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Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Tributes as journalist and campaigner Charlie Bird dies aged 74

The journalist, who retired from RTÉ in 2012, raised millions for charity in recent years in the wake of his diagnosis with Motor Neurone Disease.


CHARLIE BIRD, THE former RTÉ journalist and charity campaigner, has died aged 74. 

The news was confirmed by RTÉ this morning. 

Bird, who retired from Montrose in 2012 as Chief News Correspondent, spent almost four decades reporting for the national broadcaster, having joined as a researcher in current affairs in 1974. 

He moved to the news department in 1980.

One of the first major stories he reported on was the Stardust tragedy in which 48 people, most of them teenagers, were killed at the Stardust disco in Dublin in 1981.

He reported on many major events throughout the Troubles and the peace process in Northern Ireland and for years was the point of contact between the broadcaster and the IRA. 

In 1998, together with George Lee, he exposed corrupt practices and tax evasion at National Irish Bank.

Later in his career he took on the role of Washington Correspondent, before returning to Ireland to cover national news. 

Illness and campaigning

He was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2021, news he described as a “nightmare”.

His ability to speak diminished quickly but he was able to make use of a speech tool in part thanks to the many recordings of his voice on RTÉ bulletins.

He spoke openly about the impact that the diagnosis had had on his mental health, and his Climb With Charlie initiative raised funds for Motor Neurone Disease Ireland and Pieta House.

He climbed Croagh Patrick in 2022 as part of a nationwide campaign, and later confirmed the initiative had raised over €3 million for the charities. 

daniel-odonnell Bird alongside Ryan Tubridy and Daniel O'Donnell on Croagh Patrick in 2022. Michael Mc Laughlin / Michael Mc Laughlin / /

Bird revealed last year he was receiving hospice care at home due to the progression of the disease. 

In a recent tweet, in early February, he detailed how his health had “completely changed” and said that he wished to thank his carers for “all they are doing for me”. 

He added that he had been “honoured I was able to join the Stardust relatives yesterday marking the 43rd anniversary of that dreadful night”.


President Michael D Higgins led the tributes today describing Bird as a “truly remarkable man driven by a deep sense of social justice”.

“As an intuitive journalist, Charlie identified with causes from below. His dedicated pursuit of the truth, and immense ability to build warm relationships that would last through life with all those with whom he came in contact, made him one of the outstanding journalists of his generation.”

Higgins also highlighted Bird’s “authenticity, at a considerable cost” when sharing his experience with Motor Neurone Disease.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Charlie Bird was a “hugely talented journalist and an inspirational person, who will be sadly missed” in a statement today.

Speaking to reporters while in the US, Varadkar described Bird as a “genuinely special person”.

Varadkar detailed that Bird had the “trust and respect of the Irish people” from his reporting of International and domestic affairs.

“From the Asian tsunami and 9/11, to the peace process and the banking crisis, people knew they could rely on Charlie for the story,” the Taoiseach said.

“When Charlie told his own story of motor neurone disease he became an inspirational figure to so many people in the way that he dealt with the physical and mental health impacts of his illness.

“His can-do attitude, his dedication to helping others through charity work and the open manner in which he discussed the impact of the disease on his life, and on his family, was exemplary. His wife Claire played a hugely important role in helping him continue to live his life to the fullest extent possible, with his best friend Tiger always by his side.”

Varadkar sent his “sincere condolences” to Bird’s wife, daughters Orla and Neasa, and to all his many family and friends.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he was deeply saddened by the news, lauding Bird’s “courage, generosity of spirit and dignity” while facing his illness.

“Personable and engaging, Charlie had the public interest at heart, representing public service broadcasting at its very best,” Martin said.

RTÉ Director-General Kevin Bakhurst said that Bird was an empathetic and gifted communicator who was always supportive to younger journalists at the broadcaster.

“After 40 years working at RTÉ he has left a unique legacy. He was a leader in Irish journalism, dedicated, ferocious in his pursuit of the truth and trusted by the public,” Bakhurst said.

The National Union of Journalists Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley also paid tribute. 

“Although we have been expecting this news it is still a moment of enormous sadness. Supported by his wife Claire, Charlie lived his battle with Motor Neurone Disease in the public gaze, with characteristic determination and searing honesty,” Dooley said. 

“The qualities he has manifested during his illness – grit, fierce determination and generosity of spirit, were the same qualities which marked Charlie Bird as a journalist.

“He was passionate about news and had a unique ability to develop relationships. He was stubborn and relentless in pursuit of  whatever he set out to achieve. 

“His life should not be defined by his illness but by the remarkable qualities he displayed in the face of adversity. He leaves a remarkable legacy.”

Journalist Ingrid Miley, a former colleague of Bird at RTÉ, also paid tribute, saying “to the end, in his darkest days, he worked to help others and raise awareness of a terrible disease”.

Broadcaster Sean O’Rourke, also a former colleague, said Bird “represented the very best, the best of humanity, the best of RTÉ, the best of journalism”. 

“There was an honesty about him, a sincerity. He never lost his sense of wonderment,” O’Rourke told RTÉ’s News at One. 

“I had this sense that once Charlie looked at you intently with that honesty and sincerity you would find it very hard not to answer the question because there was that dept of humanity,” he said. 

RTÉ’s Samantha Libreri said he was her mentor and friend. “I’ll miss him so much but carry his words and wisdom with me every day that I do my job,” she wrote on X.

Lillian McGovern, chief of the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, told the News at One that the money Bird helped raised for the organisation was of “huge significance”. 

“We employed another nurse around the country, we invested money in research and we worked with Charlie as to where the money went and people with MND truly, truly appreciate that practical help,” McGovern said.

Singer Daniel O’Donnell said that of all the stories Bird told over the years, it was his own story about his battle with his illness that was the most impactful.

The pair were on The Late Late Show together once, when O’Donnell gave Bird a set of rosary beads. Bird later said he wanted them to be in his hands when he died.

“I wasn’t trying to push religion on him or anything, it was just something that was important to me that I could give to him,” O’Donnell told Today with Claire Byrne today.

“On the night I was so – like everybody else in Ireland – just taken aback by his bravery.”

O’Donnell hiked up Croagh Patrick with the journalist as part of the 2022 climb. He said seeing Bird reach the top was “one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had in my life”.

Charlie Bird died yesterday and his death was announced by RTÉ at 10am this morning. 

He is survived by his wife Claire, daughters Orla and Neasa, grandchildren Abigail, Charlie, Edward, Harriet and Hugo, and by his three brothers.

Daragh Brophy and Mairead Maguire
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