in awe | 

Charlie Bird sheds tears of joy as he meets mountain challenge

'I love every single one of you, I mean it...Always extend the hand of friendship'

Charlie Bird reaches the top of Croagh Patrick. Picture: Gerry Mooney

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Charlie Bird had “tears of joy” in his eyes as he finally reached the summit of Croagh Patrick yesterday afternoon at the end of his epic ‘Climb With Charlie’ mountain challenge.

When the former RTÉ broadcaster (72) and his wife Claire arrived at the top of The Reek, he raised his climbing stick in delight and acknowledgement as he was welcomed by applause and cheers from his fellow climbers.

“I love every single one of you, I mean it,” he said. “Always extend the hand of friendship.”

Bird, who was inspired to create the challenge after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year, was also accompanied by his daughters Orla and Neasa.

“I am truly humbled and inspired that so many thousands of people took part in Climb with Charlie events across the world,” he added as he was snapped in pictures and filmed with supporters and fellow climbers.

Retired RTÉ broadcaster Charlie Bird

Among them was the host of RTE’s flagship The Late Late Show presenter Ryan Tubridy, singer Daniel O’Donnell and former champion boxer Barry McGuigan.

“I want to thank people all across the country for their incredible support throughout this journey,” Charlie said.

“All of the generous donations will go to the two charities which are so close to my heart. It is an amazing gesture of support for me and my family.

“Throughout this campaign, we have had the support of so many wonderful people and organisations, and I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Charlie Bird with Ryan Tubridy and Daniel O'Donnell

“I would also like to particularly thank the Defence Forces, An Garda Siochana, Mayo Mountain Rescue, the Order of Malta and all our local volunteers for making our climb today possible.”

Ryan said: “Well done Charlie. We’re all happy to be here, we’ve a lot of love for Charlie Bird. This whole thing came from Charlie.

“Today is about Ireland at its best, a country in the shadows for two years. We stood up to be counted.

“Everyone has different reasons to be here. We’ll never forget what we did here.”

Daniel was visibly moved by Charlie’s achievement and wiped away tears. He sang a Bruce Springsteen song that was played at Charlie and Claire’s wedding.

Charlie Bird and his grandchildren light the five candles at the church on top of Croagh Patrick

“It’s a privilege to be here,” he said.

“I was on The Late Late when Charlie spoke about his dream to climb Croagh Patrick.

“Charlie’s journey has been amazing. He brought stories from all the world. There has been no story that Charlie has ever told that will top today.”

He said Charlie had united Ireland and that Russian president Vladamir Putin could learn from him.

“One man has united Ireland and there is another man who is dividing the world.

“Charlie is amazing, if only we could make it different for you. We stand in awe of you,” he added.

Bird planned to light five candles in the small chapel at the top of the mountain – one for his friend and high-profile campaigner for women battling cervical cancer Vicky Phelan; one for everyone diagnosed with a terminal illness; one for those experiencing mental health difficulties; one for everyone involved in the fight against Covid-19; and a final candle for the people of Ukraine.

Irish president Michael D Higgins was among those paying tribute to Bird’s fortitude and determination.

Charlie Bird is embraced by Barry McGuigan

Hailing him as an inspiration, he said: “Charlie’s strength and dignity over recent months has been a source of true inspiration to people across Ireland and beyond.”

In a tweet to Bird, Taoiseach Micheál Martin added: “Wonderful to see the money raised by your Croagh Patrick climb – I know the whole country is right behind you every step of the way!”

People who were with Charlie along the way said it was “quite emotional” and an inspiring experience.

“It was it amazing to be at the summit with Charlie,” Rory Sweeney said.

“It’s not for the faint hearted, to take on Croagh Patrick n the best of days.

It’s quite steep and dangerous so you have to be very careful but Charlie flew up it, he was unbelievable, he really was. He was like a machine going up it, like the proverbial mountain goat. He was absolutely flying up it and overtaking people on his way.

Rory said many people had arrived early in the morning to take part and were still arriving late in the afternoon.

“There was a steady stream of people all day and it’s hard to say but there were definitely several thousand there.

“It was a massive crowd and along the way Charlie was saying hello to everyone and having his pictures taken with them. They were cheering him on the whole way.

“Charlie was crying, there were tears, tears of joy, I’d say. It was lovely.”

Tens of thousands of people took part in almost 200 Climb with Charlie fundraisers across the world, according to organisers.

By yesterday evening, the campaign that was staged to raise funds for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and suicide charity Pieta had already raised more than €1.5 million

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