Harry Crosbie 'I glanced over at Gay and I saw that the wheelchair was very, very slowly rolling back towards the water'
Gregarious developer Harry Crosbie was one of Gay Byrne's closest friends and he recollects their times together along with the late Gerry Ryan.
Irish impresario Harry Crosbie was one of Gay Byrne's dearest friends, with the two pals hanging out together right to the end.
In an exclusive interview, gregarious entrepreneur Crosbie today shares his fond memories of The Late Late Show host.
Harry lives with his wife Rita in a converted 18th century warehouse home that sits on the water in Dublin's Hanover Quay. He tells the Sunday World how Gaybo and the late Gerry Ryan would often enjoy a get-together at the house out of the spotlight, and sometimes they'd watch old war movies.
Harry reveals that The Late Late Show legend also spent days alone at the property, relaxing in the building's glass sun lounge, reading and listening to the soothing sound of the water lapping against the rocks.
Rock supergroup U2 own the old recording studio attached to Harry's house, and Gay and Harry would occasionally drop in for a chat with Bono and the boys when they were at work there.
Colourful developer Crosbie, who has given us iconic Dublin venues The Point (3Arena), Vicar Street and the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, and who played a key role in the rejuvenation of Dublin's Docklands, had known Gay for more than 30 years.
"I knew Gay just casually for many years, but I really got to know him after I did The Late Late Show for the first time when I opened The Point in 1988," Harry recalls.
"We got on great afterwards. We went for a drink and he was telling me that television is a strange beast because some people just walk through it and come out the other side into the room, and others don't. Some people can walk through the tube and come out the other side, that's how he described it. He told me that I was able to do that. He said I should work at it, but of course I didn't."
Crosbie, who lights up the small screen, proved to be an entertaining and popular guest of Gay's on the Late Late in the years that followed.
But the two Irish personalities went on to forge a really close bond out of the limelight.
"We just got on," Harry says. "There is no way you can turn a key and open a lock into a friendship. Some people, the weirdest people, simply get on and we just got on together. I can't explain why, but we did.
"I suppose part of the reason is that I'm used to being around famous people and it doesn't bother me. To me, he wasn't the Gay Byrne off the telly, he was just Gay Byrne.
"Because I was in the entertainment business I was able to deal with the fact that he was so famous. It's a known fact that the person standing beside someone famous is invisible.
"People would only see Gay because he was mega famous, they didn't see me, and I had no problem with that. When we first met, Gay told me he often went for walks and that he might drop in.
"About a week later he knocked on the door and came in, and that was the start of me meeting him regularly for walks. We walked The Great South Wall (Dublin), we went to Howth, we went to the Botanic Gardens, we went everywhere.
"But a lot of the times he would just drop around to the house and sit and read. We have a big glass house which is a sun trap, and if you open the door the water is right outside and you can hear it lapping against the stones. He would sit there on his own and read for the afternoon. I was at work, my missus was at work, and he was here on his own.
"The walls of the house are really, really thick and you can't hear a sound, and he loved that. It was really quiet and peaceful. In fact, he used to tell me to bugger off to work and leave him alone. And when I came home he'd be gone."
Harry often invited other well-known guests around to the house to join him and Gay. "We met a lot of people down here, people such as Tommy Tiernan, John Boorman and John Banville.
"And we went next door a good few times to have a chat with the U2 guys. It was always very casual. We'd see them going in and then we'd go in after them for a bit of a chat. Gay and Bono were quite close.
"I always joke that I have a noisy band playing next door and I have to bang on the wall to shut them up. Sometimes we can hear them through the wall when they're playing. We never got round to putting up the sound insulation."
Did you and Gay like the same music? "Not at all," Harry howls. "He'd say, 'Turn off that sh*te on the radio!' He had a 'grumpy old man' act and did that kind of thing a lot, 'Turn that off, shut the door and leave me alone.' Gay, Gerry Ryan and myself became very, very close friends. The three of us used to knock around a lot together and we would often come down here to my house and watch war movies together, and we watched submarine movies… all the usual things that fellas do.
"What they liked is that they could be ordinary with me.
"And they also felt that my house was a safe house, nothing ever leaked into the papers, nobody ever knew any of their business and that was a huge factor.
"They always said to me they felt safe and secure in here. There are massive benefits to fame, but you have to learn how to live with it.
"There was a time when Gay and Gerry and myself saw a lot of each other. We came here for many, many years and nobody ever knew. And I miss them. It's incredible, I still can't believe that the two of them are dead."
Byrne was always intrigued by Crosbie's major development projects. "Gay was fascinated by business, but he didn't really understand business. He was fascinated by how a big project was put together. I often used to go through the deals with him, to show him how they were done as each piece was put in place.
"He had a skill that I couldn't do, and I could do something that he couldn't do."
When Crosbie was deciding what to do with his three bronze bears that were originally situated outside the 3Arena and familiar to concert-goers, Byrne suggested he should donate them to the Children's Hospital in Tallaght. "I thought that was a terrific idea," Harry says. "They were valued at €500,000, and since they got them, the doctor who runs the place up there has put in a wild flower meadow around them, and they're now putting in hives for honey bees."
When Gay raffled the Harley Davidson motorbike that U2 gave him as a gift on the night he retired from The Late Late Show in 1999, the money went to Crumlin Children's Hospital.
It was his friend Harry who bought it, and until recently it was on display at Vicar Street. However, since the venue closed due to Covid-19, Crosbie says the Harley is to be moved to his wife Rita's Café H bar and restaurant near their home on Grand Canal Dock.
"I bought it on The Late Late Show and Gay was delighted because he loved motor bikes," Harry says. "When he retired he took many trips around Ireland on it, and then I bought the bike off him. We still have it, and he loved the fact that I bought it and that we have that. It's now going up in Café H where Gay often enjoyed a pizza. He loved that."
Looking back on his life when he retired, Byrne said he regretted devoting so much of his time to his work in RTE.
"Gay said publicly and also to me that he regretted working so hard and that if he had his life to live over again he wouldn't have dedicated so much of it to RTE," Harry says.
"He felt that he should have taken more time out, and he should have spent more time with his family. He often said it to me, especially when he retired. He enjoyed his retirement so much. He came to France with me, where we have a flat, and he came to Wexford, where we have a cottage."
Gay did many projects during his retirement, including compering the concert for Queen Elizabeth II at the Convention Centre in Dublin during her Irish visit in May 2011.
It was his old pal Harry who produced the event and later received an OBE for his services.
During Gay's final years when he was in very poor health, Harry would take him out and about whenever his old friend felt up to it.
People would always stop to chat to the man who felt so familiar to them.
"He was very good with people," Harry says. "He was very, very kind with people and he was aware that people felt they knew him because he was so much on the telly and on the radio.
"We would go to really quiet out of the way pubs on a Tuesday afternoon at four o'clock when there was nobody there and just sit there, and he loved doing that. I'd have a beer and he'd have a whiskey.
"We'd only go to places that we knew were going to be empty. You couldn't go anywhere in public with Gay because the minute they saw him they talked to him. So you had to be used to being with famous people to go out with Gay because he was just so incredibly famous.
"The Dublin women would sit down and chat with Gay as if they'd been speaking to him the day before, because that's how intimate his relationship was with the people of Ireland.
"They loved him, but they also trusted him and that was a huge factor. He was really trusted like a favourite old uncle, and they could depend on whatever he said being true, and that's a very rare thing."
Crosbie then recounts a hilarious final outing to Dalkey with Gay when the star was in a wheelchair.
He says: "When he was really, really sick he rang me one day and said, 'We'll go for a walk.' I said, 'You're not able to, you're too sick.' He said he had got a lend of a wheelchair.
"When I got there it was one of those cheap collapsible ones that had a canvas middle. After a good while, myself and Kathleen got the thing open, got him into it, got him down to the car and then had to dismantle it again and put it into the back of the car.
"He said he wanted to go out to Bullock Harbour in Dalkey. So we went out and I had to do the whole thing over again putting it together, and he's giving out, doing his grumpy-old-man routine.
"Eventually I got him into it and he had to strap himself in, and I went around to get my coat and lock the car on my side. I glanced over at him and I saw that the wheelchair was very, very slowly rolling back towards the water.
"I got such a fright in the moment that my voice wouldn't work. I ran around and fortunately I caught him in time. When he realised what happened, Gay thought this was so funny.
"We then proceeded on up the road where we met some people along the way, and you could see their amazement when they spotted it was Gay Byrne.
"Then Gay shouted, 'Get the police, yer man is trying to murder me!' He never lost his sense of humour."