Teri Hayden, Gabriel Byrne, and Hannah Beth Byrne

The Irish Film and Television Awards has made the entire presentation of Gabriel Byrne’s IFTA Lifetime Achievement Award, telecast on February 15, 2018, available on YouTube.

What a special night this was!

Here’s the video and below you will find a full transcript of remarks from both President Higgins and Gabriel Byrne. President Higgins is glowing in his praise of Gabriel, while the man of the hour is humble and somehow introspective in the face of this towering honor.

Enjoy it all and once again, congratulations to Gabriel on this wonderful award!


Gabriel Byrne IFTA Lifetime Achievement Award
February 15, 2018
Mansion House, Dublin, Ireland

Presentation of the award by President Michael D. Higgins

May I commence by thanking IFTA for inviting me to present tonight’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, and commending them for their valuable work in recognising and rewarding the many talented and creative people who contribute so much to Ireland’s reputation on the international stage.

Tonight I am delighted to have the opportunity to be associated with your acknowledgment of the work of an actor who has made an outstanding contribution to film and stage and has also been an outstanding ambassador for Ireland, not only through his gifted screen and stage performances, but also through his passionate advocacy for the Arts in all their forms.

Gabriel Byrne’s talents first came to the notice of the homes of Ireland through television. Sown in the fields and farmyards of the iconic Irish television drama ‘The Riordans’, from that rich soil his reputation grew and flourished. From a training in some of the great sources of talent, for example the Focus Theatre, Gabriel went on to significant roles in films such as ‘Defence of the Realm’, ‘Miller’s Crossing’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ which established him as one of Ireland’s most successful and internationally respected actors.

“Gabriel Byrne’s spirit of transformative thinking, and the moral courage that drives it, extends beyond his film career.”

Gabriel’s great artistic range and the affective command he brings to every role, whether playing a morally corrupt anti-hero, a well-loved literary giant, a legendary King, an Irish traveller or any of the many roles to which he has brought his unique and distinctive talent, have made a significant contribution to Ireland’s legacy in the world of film.

Gabriel’s ability to fully embody his character, to push their limits, dig deeply into their emotions, explore their vulnerabilities has gifted us with performances that ring with authenticity and invite us to a truth that is emancipatory of feeling. He is an actor unafraid to experiment, to innovate as he challenges and provokes audiences whilst bringing them to new understandings of our human struggles.

Gabriel Byrne’s spirit of transformative thinking, and the moral courage that drives it, extends beyond his film career. I read a description once of Gabriel as someone who ‘agitates with a passion to take on oppressors of humanity and culture far and wide’. That is a very apt description of a man who has always been a brave and outspoken advocate for justice in its many forms; speaking out on behalf of the homeless and the impoverished, asking the difficult questions that are so often the necessary prelude to bringing about positive change and the creation of spaces of culture that can be shared by all.

Our paths have crossed most recently in the appreciation of Eugene O’Neill and George Bernard Shaw.

Irish culture is fortunate to have the privilege of being able to claim Gabriel Byrne as ‘one of our own’ and I take great personal pleasure in presenting him with this greatly deserved award tonight.

This text is available at the President’s website

Acceptance Speech by Gabriel Byrne

<thunderous applause>

Thank you.

You know, this award is meaningful to me, because it’s not just a marker of work. It’s a marker of my life.

And when you look back on your life and the decisions that you’ve taken, you get to a place where you look back and you see the reverberations of those decisions. The decision to leave Dublin was a huge one for me, despite people saying “oh, you shouldn’t go to London, you shouldn’t go to New York” or whatever. And it wasn’t that I set out, saying, okay, well, I’m going to be… It was just that I had to prove something to myself, I suppose.

But there was a time when work and life were inextricably bound up together for me and I had to admit that, to a certain extent, my work was my identity. And I came to learn that life and work are two very different things. And imperceptibly they started to diverge. I came to see that life…work was a very important part of life but it wasn’t life. And when we consider the kind of lives we’ve led, you look back at the successes, the failures, the doubts, the insecurities, the fears, the regrets, and the great gratitude that you have to have been given all those things, including the failures–I’ve always maintained that you learn more from failure than you do from any kind of success.

“I remember talking to Liam Neeson about this. We were the only two in America. They didn’t know where we came from.”

I’m enormously grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given and, even though I didn’t really understand the jumps that I was taking into the unknown, I’m really glad I took them, because I was never encouraged to listen to the silent voice, the voice inside yourself that says “Do it. Go for it.” And if there’s anybody out there who has that silent urging voice, listen to it, do it, because the doing of it means that you won’t regret it, because it’s better to have done it than never to have done it.

I’d like to also pay tribute to another part of my life that has been so important–the loyalty of friends, the loyalty of family, the people who know me, who I owe a great deal to, the people who gave me jobs, the people who believed in something that I had to say. My agent, Teri Hayden, I’ve had for maybe thirty years and we’ve managed to remain friends. Thank you to all those brilliant actors in the room, those young actors coming up now. It’s so moving to see it. I remember talking to Liam Neeson about this. We were the only two in America. They didn’t know where we came from. It’s wonderful to see now that kids can look and say “I’m going to L. A. or I’m going to London,” and actually going for it, being courageous and taking the leap. You don’t really learn anything–you just keep making mistakes and you try to do it better the next time. Every job you start, you start at the bottom.

And can I just say thank you to those actors, thank you to the directors, thank you to the producers, the casting agents.

I’d also like to thank, on a personal level, my darling beautiful wife, Hannah Beth. Thank you.

<thunderous applause>


  1. What a thoughtful introduction by President Higgins. Gabriel looked visibly moved. His words were humble and inspiring. I would have showed different clips from his illustrious career, but then again, how does one choose from such a stirring body of work. Thank you Stella for the transcripts. That’s a lot of listening.

    • Angelle, I hope you know how much I appreciate your comments on this site. <3

      I agree with you about the remarks by President Higgins, who really put Gabriel's contributions over the years in a lovely perspective. I chose that one pull-out quote because I found it rather stunning, but oh so appropriate! So lovely for him to receive this kind of recognition from the leader of the country, and the film community, too. Someday we must create our own demo reel for Mr. Byrne, don't you think? Which film scenes would YOU include? ;-) <3

      • Ok. What scenes would I include? It’s like the twelve days of Christmas! Number 1: Emotional Arithmetic – the scene with Susan Sarandon in the barn when he comes to her out of the rain.

        • Yes! That is lovely. Also, the scene in the store with Sarandon when he sees how she is treated by her neighbor and then calms her down by being matter-of-fact about their war experience: I was at Drancy with Melanie…

          • Yes that is a poignant scene. Next scene in our filmreel would be : when Christopher says “I could have loved you ” a few minutes later into the film, with all its repressed regret and longing. The airport scene in the IFTA film reel can stay, but the shooting scene from Mad Dog Time in the opening sequence would be replaced with his comedic character singing “My Way” with Paul Anka. Hysterical! .
            Tomorrow my film reel countdown continues with Miller’s Crossing.

          • Agree about Mad Dog Time, although I would have just reduced it to his lines about Vic: “Vic’s dead… That is, you wish he were dead. And after he gets out tomorrow, you’ll wish you were dead. When he went into that hospital a month ago, I thought it was your run-of-the-mill nervous breakdown. But Vic… is sick, Mick. Vic is a sick prick, Mick.” ;-) Ellen Barkin was saying recently on Twitter how much fun that film was to make and how lovely all the clothes were that she got to wear! <3

  2. Next demo reel scene : there are several great ratatat dialogue segments in Miller’s Crossing. But one of the final scenes stands out because of the sadness (and I believe, love) between Verna and Tom as she confronts him in the pouring rain.

    • Yes. That would be good. Also, the scene in the bedroom: the vulnerability he displays as he shares his dream with Verna about the hat…then dissolve to the last scene in the film, as he leans against the tree, watching Leo walk away. What heart indeed. <3

  3. Yes, all those scenes are pure magic. Next up : Little Women and “Your heart understood mine” at the opera when he interprets the German libretto for Jo. And of course ” I have nothing to give you. My hands are empty. ” Jo takes his hand and responds, Not empty now”…CLASSIC.

    • Just watched Little Woman as part of my annual Holiday Movie Marathon. So lovely and it seems to grow lovelier with each passing year…So, now we need something dramatically meaty and satisfying, like Wah-Wah! The “chicken with its ass in the air” scene? The drunken confrontation with the pistol? Or the contrition scene, with shaking hands and shame-faced sorrow? For pathos, we could go with the cuppa tea on the veranda after receiving the award…Oh, damn. Who’s crying? I’m not crying…

  4. Or the three of them listening to the radio show. The trail of sadness and remembrance across a dying man’s face . Wah Wah was a tour de force for Gabriel Byrne. One of his greatest roles for sheer range and depth.

    • Yes. That is a brilliant scene, indeed. And playing Grant’s father was one of his finest achievements. I love that film dearly. <3

      One of the interesting things about Gabriel on film is how often a scene is mesmerizing and so memorable and then you realize there are no words. I can think of examples in Stigmata, Defence of the Realm, Smilla's Sense of Snow, Jindabyne, I Anna, and others. I don't know if this is just me as a viewer or if this is a quality in the film itself, and Gabriel's performance, but there are iconic images of him and scenes that I can immediately identify. These would be part of an awards reel if I were running things... ;-)

  5. This is true. The film reel would not be complete then without the HBO television character that Gabriel Byrne inhabited over three seasons: Paul Weston. For his superb silent reactions to his patients, which held so much mystery. One is always wondering what is Paul really thinking of his patients while trying not to show his emotions; sometimes successfully, sometimes not when Laura or Sophie would challenge him: “I can see it in your face” (his love for her) or “Why do you have that look, like you’re scared” (his fear that Sophie was abused). But of course there IS a lot of talking in In Treatment. Who could forget that riveting scene between Paul and his wife Kate over her affair when it all comes barreling out of him. Or the poignant, almost wordless scene after Paul’s physical confrontation with the soldier. I could go on and on.

    • YES! Of course Gabriel’s work as Paul should be highlighted: the silent and the verbal! :-)

      Some scenes I think of: Paul visiting his father in the hospital, comforting Walter when he finally broke down, falling in transference love with Adele (that scene is dynamite because the emotion coming from Paul is real, even if misplaced), realizing how Sunil has manipulated him, telling April he refuses to be her accomplice, etc. etc. etc. So many riveting and emotional scenes, so many dynamic partnerships, so much feeling in that show. I love that people are still discovering 10 years after it first aired and loving it as much as we did at the beginning. <3

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