Charlie Bird’s wife Claire Mould tells of life with the RTÉ veteran and her delight at a book celebrating their climb of Croagh Patrick
When Charlie got his terminal diagnosis our lives came to a sudden halt. Everyday banter was replaced by the fear of not knowing what was coming down the line — and if we’d be able to cope. As his symptoms got worse, freedom and spontaneity became a thing of the past, so we tried to keep our heads above water as best as we could.
Charlie’s illness has brought us closer, but it also has made us realise how fragile life is. It’s very disturbing and upsetting to see what this disease does to a body. I feel Charlie’s pain when he chokes on his food in public and has to walk away, too embarrassed to sit there and try to clear his throat when all eyes are on him.
I see the tears of frustration when his words won’t come out. But Charlie is a fighter — we can learn a lot from him. He is the most courageous human you could ever meet and nothing, not even this damn disease, will ever hold him back.
During the campaign for Climb with Charlie, I witnessed his absolute focus and determination to raise funds and awareness for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta. To raise more than €3m, while trying to cope with the disease, is a feat in itself. He showed us what you can achieve when you’re at your lowest ebb in life.
When Charlie cries in public, his tears are of gratitude for all the letters and cards we have received and the simple hellos when we are out on our walks. Since the diagnosis I’ve met some wonderful people. Others have tried to take advantage of his kindness, but they are few and far between.
I’m very lucky to have met Charlie — not everyone has the fortune of tripping over someone and falling in love.
Having a purpose has helped us get through our daily struggles and Climb with Charlie was a wonderful distraction.
Working as a producer in RTÉ meant I was able to use my skills to produce and organise the climb alongside two of Westport’s finest: Fr Charlie McDonnell and Inspector Denis Harrington. The four of us developed a great friendship and many a meeting was held in Matt Molloy’s pub, where we had the great honour of getting to know Matt himself.
One of my greatest memories was standing in a field in Murrisk the day before the climb just across from Croagh Patrick where the Great Famine Memorial Ship is. It was a beautiful, sunny day and as we looked up into the sky the sound of an army helicopter came into view. The Air Corps had flown in one of their choppers to help transfer the Clew Bay Pipe Band’s musical instruments and Mid-West Radio’s generator so they could play and be heard at the top of Croagh Patrick. This had never been done before.
We had met Peter Carney, who looks after the band, on one of our many visits. He introduced us to Des Cafferkey, who had composed a most beautiful piece of music, called ‘Heroes’. I wanted it to be played at the top of Croagh Patrick and the Air Corps made it happen.
Sean Clancy, Chief of Staff of our Defence Forces, had contacted Charlie directly. He wanted to join him on the climb and help us in any way he could. What a wonderful man. What a wonderful gesture.
Music and Charlie go hand in hand and never a night goes by without Bruce Springsteen being played. We absolutely love him. They say you should never meet your heroes but we would turn a right cheek to meet Brucey in a flash.
Charlie was a great singer before this dreadful disease took his beautiful voice. I miss hearing him sing ‘Henry My Son’ by Frank Harte.
Out of the climb Charlie came up with the idea to produce a book of photographs documenting the day. It was a mammoth task but we knew this would be something special and a keepsake for our families — in particular for Charlie’s two daughters, Orla and Neasa, who have been so supportive to their dad.
Merrion Press came on board immediately and turned the book around in four weeks, which is unprecedented in the book trade. All author proceeds will go to the two charities.
What is so special is it shows Charlie’s struggle to get to the top of Croagh Patrick and the joy of achieving it.
There he stands, surrounded by all his family, friends and total strangers who embraced and encouraged him to get to the top.
‘Climb with Charlie’ is available in bookshops nationwide and online