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‘Humbled’ Charlie Bird given Freedom of Co Wicklow as he recounts ‘most difficult journey’

The former RTÉ journalist was emotional as he entered the hall to a standing ovation

Charlie Bird pictured with his wife Claire and dog Tiger at Wicklow Council Buildings where he received The Freedom of the County. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Charlie Bird at Wicklow Council Buildings where he received The Freedom of the County. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara O'LoughlinIndependent.ie

Broadcaster Charlie Bird was conferred with the Freedom of Co Wicklow today, as his beloved dog Tiger sat on his lap.

He was awarded the coveted honour at a special ceremony in the Wicklow County Council buildings at 5pm today.

The former RTÉ journalist was emotional as he entered the hall to a standing ovation, and he gave his former colleague Tommie O’Gorman a big hug when he spotted him in the audience.

He is only the third person ever to be bestowed with the honour.

Boxer Katie Taylor was given the Freedom of County Wicklow in 2011, and actor Daniel Day-Lewis was the first person to be conferred in 2009.

CEO of Wicklow County Council, Brian Gleeson, said the broadcaster was given the honour in recognition of his outstanding achievements in journalism, and more recently in his campaigning for Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

After being diagnosed with the condition last year, Mr Bird climbed Croagh Patrick in May with thousands of others and raised over €3m for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta House.

The broadcaster said he was “humbled” to be the third person ever to receive the Freedom of County Wicklow after signing the historic scroll.

Mr Bird has lost his speech due to his MND, so he used an iPad and speaker to address the crowd - which uses advanced technology to clone his voice from his old news reports.

"I’m so humbled to be here this evening receiving the Freedom of Wicklow and following the footsteps of two great people, Katie Taylor and Daniel-Day Lewis,” he told the crowd.

“Over the past 18 months or so, I have had the most difficult journey, almost one year ago I finally got my dreadful diagnosis that I have a terminal illness, Motor Neuron Disease.

“Even in this difficult time I have had the most amazing support, which led to the Climb with Charlie project.

“On that lovely day on April 2, thousands of people all across Ireland and abroad came out to support Climb with Charlie.

“Yes, I’m still pinching myself. These amazing people helped to raise a staggering almost €3.5m for two great charities, Pieta House and the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association.

"So in a way, receiving this honour here this evening, the Freedom of Wicklow, is for the thousands and thousands of people that supported Climb with Charlie.”

Although he was born in Sandymount, Dublin, Mr Bird has lived in Wicklow for most of his life, first in Bray and he has spent the last two decades in Ashford.

"For many years I have walked around with my great pal Tiger, and I have witnessed first-hand the kindness of strangers, many people stop me and ask me how am I doing, and all these encounters help to lift my spirits,” he added.

"I often end up crying and trying to hold my tears, but the sad reality is crying is one of the symptoms of my MND.

"The support I’m receiving helps me to live each day, and we all know I’m not the only one with a terminal illness that struggles every day.”

Mr Bird was joined this evening by his wife Claire Mould, his daughters Orla and Nessa, and his five grandchildren Charlie, Hugo, Harriett, Abigail and Edward.

At the end of the ceremony, the 73-year-old was given a commemorative sculpture of a bronze quill, eagle, and key, created by Wicklow-based artist and blacksmith Michael Calnan.

The quill represents his work as a highly respected news correspondent and documentarian, while the eagle’s talon symbolises the physical and moral courage that he’s shown throughout his life and career, and the bronze key represents the Freedom of the County of Wicklow.

The Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Cllr Tommy Annesley, thanked Mr Bird for the “tireless fundraising work he has carried out over the past year”.

Speaking directly to the journalist, he added: “It is clear the impact you have had on so many and it’s fitting that we bestow this honour on you today.”

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