Miriam Lord: Tiger whimpers in heart-melting moment at Charlie Bird’s moving memorial service

Family, friends, colleagues and the former RTÉ journalist’s beloved dog, Tiger, gathered in Dublin’s Mansion House for the memorial service

And then the dog cried.

A heart-melting moment in a memorial service with many lovely moments.

Tiger Bird, rising to the big occasion and displaying a great nose for a good line. Just like his newshound master used to do.

Timing is everything.

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One can imagine Charlie Bird, from some other dimension, bellowing an approving, “That’s my boy!” before checking that the celestial cameraman got it for the evening news.

The unscripted scene happened as Thursday’s memorial service for the former RTÉ news correspondent was drawing to a close in Dublin’s Mansion House.

Charlie’s wife, Claire, walked to the platform after listening to reflections and memories of her late husband from a succession of speakers. She stood beneath a giant screen showing photographs of Charlie cuddling an adorable white cockapoo – their beloved Tiger.

She took a deep breath and, struggling to maintain composure, said she would speak from the heart about their years together, “but when you’re heartbroken it’s a very difficult task”.

At that precise moment, her words were punctuated by a volley of anguished howls and urgent whimpers. It was Tiger, Charlie’s faithful companion during the dark days of his struggle with motor neuron disease – a personal tragedy that he turned into a courageous fundraising and public awareness campaign.

Tiger, still there to give comfort.

Hundreds of people in the round room caught their breath and exchanged astonished glances.

Claire stepped away from the microphone and went to get Tiger. The crowd burst into applause. Returning to the platform, she scooped the little dog up into her arms and found the strength to continue.

Earlier, at midday, family members and former RTÉ colleagues carried Charlie’s eco-friendly, woven water hyacinth coffin into the Mansion House’s historic Round Room, passing a guard of honour from the Clew Bay Pipe Band. The pipers, their black Glengarry hats folded and placed on the ground as a mark of respect, played Raglan Road.

Inside the doors, members of LGBT groups formed a second guard of honour, dipping two Dublin Pride flags as the remains passed by. Charlie played a big part in the referendum campaign for marriage equality, leading to his book A Day in May, which was later made into a play.

The memorial service was billed as “a celebration of the life of Charlie Bird” and the order of service listed Joe O’Brien, Charlie’s RTÉ colleague and friend of more than 40 years, as the “celebrant”. That raised a smile among the hacks. In their day, the two former correspondents would have been joint celebrants at the consecration of many’s the pint of stout.

With all the unpleasantness of the past year, it was good for the hardworking hacks and newsroom middle-management – serving and retired – to get the chance to meet and reminisce and have a few chuckles without an Oireachtas committee demanding to see the receipts.

RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst was there along with new RTÉ chair Terence O’Rourke. At any other time, the place would have been heaving with Government Ministers and the like, but they are abroad on St Patrick’s Day duty.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik paid her respects along with deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin while senator Timmy Dooley flew the Fianna Fáil flag alongside Lord Mayor and Mansion House resident, Daithí de Róiste.

A large contingent from the National Union of Journalists was led by Irish Secretary, Séamus Dooley. We are not sure if they were hearing petitions/confessions from RTÉ employees on the way out.

A crowd of about 400 – family, former colleagues and members of the public – gathered for the midday ceremony. Music was provided, magnificently, by Matt Molloy on the flute, fiddler Liam O’Connor, Kevin Conneff on the bodhrán and piper Seán Potts.

At the outset, Charlie’s five grandchildren placed mementoes of his life at a table beside the flower-laden coffin. There was a family photo, two biographies, a Bruce Springsteen book, the wooden staff he used when climbing Croagh Patrick, a postcard painted by Joe Duffy and the rosary beads given to him by Daniel O’Donnell, which will be buried with him on Inis Oírr on the Aran Islands.

His daughters Orla and Neasa spoke of their childhood memories of a wonderful, funny Dad with whom they had the best of times. They spoke of his courage in the face of his MND diagnosis and how it never faltered in those final days.

Joe O’Brien recalled his “intelligent, kind and generous, cheeky, witty, honest and forthright” friend who had “boundless energy and a nose for news”.

Another RTÉ stalwart, Sean O’Rourke, perhaps with an eye to the current controversies, spoke of how Charlie adored public service broadcasting and of his commitment to the highest journalist standards. “Those standards still endure and will endure.”

O’Rourke then had something of a Tony Blair/Princess Diana moment when the former Chief News Correspondent for RTÉ was more than that. “You were the People’s Correspondent.”

And tributes from Charlie’s former news editor, Ray Burke, who told tales of his great friend’s globe-trotting newsgathering exploits and TV news editor, Dympna Moroney who recalled one incident when she drove the intrepid Bird to meet a shadowy contact in an underground car park.

He told her: “If I’m not back in 20 minutes, first ring the newsroom and then ring the guards.”

A poignant reflection was delivered by Stardust survivor and campaigner, Antoinette Keegan. She told of Charlie Bird’s unstinting support for the families seeking justice after the death of 48 loved ones in the nightclub fire in 1981. He was one of the first reporters on the scene.

She knows that “Charlie, my mam and the 48 angels will guide us to justice for once and for all”.

Words too from the Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lt General Sean Clancy, who was a big part of the Climb with Charlie fundraiser on Croagh Patrick and from LGBT rights activist, Karl Hayden.

One somewhat jarring note was the ban on photographs or filming at the service. Given Charlie’s life in front of the camera and his dedication to bringing pictures of the story to the public, photographers and news camera crews were left fuming outside the doors.

There was a blessing from Fr Charlie McDonnell, the parish priest of Athenry – another friend.

His wife Claire introduced a touching and heartwarming video of some special moments in their – and Tiger’s – life. “I love you, Bird, I’m going to miss you so much.”

What with that, and a blast of Springsteen’s Land of Hope and Dreams followed by Kevin Conneff’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of the The Parting Glass, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. And then Daniel O’Donnell appeared on the screen, speaking from Australia. He sang Remember Me.

The family stayed to allow people express their condolences and then waiters appeared with refreshments.

As one retired RTÉ employee remarked after the service: “For all the great tributes about all the big stories he covered around the world, the last three years of Charlie’s life was his best story ever.”