‘I have found peace’, says Charlie Bird amid outpouring of public support

Journalist with motor neurone disease plans to lead fundraising climb of Croagh Patrick

Charlie Bird: ‘I’m not as afraid now as I was when I first got my diagnosis because I have my family around me.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Charlie Bird: ‘I’m not as afraid now as I was when I first got my diagnosis because I have my family around me.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Former RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird has said an outpouring of public support has helped him surmount the distress of his recent motor neurone disease diagnosis.

“I have found peace, I really have,” he said of coping with his condition. “I cried every day. I don’t cry now.”

Mr Bird, a veteran journalist and broadcaster, made his diagnosis public last October saying he had been given a maximum of three years to live.

Since then, he explained, a flood of letters and cards from members of the public, many of whom would have watched him on their television screens over the years, had helped him adjust to his new reality.

On Friday he told Late Late Show presenter Ryan Tubridy of his plans to lead a group of climbers to Co Mayo’s Croagh Patrick in April to raise money for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta House charities, and to send a message of encouragement to anyone else coping with a terminal diagnosis.

His mission, under the banner Climb With Charlie, has been backed by a host of well known figures – former president Mary McAleese, architect Dermot Bannon, and retired GAA commentator Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh among them – who have vowed to join him or encourage others to undertake similar efforts elsewhere on the day.

Mr Bird was due to be joined by cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan whom he recently met with, but she was too ill to attend, instead sending a pre-recorded message to the show.

“The support of the public around the country has lifted me like nothing else,” Mr Bird said, his voice clearly deteriorating as a consequence of his condition.

He spoke of receiving letters “out the door, mass cards everything. It has been unbelievable. And in a way Ryan it has lifted me even spiritually if you understand”.

Noting that people had been climbing Croagh Patrick for 1,500 years, he said it could mark the end of his own journey.

“And in one sense – I mean this – I’m not as afraid now as I was when I first got my diagnosis because I have my family around me.”

Mr Bird was joined by his wife Claire, daughters Orla and Neasa, and his dog Tiger who spent the initial part of his interview on his lap. One unforeseen advantage from almost four decades of broadcasting is that years of recordings of Mr Bird’s famous voice were available to a specialist company who have “banked” it and synthisised it in the event he eventually loses the ability to speak.

Details of how to participate in April’s event are available at climbwithcharlie.ie and Mr Bird is hoping it will raise significant funding for motor neurone disease research.

“We need to raise money … to try and save somebody’s life,” he said. “It may not save mine, it won’t, but we need to do research to try and save other people.”