Charlie Bird, journalist with ‘grit, fierce determination and generosity of spirit’, dies aged 74

Broadcaster and journalist last month said his health had ‘changed completely’ after 2021 motor neuron disease diagnosis

Broadcaster and journalist Charlie Bird died last Monday, at the age of 74, after a long illness.

The former RTÉ chief news correspondent was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2021, after which he focused on charity work, and raising awareness of his condition and millions of euro for charities.

One of the country’s best-known news journalists, Mr Bird joined RTÉ in 1972 as a researcher before moving on to the broadcaster’s newsroom.

In his four-decade career, he reported on some of the biggest news stories in Ireland and overseas during that time, including the National Irish Bank tax avoidance scandal, the Stardust nightclub fire in Artane, north Dublin, in which 48 young people died, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

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In the 1990s, he reported on the Northern Ireland peace process and was chosen by the Provisional IRA as its main media contact in the Republic to break news concerning the paramilitary group.

In February 1996, he received a call from the IRA, which used a code name and code word in its contacts with him, detailing the end of a ceasefire shortly before the Canary Wharf bomb was detonated in London.

He was chief news correspondent of RTÉ News until January 2009 when he took up the role of Washington Correspondent before returning to the RTÉ newsroom in June 2010.

Mr Bird retired from RTÉ in August 2012 when, in his final broadcast, he stood in as a presenter on the Marian Finucane show on RTÉ Radio 1.

In more recent years, Mr Bird has been best known for charity campaigning as he dealt with his terminal illness.

The former RTÉ broadcaster climbed Croagh Patrick to raise money for Pieta House and the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA) in 2022.

Thousands of people joined hundreds of climbing events across Ireland and the world for ‘Climb with Charlie’, raising over €3.6 million.

Mr Bird was joined on his climb up Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo by his wife, Claire, and his daughters Orla and Neasa.

On reaching the peak, Mr Bird said: “Even though I still cry a lot and with my motor neuron, crying is not that unusual; most times that I cry now is as a result of the kindness that is being extended to me every day.”

In his most recent post on X (formerly Twitter) on February 29th, Mr Bird said he was “still hanging in”, adding that he was due to lead a walk in Wicklow in April for Samaritan volunteers.

Last month, he wrote that his health had “changed completely” before thanking his neighbours and carers for their support.

Paying tribute, President Michael D Higgins described Mr Bird as “an exceptionally talented broadcaster” and “a truly remarkable man driven by a deep sense of social justice in the most positive sense.”

“As an intuitive journalist, Charlie identified with causes from below. His dedicated pursuit of the truth, and immense ability to build warm relationships that would last through life with all those with whom he came in contact, made him one of the outstanding journalists of his generation,” said President Higgins.

Mr Bird’s former RTÉ colleague George Lee, with whom he broke the NIB story, described him as “relentless” in pursuing a story and said he had a “disarming ordinariness” in talking to people.

“Charlie would wear out his shoes about every two months. Mine would last for years. Charlie never sat still,” he said.

“People responded to Charlie. He wore his heart on his sleeve, people saw that as being a very genuine, authentic person.”

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that although the news was expected, “it is still a moment of enormous sadness”.

“The qualities he has manifested during his illness – grit, fierce determination and generosity of spirit, were the same qualities which marked Charlie Bird as a journalist,” he said.

“He was passionate about news and had a unique ability to develop relationships. He was stubborn and relentless in pursuit of whatever he set out to achieve.”

He said Mr Bird, who was a lifelong member of the NUJ and former chair of the Dublin Broadcasting branch, had a genuine interest in social justice.

Mr Dooley added that his life should not be defined by his illness “but by the remarkable qualities he displayed in the face of adversity. He leaves a remarkable legacy.”

Mr Bird died peacefully at Wicklow Hospice, with his family by his side. A service to celebrate his life will be held on Thursday in the Mansion House.

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