

    Gerry was part of the media golden circle. Look at who came out to speak for him. Everyone from Bono to Harry Crosby, people who may have used Gerry Ryan to further their own careers. Never a bad to to say about Gerry Ryan, well he tore up the script an research on many an important topic, he often destroyed the core message of peoples 15 mins of fame as he glossed over the real issues to insure it made good radio, for who???, you the listener or to get more advertising for RTE..
    So now the hype and the power of the Irish media golden circle is morning its own.
    I do not deny, Gerry Ryan was a real person with real friends, an they are all hurting right now. but for those of us who had real stories to tell, who he didn,t allow express ourselves, who thus missed our chance on radio who he scoffed at and bullied and laughed at. who he encouraged you to laugh at, who he belittled on air, because we didnt fit the media golden circle image. nor RTE’s images of what RTE want Irish people to be. If he so supported the common people, take one example, Nama, many of his friends are in Nama, yet he berates these developers on air, but it didnt stop him socializing with them. Boozing with them, promoting them, the media Golden circle and the developers golden circle is all the same, the rich, ……. the oppressors.
    So what if he could talk about himself and his feelings, any drunk can do that.. Gerry Ryan will be missed, by all those who depended on his ruling the airways an promoting the media golden circle, the chosen ones, the blessed few….

  5. When I saw the rumours on Twitter, I remember a pang of genuine fear. I wasn’t terrified, but I found myself wanting it not to be true in a way I didn’t expect. I’d never been a big fan, but like most people around our age, he was a part of our landscape. Even when I disagreed with him, I never really dismissed him. He’ll be sorely missed. Really lovely article. Thanks 🙂

  6. Gerry will be solely missed , he was a one true character.
    he was not afraid to talk about anythings from family to economy. Someday you would turn the radio in annoyance with the topic other day you wanted to hear more. The Irish Morning paper analysis will never be the same again.

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