The Times We Lived In: Gaybo pops up in time for the telethon

Published: May 2nd, 1990 Photograph by Matt Kavanagh

"Morning dear." "And the top of the morning to you too, me auld flower…"

O ver the past half-century there must have been many television viewers (and indeed radio listeners), who would have paid good money to be allowed to dunk the head of the veteran RTÉ broadcaster Gay Byrne into the nearest duck pond. If they had only known: that unmistakable noodle was already immersed in the pond in his own back garden.

This photograph was taken as advance publicity for RTÉ’s 1990 People in Need telethon’s “Garland of Hope” project, which saw garlands of flowers being placed on the railings of St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Passing gardeners were invited to place a flower or a piece of greenery on the garland as well as making a donation to charity.

But as none of that was happening until later in the week, our photographer was despatched to Chez Gaybo, where Mrs Gaybo, aka Kathleen Watkins, was all set up – hair coiffed, summer dress on, basket of flowers at the ready – to pose for a picture.


We can only imagine the photographer’s delight when, scouting the garden for a suitable spot, he spied the sculpted head protruding from the pond. Was Kathleen Watkins so engrossed in her flower-arranging that she totally forgot about the sculpture? Or was it her idea to kneel down just there? What, come to think of it, was the head doing in the water in the first place?

None of which matters, of course, because the image is a delight. If the head weren’t so lifelike, it wouldn’t work; so all credit to the sculptor for capturing Byrne’s trademark grin.

The telethon disappeared during the recession and – unlike Gay Byrne, who pops up as regularly as ever on our screens and airwaves, and Mrs Gaybo, who is publishing her first children's book, Piglin of Howth, next month at the age of 82 – appears to be truly a thing of the past.

Arminta Wallace