The deep empathy Charlie Bird held dear as a journalist, a campaigner and now, a man undergoing terminal illness, has been laid bare tonight for his beloved Irish public.
rchive footage, screened in a new RTÉ documentary Charlie Bird: Loud and Clear, has given an intimate insight into the national broadcaster’s former chief correspondent, reporting on the Stardust tragedy, on the Troubles and many more historic moments.
Charlie revealed how he wished he had been able to somehow stop the killings of two men during the 1996 Canary Wharf IRA bombing and how he wanted so badly to live to see the day the Stardust families receive justice.
Charlie tweeted shortly before the documentary aired on RTÉ One on Monday night: “I want to thank everyone for the amazing support I have received since my diagnosis of a terminal illness.
“The humanity of people is hard for me to put into words. But the hands of friendship extended to me has helped me cope with the journey I am on. A big hug to everyone.”
The veteran journalist, who has motor neurone disease (MND) told how he had a cold one day in 1996 and went home sick and suddenly got a call from an IRA contact warning the London business quarter of Canary Wharf was a legitimate target.
“I got into RTÉ, straight onto the news…As I reported the story, the bomb went off in Canary Wharf…two men lost their lives,” Charlie told the documentary.
“Sometimes as a journalist you’re not in the right place at the right time.”
He revealed how he wanted to live long enough to see the results of an inquest into the 1981 Stardust tragedy, when 48 young people died.
“The families are still waiting for justice and honesty and I’m still with them,” Charlie said.
“I will be with them every step of the road until I die, these remarkable people.
“I’m going to be there with them…We are all friends.”
The documentary has shone a light on the makings of the caring journalist – who admitted wished just once his mother had told him she was proud of him before her death in 1983.
“It is my one regret, I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother,” he said.
“I was making my name in RTÉ. She never said a word of well done, she died after she was hit by a car outside Dunnes Stores in 1983.
“She never put her arms round me and said ‘well done’. I’d have loved if it had happened.”
A clip of Charlie showed him campaigning as a young socialist, a member of the Labour Party, and he again spoke of being a child who didn’t have a relationship with his father, a seaman, who “unfortunately died of cancer in 1971”, a “day I’ll never forget”.
“I never went for a drink with him, a football match or anything,” the journalist added.
“We were two different ships, in a way, passing. The one thing he gave me was my name, Bird.”
A clip also showed Charlie doorstepping former Anglo Irish bank chief, David Drumm at his luxurious Boston home.
“When David Drumm said ‘Do you realise my children are in here, I turned around…
“You have to have journalistic ethics, to not to go over the line…”
Despite his path to success, he admitted his humble beginnings, feeling insecure he started at the national broadcaster in 1974 having to nip into the toilets to check a dictionary for words he might not have known.
RTÉ environment correspondent George Hook said: “People gave him stories because they saw him as one of them, you weren’t above or below them.”
Charlie said journalism was a “really important role in the community”, and he recalled going to report on the refugee crisis: “Each of those people have a name and a family…
“The media should always go back, journalism can be a cruel trade but also it can be positive.”
He also stated the reasoning behind his life and career saying: “I believe in karma, at least I can say I tried not to do anybody down deliberately.”
Viewers paid tribute to Charlie on social media following the documentary.
One man wrote: “When I hear your voice, my heart is full and I feel stronger, wiser. A warrior’s strength is measured by the size of his heart. You inspire me. May warm winds surround you on your journey Charlie.”
Another wrote: “I’d encourage everyone to watch the Charlie Bird documentary on RTÉ. It shows true bravery, courage and heart and shows us all that we truly don’t know how long we have on this Earth and we should be making the most of every day we have.”
Charlie’s loving wife Claire, who refers to him as ‘Bird’, told how he uses Twitter regularly to communicate with people, to thank them for their assistance and to run his Climb with Charlie campaign, which raised over €3m for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta, the national suicide prevention charity.
For more information on the fundraiser, log onto www.climbwithcharlie.ie