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Bird writes up his notes while sitting on a bench outside the Dáil in 1991.
bird's eye view

From Stardust to 'Love Ulster' and tracking down David Drumm: Charlie Bird's life in news

The journalist and broadcaster has died aged 74.

CHARLIE BIRD, WHO has died aged 74, was a witness to history both at home and internationally over his long career in journalism

From covering the Spike Island prison riots, to travelling to Rwanda as thousands of people fled genocide, Charlie was a familiar, authoritative voice to Irish viewers and radio listeners. 

Here we take a look back at some of the biggest stories Charlie covered in his long career.

IRA Ceasefire announcement

On 19 July, 1997, the IRA phoned the RTÉ offices and announced that a new ceasefire would come into force the following day.

A previous ceasefire in 1994 broke down, but the new announcement said the ceasefire would be “unequivocal” and Charlie Bird told viewers that there was a “growing air of optimism” that Sinn Féin would now be able to enter all-party peace talks.

adams ceasfire Gerry Adams holding up an Irish News front page during an RTÉ news report by Charlie Bird RTÉ RTÉ

Charlie followed the actions of the IRA for much of his career and at many times was the only point of contact between RTÉ and the IRA. 

National Irish Bank

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

403Charlie Bird_90638430 Journalists Gene Kerrigan with RTE's George Lee (c) and Charlie Bird (r) first in line for the publication of a report into National Irish Bank Limited in 2004 Graham Hughes / Photocall Ireland! Graham Hughes / Photocall Ireland! / Photocall Ireland!

In 1998, Charlie Bird and George Lee uncovered a tax evasion and overcharging scandal at National Irish Bank which led to the bank’s demise and changes in bank regulation.

The investigation led to a long court battle with the Fianna Fáil TD Beverly Cooper Flynn, which Bird and Lee won in 2004.

Charlie had reported that Cooper Flynn encouraged people to evade tax in her role with National Irish Bank, and she sued for libel.

He said the court’s decision marked a “great day for public service broadcasting”. 

2006 ‘Love Ulster’ Dublin riots

On 25 February, 2006, a ‘Love Ulster’ march in Dublin was organised by loyalists to commemorate unionist victims of The Troubles.

However, it was met by Republican protesters and the riots ensued.

dublin-riot-february-25-2006 Riot gardaí at the riots in 2005 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Dublin City Council said the clean-up operation cost around €50,000.

A number of gardaí were attacked, and so too was Charlie Bird who was singled out by a group of men

“It was all over in seconds,” said Charlie, “but they just repeatedly punched me in the face with their fists and I just ran.

There was no doubt that the people who set upon me, they knew who I was, they knew that I worked with RTÉ, and they described me as an ‘orange bastard’.

love ulster riot Charlie Bird speaking to RTÉ from hospital after being attacked at the riots RTE RTE


A fire at the Stardust nightclub in Dublin in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 1981, killed 48 people.

Charlie Bird covered the fire and the subsequent inquests and tribunals, and later campaigned with the families of the victims.

4 File Photo Charlie Bird_90668755 Charlie Bird at a memorial for the Stardust fire victims Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

At a vigil in 2020 to mark the 39th anniversary of the Stardust fire, Charlie said of his career:

“I went to many places. I covered tsunamis, earthquakes, and the one thing I learned that you learn as a journalist, sometimes numbers trip off your tongue. ‘Last night, five people were killed in a car crash’, ‘20 people’, ‘one hundred people were killed in an earthquake, in a plane crash’.

But remember, every one of those names, every one of those people has a name. They are real people. They have family, they have friends. And that ripple effect spreads out.

Anglo Irish Bank collapse

In March 2008, Anglo Irish Bank collapsed and a year later its CEO David Drumm moved to the United States.

Charlie tracked down Drumm to his temporary home near Boston, but the banker would not come to the door. 


“Have a bit of respect?” said Drumm from inside the house. 

“There’s some taxpayers at home in Ireland who would like some answers,” was Charlie’s reply.

In June 2018, Drumm was sentenced to six years in jail after being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to defraud the public and of false accounting.

He was released from prison in February, 2021 and spent a total of two years and eight months in prison.

Rwanda Genocide

“A young boy, his face mutilated, was being flown to hospital. He, believe it or not, was one of the lucky ones.”

rwanda Charlie Bird in Rwanda in 1994 RTÉ RTÉ

That’s how Charlie Bird introduced Irish households to the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, when he travelled to the country in 1994 as thousands fled to seek refuge.

“No one knows the true scale of the massacres,” said Charlie.

Between 500,000 and 800,000 people are estimated to have been killed when Tutsis and moderate Hutus were targeted between April and July 1994.

Spike Island prison riots

On 1 September, 1985, Charlie Bird surveyed Spike Island prison in Cork Harbour following a riot the night before.

A major riot erupted and prisoners set fire to a block in the prison.

Prisoners also hotwired a yellow digger and blocked the entrance to the prison.

They later climbed onto the roof of the building, which allowed for gardaí to return with reinforcements.

The riot came to an end on the afternoon of Charlie’s report and no one was seriously injured.

Indian Ocean tsunami

On 26 December, 2004, one of the largest recorded earthquakes triggered a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean that would claim 230,000 lives in a matter of hours.

Three months later, Charlie travelled to Meulaboh in Indonesia, a city where nearly a third of the population lost their lives in the tsunami.

The city’s infrastructure was in ruins and people were housed in camps, some of which were set up by Trócaire, who spoke to RTÉ to explain some of their initiatives in the region.

Haiti Earthquake

Charlie also travelled to the scene of another devastating natural disaster in Haiti 2010.

Haiti Charlie Bird in Haiti in 2010 following a major earthquake RTÉ RTÉ

A magnitude 7 earthquake occurred on 12 January, 2010 and Charlie reported on the relief effort from Port Au Prince in the days following the disaster.

Over 100,000 people died in the earthquake and Charlie reported on the difficulties aid agencies faced.

Post-RTÉ career

In 2009, Charlie Bird took up the role of RTÉ’s Washington Correspondent with RTÉ News, but a year later he returned to Ireland and to his position as Chief News Correspondent.

He would later describe the decision to become Washington Correspondent as “madness”.

“I didn’t know a soul in Washington and was facing into a whole life away from friends and family,” said Charlie of the move.

“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 retired from RTÉ in 2012 and later became a campaigner for various causes.

He threw himself into the campaign for same-sex marriage in 2015 and published a book called A Day In May following the Marriage Equality referendum.

The book is a collection of 50 interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community, their family and friends, recorded at the time of the referendum.

Charlie Bird book launch 008_90653165 Charlie Bird speaking at the launch of his book 'Climb Every Mountain' Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

In 2022, a book called Climb Every Mountain was released to thank Charlie for his work and friendship with the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland, with all proceeds going to BELONGto and The Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA).

Charlie was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2021.

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.

In the same year, Charlie climbed Croagh Patrick in 2022 as part of an initiative to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease Ireland and Pieta House. 

35 File Photo Charlie Bird_90668725 Charlie Bird waves while he climbs Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo in 2022

The climb raised over €3 million for the charities. 

He also released a book called Climb with Charlie following that emotional climb.

Last year, he revealed that he was receiving hospice care at home due to the progression of the disease. 

President Michael D Higgins today said it was a “great honour to welcome Charlie, his wife Claire, and their dog Tiger to Áras an Uachtaráin in June 2022 and to personally thank him for all that he has done”.

PRES_HIGGINS_CHARLIE_BIRD_MT_MX-8 President Michael D Higgins with his dog Bród and Charlie Bird with his wife Claire Mould and their dog Tiger at Áras an Uachtaráin in Jily 2022 Maxwell Photography Maxwell Photography

President Higgins described Charlie as an “exceptionally talented broadcaster” and a “truly remarkable man driven by a deep sense of social justice in the most positive sense”.

“I think in particular of the decades-long support which he gave to the victims of the Stardust fire, and indeed the touching support which they have likewise given him,” added President Higgins.

President Higgins said Charlie has made charitable contributions that will endure for generations and remarked that he carried his illness with “dignity, strength, hope and inspiration”.

“I believe that his experience touched every home in this country and will leave a lasting legacy that will not be forgotten.”

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