Interview by Barry Egan
September 23, 2007. 5pm. Stephen McMahon, inspirational Cork singer-songwriter, is going back to that exact moment when his life changed irrevocably.
“That was the day,” he tells me, “that I was in a very bad car accident.
“I was with this girl I was engaged to at the time and two good friends of mine. I wasn’t driving. We were coming back... I think we were in Lahinch and I was in the back of the car on the left side,” he continues. “I remember the stop for petrol. I remember taking my seat belt off, because I was tired, and I was leaning in.
“I don’t remember the severity of the car crash, or any of it,” he continues, haltingly.
Nearly eight years on, he is still recovering from what happened that day. “I’ll always be recovering,” he says. “It was a very serious accident — you know, what happened to me, and to my brain?
“As a result, I lost my sense of smell. I’m blind in my left eye — but I can at least still see out of my right eye. The sense of smell is hard. You recognise it so much more when you lose something, and how obvious it is in everybody’s lives.”
He only vaguely remembers waking up in the hospital.
“Apparently, I was awake before but I don’t remember that. There was metal in my head, right there,” he says showing me where exactly in his head. “I was stitched up. The whole thing was like a nightmare. It was like waking up in a bad dream — but I never really woke up from it, you know?” he says now.
“So, I mean, it’s a long recovery. I’ll always be dealing with it. But the girl I was going out with, I went back home and we had a house together.”
I ask him to conjecture what it was suddenly like for her? Maybe it was like living with a stranger, because you weren’t immediately aware of who she was?
“I suppose she would have felt like that, because with the severity of my head injuries, I must have seemed like a different person. The doctors said that it takes time for the brain to readjust, to settle — to come around,” he says.
“But she was badly injured too in the crash herself. Her body was badly caught in the seat belt. Everybody was badly damaged. And in the end, we broke up, which was hard — but, you know, these things that you have no control over happen in life. You’ve just got to deal with them.”
And how did you deal with them?
“At the start, I couldn’t believe it was happening. I thought it was like some sort of a joke, or that it wasn’t true — but as time went by, I realised that it was true and she left. I kept the house and my dog, Rover.”
“He’s my best friend and I'm glad he stuck with me the whole time. He doesn’t judge me —much. My family and friends were all there for me. And, you know, you’ve just got to live every day. I feel blessed I have every day now.”
No matter what way you look at it, the story of Stephen McMahon is nothing short of extraordinary. He should be dead. Yet here he is, singing Yours by Ella Henderson for the Windmill Lane Sessions for Independent.ie, and he’s mesmerizing all who hear him.
He released his debut album, Half Blind, last year.
“It is kind of a joke,” he smiles, “because I have lost the vision in one eye. But what it means to me is that you could be half-blind in your job, or you could be half-blind in your relationship, or half-blind in your life as in ‘What are you up to? Do you let the days slip by, like I done, take everything for granted?’ But now I have more of an appreciation of even a rainy or a cold day.”
So even though you’re half blind, you see the world better?
“Exactly, exactly. Besides the vision, I see a lot more today, I take in a lot more. That is kind of the metaphor in Half Blind.”
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