poignant  | 

Charlie Bird wants his ashes scattered on Inis Oírr in Aran Islands

Former RTÉ newsman reveals how he chose the site of his own grave in emotional new documentary

Charlie Bird and his wife Claire pictured in Wesport with Croagh Patrick behind ahead of the Climb With Charlie fundraising event. Picture; Gerry Mooney.

Eugene Masterson

CHARLIE Bird will be seen flying to Inis Oírr in the Aran Islands to pick out a grave where he wants his ashes scattered as his final resting place.

In a deeply moving and powerful documentary to be screened on RTÉ tomorrow, the former broadcaster opens up about his battle against Motor Neuron Disease and reveals how the nation has rallied behind him in a show of solidarity.

The 72-year-old will be seen taking a plane with his wife Claire and their dog Tiger to visit his lifelong friend Peadar Póil and his wife Brid on Inisheer.

Charlie has left instructions that when he dies he wants his ashes scattered in a grave next to Peadar's plot in a cemetery on the picturesque island.

Charlie Bird looking at where his ashes will be scattered.

"I had an affinity with Inis Oírr and it's a beautiful, beautiful island. I have a long relationship with Brid and Peadar Póil on the oileán," explains Charlie.

The two couples are seen chatting and having tea in the Póil's kitchen, with humorous tales of past times.

"Peadar, can you remember the first time you met me?" asks Charlie.

Charlie Bird (r) in the graveyard, Iniseer, looking at where his ashes will be scattered.

Peadar replies: "I do. I told the lads 'there's a hippy staying down with me', to which Charlie doubles over laughing and repeats 'a hippy?'.

Charlie then reveals: "One day I sent Brid a text. I said 'Brid, do you think the community will allow my ashes to be put into the graveyard there?' I think she was taken aback that I asked such a question., The answer was 'yes'."

He suggests they go on Peadar's tractor to the graveyard.

"It's an amazing graveyard up in the sand," he proclaims, as they arrive at the site which overlooks the Atlantic ocean. "To me its peaceful. At least I have sorted the issue out. And that's what I'm trying to do, sort everything out.

"It's so bizarre, I'm looking at it. I'm happy that I'm going to be buried beside you and here on this beautiful island."

The Dubliner admits he's not overly religious but tries his best to be decent to everybody.

"I believe in karma. I believe in good karma. At least if there's somebody up there, I can say 'I tried not to do anybody down deliberately'," he says.

The veteran reporter will be seen in his home in south county Dublin weeping as he goes through the fan mail which floods his house every day from all corners of the country.

He and Claire have a lovely rapport and it's clear they think the world of each other.

"The closest person in my life is my wife Claire. I feel so upset for her. I really do. I'm going to put my arms around her and try and protect her and make sure whatever life she travels in the future she's OK. That's what makes me so sad, that I will be leaving this relationship," he reflects.

Claire is Charlie's second wife and the former RTÉ presenter has two grown-up daughters.

"When I first met Charlie, literally with my friends, we used to go 'bird watching' down to the canteen and we'd see him coming in with Joe, his best friend," she recalls.

"I don't know what it was, when I met him. We went for a pint, he asked me out. I was 37, Charlie was 57.

"When I met the daughters, they went 'so Claire, how was your 40th?' I went 'I'm not 40 for another couple of years'. So, he added on a couple of years to keep the daughters in the good books. My friends call him 'the rugged ride', so there you go."

Award-winning Charlie will be seen with former colleagues Joe O'Brien, Tommie Gorman and George Lee as he goes through news reports from his tumultuous decades with the national broadcasting service.

"When I got my job in RTÉ in 1974 I didn't have the academic background. I failed my primary, I failed my Inter, I failed my Leaving. I never went to university. I couldn't spell. And the day I joined the RTÉ newsroom I was scared.

"I hid in my inside pocket a pocket dictionary. I would walk out of the newsroom, go into the toilet and go into the cubicle and look for the word that I couldn't spell," he confesses.

Late last year, Charlie noticed problems with his voice.

"I can remember the very moment that I felt there was something seriously wrong with me. I felt my arms shaking and twitching. At that stage I had no definite diagnosis of motor neuron and then four weeks later, bang it came," he recollects.

When he appeared on The Late Late Show just before Christmas, Charlie came up with the idea to climb Croagh Patrick on April 2 to raise money for Pieta House and the Motor Neuron Disease Association.

This wonderful documentary also shows the groundbreaking technology which has allowed Charlie's voice to be replicated on computer and help him communicate now he can no longer speak.

Charlie Bird makes his way to the top of Croagh Patrick. Picture; Gerry Mooney.

Charlie has now raised over €3million for the two charities and intends to add more with a parachute jump next month. He also hopes he will get to see another Christmas.

"People said to me 'oh Charlie, you're so brave, you've done so many things during your journalistic career, going places, '", he points out. "But to be honest I haven't really been brave in this fight."

  • Charlie Bird: Loud and Clear tomorrow, RTÉ One, 9.35pm

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