He points to the right side of his face and the left. Then he points to his chin and upper lip. That’s where the metal plates were inserted into Ray Murnane’s face following his accident on September 16th, 2015.
Shortly after 6pm, as he was driving out of Ballineen to attend a course – a masters in Youth and Community through art, drama and sport at UCC – his motorbike went under a lorry and the force of the impact smashed his face in.
The accident also resulted in all of his ribs being broken, causing one of his lungs to be punctured, and it damaged part of his spine to such an extent that the lower right side of his body is now paralysed.
His wife, Dee, says her 46-year old husband is still handsome. When I concur, Ray, being Ray, says: ‘You should have seen me before the accident.’ I say ‘Ray being Ray’ but the truth is: I don’t know this guy from Adam.
All I know is that week-in week-out there were fundraisers being held in the name of the Ray Murnane Fund and that they were publicised in this newspaper.
Ray doesn’t really like media attention and of the two interviews he gave in the past he said he was misquoted in one and the other was just a Q&A. But, on this occasion, it was Ray who asked to do ‘a bit’ in The Southern Star because he wants to say ‘thank you.’
For sheer boldness, I ask him more than once: ‘Why does half of West Cork lay claim to you?’
He’s trying really hard to explain how it is that so many people, from Bandon all the way back to Kenmare, know him and why they all came out to walk, run, ride horses, play cards and do a whole host of other things to raise money for him and his family – Dee and their two girls, 18-year old Katie and 16-year old Hannah.
It is only when he explains the sheer force of his own father’s personality and the fact that his mother, Marie, would foster anyone – to the extent that he could come to breakfast and find a young stranger there – that it begins to dawn on me.
But it’s when – in reference to the house, which is now his home at Letterlickey in Bantry, and the role his mother played here in this kitchen – he says there was ‘an air of care’ about the place that I cried. ‘So you didn’t lick it off a stone,’ I said over
Ray said ‘It rubs off on you. It’s subliminal. You don’t want people hurt, or in pain, and you don’t turn your back on them.’
People like Ray. It’s not hard to see why. It’s there in the way he talks about people. His parents. His family. His friends. The people he knows and values through his work.
It’s there too in the way he is both understanding – yet still baffled – by the countless strangers who persist in committing random acts of kindness, such as leaving 20 bales of briquettes on the lawn, or stuffing an envelopes with money and no note through the letterbox.
But it’s not just that kind of generosity that has him shaking his head. He marvels at the generosity of Dr Jason van der Velde, the medical director and founder of West Cork Rapid Response, who was on the scene of the accident within seven minutes and saved his life.
Ray was, at the time, actually drowning in his own blood. Jason intubated him, stabilised him, and got him to CUH and subsequently the National Rehabilitation Hospital where he was in an induced coma for six weeks.
When he woke he said he knew he was (a) ‘crippled’ and (b) ‘lucky to be alive.’
With the encouragement of others – including his physios at CUH – Ray fought against the crazy cocktail of drugs he was on and found a way to deal with the messy business of the large intestine because he was adamant that he was not going to use a colostomy bag.
It is ironic that a few years before the accident Ray’s doctor told him that the years of wear and tear as a builder had damaged his back and that he should stop what he was doing, so he changed tack, did a Youth and Community degree in UCC and started working with the West Cork Traveller Centre.
The money that was raised through two massive fundraisers – a charity walk in Kenmare in February and a Race Night in March, plus a gazillion other small but deeply affecting events that have impressed Ray to his very core – has paid for treatments and the transformation of his home.
Now, he says he has ‘freedom.’ He has the freedom to move throughout the ground floor of the house, the freedom to hop in and out of the family car, and the freedom to cycle in the great outdoors using a specially adapted bike. Clearly, he loves it. He says: ‘It puts the wind back in your face.’
There is an exuberance about Ray. A resilience. It’s there when he recalls how his mother passed away when he was ten. His dad, the late Connie Murnane, brought up his five charges admirably. But, smiling, Ray says: ‘We managed as a unit.’
For good measure, we are back to that question. Ray reckons he collects friends as he goes through life. People find him non-judgemental, inclusive, human, and kind.
‘I don’t know what it’s like to be famous,’ said Ray, answering the question for the last time, ‘but people have been coming to the door with money and stuff and saying, “This is for you.” These are people that I don’t even know. It’s like you are part of something. It is like a movement. I can’t make sense of it. I have to ask, “Who am I to deserve this?” But I know this is way bigger than me, and all I can say is: ‘Thank you.’