Charlie Bird: From roving reporter to campaigner

Charlie Bird: From Roving Reporter To Campaigner
Charlie Bird, his wife Claire Mould and their dog, Tiger pictured in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Photo: Collins
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By Dominic McGrath, PA

For nearly 40 years, Irish broadcaster Charlie Bird, who has died aged 74, brought stories from around the world to TV screens across the country.

One of the best-known faces in Irish journalism for several decades, he was a roving reporter at RTÉ in the truest sense, with his work taking him from his hometown of Dublin to Baghdad, Moscow and Belfast.


His instinctive grasp of the news business made him a familiar face on Irish TV while a burgeoning celebrity profile in later life meant he was just as well-known for his characteristic style and campaigning work as his broadcasting career.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Charlie Bird joins a demonstration against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine outside the Russian embassy in south Dublin (Damien Storan/PA)

In later years, that campaigning focused primarily on raising money for research into motor neurone disease.


Mr Bird revealed in October 2021 that he had been diagnosed with the disease, prompting waves of sympathy from the Irish public.

He would go on to speak openly about his struggles with swallowing and eating, as he faced down the debilitating disease.

A fundraising hike up Croagh Patrick organised by Mr Bird, dubbed Climb With Charlie, raised more than €3 million for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta in 2022.

By the time the climb took place, his real voice had been replaced with an artificial one generated through years of clippings in the RTÉ archive.


It was a voice that few people who watched the news during a turbulent era on the island could ever forget.

Stardust nightclub fire
Charlie Bird, one of the first reporters on the scene of the Stardust nightclub fire in 1981, never severed his links with the families and their campaign for justice (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Bird, who joined RTÉ as a researcher in 1974, was never far from the centre of the biggest story.


His tenacity as a reporter made him a key media contact for the IRA during the latter years of the Troubles while his work on the scandal that engulfed the National Irish Bank cemented his reputation as a journalist with serious investigative clout.

His career had both ups and downs.

A spell as Washington correspondent for RTÉ ended early as Mr Bird struggled to make inroads in the US.

“I was good at nosing out stories and meeting people. So you try and stick to what you are good at, but again, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have gone to America,” he said years later.


He also sometimes found himself at the centre of the story, such as when he was attacked during loyalist rioting in Dublin in 2006.

Latterly, he emerged as a campaigner.

One of the first reporters on the scene of the Stardust nightclub fire in 1981, Mr Bird never severed his links with the families and their campaign for justice.


In February 2022, ill health did not keep him away from the annual commemoration of the tragedy.

“I admire your courage and your bravery. Keep fighting for justice. If the Stardust tragedy happened in some middle-class area, or indeed on the southside of Dublin, we would not be here today, still trying to find out what happened,” he told the crowd.

He also threw himself into the campaign for same-sex marriage in Ireland in 2015.

Mr Bird, with his unusual name and canny ability to sniff out stories, was perhaps always destined for success.

Yet he was always clear why he became the go-to newsman of his generation.

“I would have walked over absolutely anyone to get a story. I had to use my fingernails to make up for lack of talent,” he said.

At the start of March, Mr Bird gave his final interview, using his voice computer to acknowledge that he knew his death was near.

“I am not afraid of dying. I have had a great life,” he told the Brendan O’Connor show on RTÉ Radio One.


“As RTÉ chief news correspondent, I got to work on the biggest stories both home and abroad. I got to travel the world. I feel very privileged that my career in journalism took me to all these places.

“I always tell the same story – I failed every exam, never went to university, but I succeeded in my career. I am proud of that.

“I also have a wonderful family who have been by my side since my diagnosis, that helps me when I need support.

“I have come to terms with my illness, that it is terminal and there is nothing that I can do to change that.

“My view on life has completely changed. Live every day as if it was your last and always extend the hand of friendship no matter who they are. Every one of us will pass.

“So I want to extend the hand of friendship to anyone who is in a dark place. I have learned now to be truthful when answering questions and speak always from the heart.

“I have a terminal illness and I know my death is just around the corner.”

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