Charlie Bird says he has been “blessed” with support for his charity work since he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, describing it as “an incredible silver lining” from his terminal illness.
The veteran journalist celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Climb with Charlie fundraising event on Saturday with a 5km walk at the Papal Cross in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
Bird was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2021, and last year, the former RTÉ broadcaster climbed Croagh Patrick to raise money for Pieta House and the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA). Walks and climbs took place across Ireland and resulted in over €3.6 million being raised for the charities.
At the Phoenix Park event, Bird addressed the charity representatives, advocates, and friends as he asked people around the country to light a candle to show support for everyone with a terminal illness, for those fighting mental health illness and for the many others who are close to his heart.
“What I wanted to do to mark the anniversary is very simple. I want to continue to extend the hand of friendship to people,” he said.
He also thanked President Michael D Higgins for his support, and for lighting a candle in Áras an Uachtaráin in support of Climb with Charlie.
“Yes, my diagnosis of a terminal illness was very traumatic for me and my family, but the truth is that there has been an incredible silver lining as well. I have got to know the crucial work of many groups of charities,” Bird added.
“I keep repeating this, as long as I have a breath in my body, I am going to keep extending the hand of friendship. I have been blessed by the amount of support I have received from all over the country and abroad, and I want to thank those people by continuing to work hard for everyone.”
Master of ceremonies for the event was architect and television presenter Dermot Bannon, who spoke of how privileged he felt to be friends with Bird and his wife Claire Mould.
“Charlie chose to climb with people and to put in an effort, and stand beside it. The most important word in the whole Climb with Charlie was the word ‘with’, because he was and we were all with each other and together. It was an amazing experience last year and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life and I am so thankful to be part of it,” Bannon said.
“Charlie, you are an incredible inspiration, not just for the amount of money, not just for the amount of work, but just getting us to reach out to each other and be kind to each other and to show acts of kindness and to think of each other.”
Bird also lit five candles before the walk. One was in memory of Vicky Phelan, who was a good friend of his before she died in November of cervical cancer. The others were lit for everyone with a terminal illness, for anyone in a dark place, for frontline workers, and for the people of Ukraine.
Stephanie Manahan, chief executive officer of Pieta called Bird a “real national treasure.
“It’s really important for us to recognise that event this time last year, but, and more than that, to thank Charlie for the magnificent endeavours in raising really much needed funds for critical work that is carried out, life saving work that is carried out every day,” Ms Manahan said.
To honour Bird for the money that he raised last year, Pieta House dedicated a therapy room in their new location in Swords to him, calling it the Charlie Bird Therapy Room.
Director of nursing and services at the IMNDA Naomi Fitzgibbon referred to the “monumental day” that took place last year.
“I remember reading about it and listening to it and going, ‘What kind of impact is this going to have? It’s going to be incredible.’ It did so many things, it raised awareness for people with motor neuron disease and how they are living with it and the supports that they need,” Ms Fitzgibbon said.
“What we have been able to do with the funds that Charlie has raised is just incredible, it’s kind of nearly like the dream that we wanted, which is we now have a sixth nurse who is now able to provide that support, that care, that attention, that information for people and their families, and anybody who’s living with MND.”
Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces Seán Clancy also spoke at the event, and said that it has been a “privilege” to know Charlie and “to be on this journey with him”.
Other charities and organisations which took part in the 5km walk included the Samaritans, family and friends of Vicky Phelan, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, Dogs Trust, frontline workers, Stardust families, Irish Wheelchair Association, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.