Month 18 | Winter
John Morrissey | Story Teller
Johnny grabbed for another self rolled cigarette, placed his elbows on the steering wheel, took his eyes off the road for a moment and next thing I know everything turned back to normal. Johnny with a cigarette in his mouth driving through southern Ireland towards a place he considers the ‘eighth continent of the world’, Allihies.
The Pixel Trade was fuzzy for a while. I had no idea what Johnny wanted me to shoot. At some point I realised he just wanted me to take some photographs for people in Allihies as well as capturing the place itself. I met character after character, I heard the story after story, sometimes the same story but from another perspective. I was in some kind landscape carved out by the ocean which now gave home to a small community I very quickly fell in love with. I raise a very full glass of Murphy's to this place & to Johnny.
Interview with Johnny
Describe your most memorable adventure as a child.
Not a typical adventure, but this happened when I was 13, on the day Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait. We were farmers, we had a hay shed, our secret hideout/hut/hang out place was made of small square hay bales in the loft of the hayshed, big enough for 4 to stand up, the walls and the roof were hay bales, the access was from the top.
I was in there on my own, until a wasp came in, not a fan of wasps, less so now, I was using a candle for light, ( I never made it to Harvard). The wasp was getting closer and very annoying, I used the candle to scare away the wasp. The flame of the candle lit a sop of hay, faster than I could comprehend the sop burnt back to ignite the bale of hay, within a few second the wall of the hut was ablaze. My life literally flashed before me, I knew that I would be burnt to death soon, fear grabbed hold of me. I knew that if I allowed fear to control me I would soon die.
From somewhere I found the courage to burst through the burning hay bales, my left arm was burning, my shirt was burning, but I broke through. The hay shed burnt down, I received third degree burns to my left arm, had 2 skin grafts, spent months in hospital, endured horrendous pain and I am scarred for life.
I did however face death at a young age and I chose not to be afraid, that's pretty adventurous and I can never forget.
Was there a time that you realised you achieved independents?
When I was Living in Sydney back in 2000, myself and a friend went up to King's cross, at the time there were a few cafes up there that were selling hash brownies. We ordered one each, ate it, sat down and waited for something to happen, 20 min or so passed and nothing happened, so we said feck it, there is no kick off these, so we ordered another, ate it, felt nothing and left feeling ripped off. Got the train back to the city center, we were crossing the Pyrmont bridge in Darling harbour when the brownies kicked in. The sun was shining I was along way from home, and it hit me, I WAS FREE and I still am, don't do hash now though.
Why are the Irish so good at story telling?
Some Irish are good story tellers, some are not, just the same with any nationality really. We do like to find out about people though. When you are open and honest and give away information, even if it is telling a made up story (because you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story). The listener is more comfortable and eager to reveal something about themselves.
Can you tell me a short story?
This short story is the story I heard from a great story teller, Diarmuid O' Driscoll, he said I can use it and you can use it too.
"Once upon a time there were 2 people in China, look at them now....."
What do you think is the most incredible thing about Ireland?
The most incredible thing about Ireland, there are so many incredible things, the landscape, the people, the craic, the culture, the history, the wildlife, the food, the drink, the music I could go on. But for me the most fantastic thing about Ireland is THE WEATHER. yes the weather, it is our secret weapon, if we had weather like Spain, our coast would be ruined like Spain's. We would have high rise developments on every beach and plane loads of package tourist. We don't, we have the best unspoiled beaches in Europe and it is because of the weather.
What was the most dangerous time of your life?
Working for Hitler's evil twin on a building site in Cork city. When the boom went to burst, a sub contractor burnt my car out, so as to intimidate Hitler's twin into paying him money. It was a scary time, not keen to go back to that.
If there was one lesson you could teach children, what would it be?
"Sur you wouldn't know 'till afterwards", answers most question you would otherwise have to say 'I don't know' to. Also you don't know what is going to happen 'till afterwards, no one knows what the future holds, so don't worry about it.
Can you tell me the names of 3 people in Allihies and a brief bio of them?
For anyone who is going to visit Allihies, there are some amazing characters to meet, Shantanu met a few, Mitey, Nealie the post, Eckie to name but a few. The most important characters are the publicans.
Kevin; the publican in O' Neils, runs a very good pub, opens earliest, has a restaurant upstairs serves pub grub as well. The best night of the week is in Kevin's, Sunday 6 o clock. The Sunday music session, trad and a lot more, all are welcome you can even join in, a better session you will not find anywhere on planet earth, a must.
Doc; the publican in the Lighthouse bar, the second to open. Every time I go into Doc's I am greeted with a warm smile and a friendly word. The craic is great in Doc's, he knows how to get the craic going. Doc serves the best pint of Murphy's in Ireland, this accolade was given to him by a German tour book.
Jimmy; the publican in Jimmy's, to say living legend is like saying rain is wet. He is one of the funniest, wittiest most genuine guy's I have ever met, I have gone into Jimmy's on winter nights when there wouldn't be many out. They were some of the best nights I've had in Allihies. You will always have the craic in Jimmy's.
How do you deal with a tough situation?
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, you got to know that you can't win them all, sometimes you got to say I've lost and quit, sometimes you've got to say I was wrong and apologize. But I've taken on some big fish and won by showing them I aint backing down, very often the winner is the guy who quits last.
What is something you haven’t told someone in a long time?
I'll have an non alcoholic beer.
Describe your most memorable adventure as an adult.
One story I can tell would be the first time I had an AK47 pointed at my face with intent. This happened when I was living in Nepal, in the City of Bhaktipur (my favorite city in the world) back in 2003. I went there for a day ended up spending 3 months there, many of my friends there were working as tour guides around the ancient city, I came up with an idea, why not develop a trail through the mountains around the Kathmandu valley. So we looked at a route, a looping route that would take about 4 -6 days, going through amazing little villages through beautiful scenic places like Nagarkout and end up in Patan.
The lads knew the basic jist of the route, but not the trails, there was only one way to figure that out and that was to walk it, so Sangit, Sungkar, Hanchee and myself headed off from Bhaktapur one beautiful winter morning, it was a proper road trip on foot, the first night we stayed in a Babas hut on-top of a moutain, the second day we passed Nagarkot and looked out towards Everest, we stayed in Sangit's cousin's house.
The third day we stumbled across the Maoist insurrection. At the time there was a very bloody and very dangerous insurrection by Maoists against the Government, the Maoists controlled a large part of the country and we were hiking through part of it. They taught I was CIA at first, they were not easy to dis-wade, I had to pay them a permit fee, they even gave me a receipt.
Day 4, Onward we went, towards the jewel in the crown, what was to be the highlight of the trail, Phulchuckee, it is the highest point in the Kathmandu Valley, from the top you can see the whole valley and what is more, you can see Everest. Not only see it but look down on it, due to the curvature of the Earth and its distance from Everest, it is the only mountain you can stand on-top of and actually look down on Everest.
So off we went looking for the trail that leads to the top, we knew there was a telecoms tower at the top, so we taught it would be easy enough to find. It wasn't, there were tracks going everywhere, we got to a ridge before the summit and had a taste of the view that awaited, it was astounding, the Himalaya stretched out before us and Everest unmistakable. At this point we took a wrong turn and ended up going around the back of the mountain, through fairly dense forest, having gone so far, we said we would keep going, the track eventually started to dive downwards. We knew it was the wrong one and we knew if we just kept going upwards we would eventually find the top or the trail. So that is what we did, we went through the scrub and forest heading up in hope.
We were making good progress, we could see a clearing up in front, when we made it to the edge of the clearing we could see high fencing with razor wire on-top, with sandbag walls behind and raised lookout tower in the corner with a solider furiously shouting in Nepalese and pointing his machine gun at us, no doubt he taught we were Maoist intent on launching an attack at the strategically vital telecommunication tower that he and his battalion of soldiers were up there protecting.
I took my lead from Hanchee, I put my hands in the air and Knelt down, I don't know what Hanchee said but he managed to calm things down. Explained what we were actually doing up there and that we were lost, he even asked if we could go in. I don't know much Nepalese, but I know what 'fuck off' sounds like in any language.
The solider told us to head down the mountain heading west towards Patan, he told us we were lucky to be alive, there were snipers on patrol. He did communicate through that there were 4 people heading down the mountain, he did communicate the route we would be taking.
Assuming everything would be fine, we headed off down the mountain, I have to say the lads were having the time of their lives, they will be recounting this story for years to come, it was a good laugh it was a proper adventure. We were reliving and retelling the excitement of the trip very loudly on the way down the mountain, we could see a road way below us, so we headed towards that, when we got to edge of the road, a heavily camouflaged solider jumped up from a foxhole and pointed his AK47 straight between my eyes with his finger on the trigger.
Perplexed to see a European guy standing before him, he didn't pull the trigger, if he had seen an Nepalese guy coming out from the trees he would have shot him. The lads quickly calmed the situation, it was only when we were back safely in Bhaktapur, that they told me, that the solider told them to make a lot of noise going down and make sure that I was in front heading down the mountain. Because sometimes the soldier's radios are off and they were authorized to kill Maoist but not CIA look alikes.
If you had to recommend a favourite music album, what would it be?
Big red, old yalla, by Tim Goulding, hard to find, check his website, www.timgoulding.com