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Charlie Bird passed away this week.
VOICES

Remembering Charlie Bird A champion of awareness for Motor Neurone Disease

Lillian McGovern of IMNDA pays tribute to the broadcaster who died of motor neurone disease this week.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Mar

IN THE WORLD of journalism, there are those whose impact goes beyond the stories they tell. Their legacy is not just in the words they write, the content they create or the way they present on screen, but in the causes they fight for and the lives they touch.

Charlie Bird, whose name became synonymous with courage, kindness and steely determination, was one of these people.

As we bid farewell to him this week with heavy hearts, we reflect on his profound contribution to raising awareness of Motor Neurone Disease (MND), not only in Ireland but across the world.

Charlie Bird’s impressive career spanned decades, during which he covered some of the most significant events in Irish and international history. Yet, it was his personal battle with MND that would become the defining narrative of his later years.

Determination

On a dark and cold 7 January 2022, Charlie Bird and his wife Claire appeared on the Late Late Show and declared their intention of climbing Croagh Patrick in support of IMNDA and Pieta. What began as a couple’s sheer drive to undertake a personal challenge with family and friends, became one of the most successful fundraising campaigns ever undertaken for MND.

31 File Photo Charlie Bird_90668728 Climb with Charlie. Retired RTÉ broadcaster Charlie Bird with his wife Claire as he climbed Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo.

Hundreds of climbs and walks were organised in all parts of Ireland with additional events scheduled across Europe and beyond. It was without a doubt, a phenomenal response to Charlie’s plea for support to his cause that was as he repeated so often “so close to his heart”.

“Climb with Charlie” raised over €3.6 million for IMNDA and Pieta. The funds raised for the IMNDA went directly towards supporting those affected by MND and were aptly named the “Charlie Bird Development Fund”.

What a legacy 

Our deepest appreciation will forever go to Charlie Bird and Claire, for their work in creating this remarkable fund that has gone and continues to go such a long way in improving the lives of those living with MND.

What they achieved in raising these important funds is incredible but even more significantly they succeeded in raising the level of awareness of MND itself, its effects on the mind and the body, as well as the enormous challenges faced by families that navigate this journey every day.

For those who knew Charlie, the manner in which he chose to confront the disease head-on was probably unsurprising. He turned his own struggle into a platform for advocacy and awareness. His decision to share his journey with the world was brave and definitely inspired countless others facing similar challenges.

Through documentaries, interviews and candid conversations, Charlie was persistent in highlighting MND, exposing its devastating effects on both individuals and their families but also in doing so made other families in the same situation feel they were not alone. He helped break down barriers and fostered a greater understanding of the disease within the broader community.

220726_BIRD_96 Charlie raised large amounts of money for IMNDA and Pieta. IMNDA IMNDA

Perhaps most important to Charlie, was his unwavering commitment to “extend the hand of friendship” to each and every person he met along the way who were fighting their own battles. He won the support of so many people in all walks of life, just by being himself.

One of Charlie’s most enduring legacies is his tireless advocacy for increased funding and research into MND. He recognised the urgent need for advancements in treatment and care, and he was relentless in his efforts to bring about change. He asked that a portion of the funds raised through Climb With Charlie go towards research, and we of course honoured that commitment to Charlie.

29 File Photo Charlie Bird_90668732 Charlie on Croagh Patrick with Ryan Tubridy and Daniel O'Donnell.

Following on from the very moving Celebration of his life this week, he would want this time to continue to be one of celebration. We should celebrate the profound impact he had on the MND community and beyond. His legacy lies not only in the awareness he raised but in the many lives he touched along the way.

Charlie Bird funeral-30_90701147 Charlie Bird's funeral took place today at the Mansion House in Dublin.

My thoughts remain with Charlie’s wife Claire, children Neasa and Orla, his grandchildren and of course his beloved dog Tiger.

The world has lost a real hero, but his fight for a brighter future for the MND community will continue.

Rest in peace, Charlie Bird.

Lillian McGovern is CEO of the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA). She joined IMNDA in 2021 having worked at a senior level in the voluntary sector for the last twenty-five years in Ireland.

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