Columbans Pay Tribute to Charlie Bird

Mar 14, 2024

As veteran RTE journalist Charlie Bird is laid to rest, Columban missionary Fr Donie Hogan recalls meeting him in the Philippines when he covered the story of the Negros Nine.

Fr Donal Hogan first met Charlie Bird in Bacolod City on the island of Negros in the Philippines in 1984. The RTE reporter was covering the trial of Columban Missionaries, Frs Niall O’Brien from Ireland and Australian Fr Brian Gore, along with Fr Vicente Dangan, a Filipino priest. and six lay leaders, on trumped-up charges of murdering the local Mayor.

They became known as the Negros Nine. They had sided with the sugar cane workers in their struggle to get better conditions.

It suited some local ‘sugar barons’ to accuse them of murder despite the fact that it was common knowledge that a rebel group, the New People’s Army, was responsible for the killing.

Writing in the December 2014 issue of the Far East magazine for the 30th anniversary of the release of the Negros Nine, Charlie Bird recalled: “The Marcos regime was clearly sensitive to pressure coming from the US, Australian and Irish governments. But that was not the only pressure. Tens of thousands of ordinary people wrote letters and campaigned tirelessly for their release.”

He continued, “I can vividly recall sitting in that prison cell in the Philippines on St Patrick’s Day 1984 with Niall O’Brien as he sifted through thousands of cards he had received from all over Ireland, Britain and Australia.”

The Negros Nine.

According to Fr Donal Hogan, “This was due in large part to Charlie Bird for his dramatic on the scene coverage for RTE.” Paying tribute to the journalist who died on Monday aged 74 after a long battle with motor neurone disease, which he was diagnosed with in October 2021, Fr Hogan said: “Thank you Charlie for your support of actions on behalf of justice at home and abroad. May you now rest in peace.”

Charlie Bird’s article in the December 2014 issue of the Far East magazine.

In the 2014 article, Charlie Bird also recalled how the “sham trial” of the Negros Nine was ended by a deal following the international pressure. “It resulted in the case being dropped and the innocence and safety of the Negros Nine guaranteed, but on condition: that the two priests, Niall O’Brien and Brian Gore would leave the Philippines.”

“It was a difficult decision for the two priests, but, as Niall O’Brien said, their ‘banishment’ was a price they had to pay for the safety of their Filipino co-accused.

Fr Niall O’Brien saying Mass in jail with the Negros Nine.

The veteran RTE journalist also reflected: “For my own part as a correspondent for RTE, travelling in many strange and troubled parts of the world over the years, I have come across many Irish missionary priests and nuns doing remarkable work, standing up for the oppressed and disadvantaged. Just like the ‘Negros Nine’ long may that tradition continue.

Charlie Bird with Columban missionaries Fr Donie Hogan and Fr Cyril Lovett.

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