Charlie Bird – forever newsman, true friend and seeker of truth – hit the RTÉ newsroom like a thunderbolt

He cringed at the damage done to the station’s reputation in recent times, but never lost faith in RTÉ the public service broadcaster

Charlie Bird arrived in the RTÉ newsroom from the current affairs department in the early 1980s like a thunderbolt.

With his research background in current affairs, he had an advantage over us. He had wider contacts and knew his way around television. He was ideal for news editors, who gravitated towards him with some of the big stories, because he had that unique ability to deliver. Getting that rare soundbite in answer to a throwaway but well-thought-out question was his forte.

As a young reporter working on the newsdesk with him, I was jealous of his abilities and his knowledge, and that made for an oft-times competitive atmosphere. But this was professional jealousy devoid of personal animosity, and it always gave way to admiration and respect.

In later years, when I worked in places such as Somalia and Rwanda, I appreciated the challenge of covering these vast, tragic stories with human suffering at their core. It affects you deeply and leaves an indelible mark.


I remember many years later relaxing with Charlie in Muldoon’s Pub on the East Side in New York. He remarked on some of the vivid memories of horrors he had seen. They deeply affected him. I can still remember the silence as we eventually stared silently into our drinks; this was no showmanship.

There was a thin line between Charlie the journalist and Charlie the private person. Even when we managed to go for a drink, news was central to his thinking and conversation. He devoured news and current affairs and there was little switch-off, except when he talked about his family.

He was also a shy and reserved person in many ways, not one to lead a high social life.

There was also a contradiction between this shy person and the Charlie who liked attention, which I often joked with him about, but he just liked company and took being the centre of attention in his stride.

In 2021, Charlie set up a WhatsApp group of his friends called The West Awake. Members included RTÉ's late western correspondent Jim Fahy, former news editor Ray Burke, Sean O’Rourke and correspondents Joe O’Brien and Tommie Gorman. This was “a Charlie idea” for us all to keep in touch with one another and to share gossip and stories.

We had our first get-together on the Galway prom in June of that year. I was recovering from cancer at that time, and Charlie wanted to see how I was doing. It was also the time his own motor neuron disease symptoms started.

He spoke of his fear of what could be his fate, as he remembered his old colleague Colm Murray, who had died from the dreadful disease.

Throughout my illness, he kept in close contact and was the ideal companion for someone like me on the journey of ill-health.

The quest for factually-based truth and a shared reality was central to Charlie. He cringed at the damage done to the reputation of RTÉ in recent times. It was not as he knew and remembered the organisation. “We had experienced the golden years,” he commented. But he never lost his faith in RTÉ the public service broadcaster. In many ways his journalism was a fine example of what it was all about.

On the last occasion the WhatsApp group met, despite his failing health he recounted a story that he had unearthed about a well-known figure and their activities some years ago. It is a story that would still lead a news bulletin. That story he now takes to his grave, but it was an example of Charlie the forever newsman, true friend and seeker of truth.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Michael Lally is a former RTÉ news correspondent and a founding managing editor of Nuacht RTÉ/TG4