'Floored me' | 

RTÉ's Charlie Bird 'knew something serious was up' prior to MND diagnosis

"In my heart of hearts, I knew there was something serious there and in a way, I've been preparing myself for the news that I got a couple of days ago for months.

Charlie Bird with his dog, Tiger

Paul Hyland and Ciara O'Loughlin

Former RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird has said he knew in his "heart of hearts" that something was seriously wrong before he was officially diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) this week.

Mr Bird, who spent decades as a reporter with RTÉ, took to Twitter yesterday to confirm his diagnosis after he previously spoke about having issues with his speech slowing down and slurring.

Speaking to Joe Duffy on RTÉ's Liveline, Mr Bird said, "people get knocks every day" and he is dealing with the news as best he can.

"It's hard to cope with but I'm dealing with it. Like everything else, you have to face reality," he said.

Mr Bird said that although it had not been officially confirmed until recently, he knew deep down that he had motor neurone disease at the start of October.

He described how he had had issues with his voice as far back as St Patrick's Day.

"I'll never forget the first issue I had with my voice," Mr Bird said.

"I was walking in the mountains with my wife Claire and my beautiful dog Tiger. We were eating a sandwich in a very remote place in Wicklow and I got a coughing fit like I never got in my life. It really floored me.

Charlie Bird with his wife Claire and their dog Tiger. Photo: Owen Breslin

"Basically, since St Patrick's Day, things have been coming and going with my voice and I knew there was something."

Mr Bird said he has had countless brain scans and examinations since then because, according to his doctors, the disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose.

"In my heart of hearts, I knew there was something serious there and in a way, I've been preparing myself for the news that I got a couple of days ago for months.

"Sometimes it's not easy to deal with but you have to get on with life," he said.

Mr Bird said he has a lot of discomfort, he has trouble eating, and he does not sleep.

He told the radio programme that when he was asked by RTÉ to speak on-air earlier this year about the 1983 kidnapping of Don Tidey he declined because his speech was fading.

Mr Bird told the programme that despite his diagnosis, he is keeping active: he can drive, and he walks up to 10 miles a day near his home in Ashford, Co Wicklow.

He said the support he has received from his "remarkable" family, his friends and his former colleagues keeps him going.

Mr Bird said he still enjoys doing the crossword with a pint in his local pub and that the memories of the most important stories he has covered during his career are also a source of great comfort and inspiration to him.

He said the Stardust story in 1981 was the seminal moment of his career along with the enduring relationships he formed with the families of the blaze victims. It is the experience he looks back on and holds most dearly.

"The things that have kept me going over the last couple of years: I keep reminding myself that the biggest story I ever did at home was the Stardust fire.

"I still want to be with the Stardust relatives and they're going through their journey.

"I want to be with them, and I've been fortunate enough that they invited me a couple of years ago to unveil the plaque at the site of the Stardust fire. These are the things that get me through my day."

Antoinette Keegan and Charlie Bird

The journalist, who is also a documentary maker and playwright, retired from RTÉ in 2012.

He worked in the national broadcaster for 38 years as a researcher and reporter, with his final broadcast being on RTÉ Radio One's Marian Finucane Show.

Since announcing his diagnosis yesterday morning, there has been an outpouring of support for Mr Bird.

His former RTÉ colleague Miriam O'Callaghan wrote: "I am so very sorry to hear this Charlie. It is great that you are surrounded by such love and support. Your incredible character, strength and courage will be of immense benefit to you now. I wish you the very very best."

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan said: "So sorry to hear this Charlie, take care."

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney commented: "Wishing you courage Charlie. You're in many people's thoughts."

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