Kerry author who thrived in face of adversity after paralysing fall


JOHN CURRAN: JOHN CURRAN, who has died aged 71, was a courageous and inspirational figure who, paralysed from the neck down, wrote two books with a device attached to his chin.

He became Kerry Person of the Year in 2003 while his wife, Margaret, was voted national Carer of the Year in 2007, in acknowledgment of a lifetime of unstinting support in the face of daunting disablement.

Though unable to move a finger following a fall from a roof that left him a quadriplegic, he learned to write by blowing through a tube to activate letters of the alphabet and went on to recount the traumatic experience in his first book, Just My Luck, published in 1993 after years of slow and painstaking writing, letter by letter.

A powerfully built man, standing at over 6ft in his day, he was confined to a wheelchair for 34 years with disabilities similar to those of the late Christopher Reeve. But he had great spirit and retained a positive outlook on life.

“He would look at you in a kind of a way that you’d know he had you sized up,” a friend observed. “A shrewd Kerryman, he was very intelligent, deep-thinking, aware of everything that was happening around him and in the world. A formidable personality.”

His close friend, Mick O’Dwyer, the former Kerry football manager, described him in a eulogy at Lohar church near Waterville, Co Kerry, as an “icon”, and recalled that as a young man he played football in midfield for Derrynane.

O’Dwyer, writing in 2004, described him as a “hero” in the foreword to Tides of Change, Curran’s second book recalling memories of a childhood in south Kerry, where nine generations of the Curran family were born on a small farm in the townland of Toor, overlooking stunning views of Ballinskelligs Bay. It had taken six years to complete with the aid of a more advanced device, a chin-controlled computer.

In the foreword, O’Dwyer reminds the reader that “if you or I had to spend a whole week in a static position unable to move hand or foot, it would be very difficult to look life in the face and put on a brave front . . . Some might say that one would be better off dead. When he broke his neck in 1978, John Curran was handed a life sentence with no remission. His life was changed beyond all human comprehension.”

A bricklayer by trade, Curran emigrated to England at age 19. It was in Gloucester, where he was working on the buildings, that he met Margaret, of Cappamore, Co Limerick, who has become an accomplished artist.

They returned to Kerry in 1974 when his mother died, and lived for 21 years with his father, Jim, a man with a great sense of humour and a member of the “Friday Club”, a group of pensioners who met every week at “Micko’s” pub in Waterville.

The fall that broke his neck and severed his spinal cord happened in April 1978 when he was helping repair the roof of a neighbour’s house. At the time, they had four children under the age of 10, the youngest only five weeks old.

After a six-month spell at the National Rehabilitation Centre, he returned to Toor where, as his daughter Claire put it, “not only did our parents and the whole family adapt and survive, they thrived in the face of adversity”.

He is survived by his wife Margaret, son Michael and daughters Carmel, Claire and Catherine.

John Curran: born August 11th, 1941; died August 31st, 2012