Charlie Bird awarded Freedom of Co Wicklow in honour of his achievements

Broadcaster, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, joins Daniel Day-Lewis and Katie Taylor in accolade

It’s not every day “you get to acknowledge someone’s hard work and dedication in their presence, and we’re honoured to be able to do so”, said cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council Tommy Annesley on Monday evening.

He was speaking at the conferring of the Freedom of Co Wicklow on broadcaster Charlie Bird at the council buildings. “As Charlie says, it’s all about extending the hand of friendship and that’s why we’re here this evening,” he said.

The award, “the highest accolade the council can bestow upon a person”, was “in recognition of his work and outstanding achievements in the field of broadcasting and journalism and, more recently, in his campaigning and raising funds for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta House, and in so doing bringing honour to the county of Wicklow”, Mr Annesley said in an address read on his behalf by leas-chathaoirleach Cllr Aoife Flynn Kennedy.

“Charlie was a constant presence in all our lives over the years in his tireless work as a reporter,” said Mr Annesley, and his response to “the devastating news” of his motor neurone diagnosis had shown “the courage of the man who has become an inspiration to many including all of us here today”. His “determination in the face of adversity is truly admirable”.

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Bird, a native of Sandymount, Co Dublin, who now lives in Ashford, Co Wicklow, is only the third person to receive the accolade after Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis and world champion boxer Katie Taylor.

The former RTÉ broadcaster warmly thanked the councillors while acknowledging “the past 18 months have been a most difficult journey”. The honour bestowed on him was “an incredibly kind gesture” and he spoke of how such kindness “helps to lift my spirits”. As he got upset, he said: “Crying is part of the symptoms of motor neurone disease.”

Wicklow County Council chief executive Brian Gleeson said it was Bird’s “social conscience that drove him throughout his career” and “that social conscience carried through from Charlie’s professional life to his personal life, particularly over the past year of so”. Since then he had “shown us it’s okay to be scared and upset”.

“Having suddenly found himself at the centre of his own story, giving interviews he never thought he’d have to give in his life, the strength that Charlie has shown in the face of adversity has been truly inspiring.”

Mr Gleeson described as “a remarkable achievement” the €3.4 million raised for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta House, through the Croagh Patrick climb last April which Bird had initiated. “It will go down in history,” he said. “We are all immensely proud of you, Charlie, and it is a privilege to pay tribute to you today.”

Bird was presented with a bronze sculpture by Michael Calnan with a bronze quill symbolising his work as a journalist.

Referring to his Croagh Patrick climb, Bird recalled lighting five candles, for women’s health advocate Vicky Phelan, for those who find themselves in a dark place, for frontline workers, and for the people of Ukraine.

Also present at the ceremony were his wife, Claire, his children Nessa and Orla, and his grandchildren Charlie, Hugo, Harriet, Abigail and Edward, along with his much-loved dog Tiger.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times