Our dream was to settle in West Cork

Once a butcher, construction worker and ordained priest, in our weekly Person to Person feature, JOHN MURRAY talks about ventures new
Our dream was to settle in West Cork
John Murray of Modern Botany. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

TELL us about yourself;

I moved back to Cork in December last year with my life and business partner Simon, having spent almost 17 years in the UK.

I have a chequered past in terms of work history, but in a nutshell, have been an apprentice butcher, construction worker, ordained priest, worked as a project manager within health and social care for local government in the UK and more recently was Business Development Manager for Dr Jackson’s UK, (my partner’s natural skin care business).

It has been our dream to settle in West Cork and establish a natural product company together. This became possible when the opportunity presented for us to exit Simon’s eponymous company last year.

We set up Modern Botany in Schull where I, as the CEO, and Simon, the Chief Scientific Officer, specialise in producing high quality healthcare products made with medicinal grade ingredients. We launched our signature product with a great party in The River Lee Hotel, Cork, and a press conference at Trinity College Dublin. ‘Modern Botany Oil’ is a 100% natural, unisex multi-tasking essential for face, body, hair and nails; great for sensitive, problem and damaged skin and safe on children too. We are very proud of our hero product and excited as we believe it will do a lot of good for a lot of people, especially for the treatment of skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis.

Where were you born?

Born in Cork city and reared in Donoughmore.

Where do you live?

We live outside Schull and love it there. It’s a real luxury for us and one we do not take for granted, living in this incredible environment against the backdrop of the wild Atlantic and communing with ‘salt of the earth’ locals. Heaven on earth!!

Family?

I am the fifth youngest in a family of six siblings. We are a close family and enjoyed great sport living in the countryside of Coolmona growing up — spending happy hours running around the fields and playing with our neighbours. We felt very carefree and safe in those days and while we weren’t well off we were happy and thanks to my parents did not want for anything. They both worked hard, my mother raising the six of us and tending to our small pig farm and my father working in the local creamery.

Best friend?

My best friend I would say is Simon. We got married last year in Bristol and have both travelled a windy, rough and eventful road, both individually and together.

I think there is a great grace in having someone in your life, whether single or not, with whom you can be yourself with and one who really hears you (and vice versa). Simon is that person for me — he lets me ramble on about this and that and is a calm listener. I have been told that he is the graceful swan and I the flappy duck in the relationship.

Earliest childhood memory?

I remember sitting behind the table at my uncle Nelius’s farmhouse being made to eat Calvita cheese and feeling sick. I never fully reconciled myself with the blonde girl on the Calvita box after that and did not eat cheese for years, until I was introduced to pizzas. I now love cheese despite my early dislike for it.

Person you most admire?

Joan Freeman, CEO/founder of Pieta House, is an incredible woman and has had to overcome great obstacles and make personal sacrifices to create an organisation that is a literal lifesaver for countless people living on the edge and bringing a light to those in darkness.

Person who most irritates you?

I have a few but sometimes I think there is something in me that’s easily irritated and I need to address that. This will take a lifetime and is my Achilles heel.

Who would you like to see as Minister for Finance and why?

I think I would like to see Fr Peter McVerry. I think he is a man of the ‘little fellow’ — of the people. He would be shrewd in balancing the books and distribute funding in a way that was ethical and fair.

Dr Simon Jackson and John Murray of Modern Botany. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Dr Simon Jackson and John Murray of Modern Botany. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Where was your most memorable holiday?

Two years ago in Kerry in July for a week. We had the most incredible warm weather. We stayed in Killarney and spent our days heading out around the Ring and Dingle Peninsula for long pleasant walks. I have travelled a lot in the world with my work but there is nothing like Ireland in fine weather.

Favourite TV programme?

I don’t really watch TV but I do like to watch the old documentaries on TG4, like, Caipíní, presented by Breandán Ó Beaglaoich who celebrates the music, songs, language, stories, folklore and dance of the people of Feothanach in the Dingle Peninsula. It’s a lovely nostalgic programme.

Favourite radio show?

Cork Today with Patricia Messenger on C103 FM. She’s an awesome woman who’s in touch with reality. She tells it straight but also shows great empathy and has a great sense of humour.

Your signature dish if cooking?

Plain and simple roast chicken. I love roast chicken and I think if you are having the worst day there is nothing more healing than a roast chicken dinner to sort you out!

Favourite restaurant?

San Carlos in Bristol, where I used to live — a super Italian with old fashioned service and very much a family run outfit. In Cork I have a few such as Market Lane, The River Lee and Liberty Grill.

Last book you read?

I read Clarissa Dickson Wright’s Spilling the Beans, a powerful autobiography detailing her incredible descent from riches to rags, overcoming addictions and ascending again to the renowned celebrity chef she is today. Immensely moving, meaningful and a right funny read. Memorable.

Best book you read?

Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. Powerful book outlining the unbreakable spirit of the human person when pushed to its limit and the value of meaning and purpose in life.

Favourite song?

Difficult to say, I have loads of traditional and contemporary favourites, but I love Galway Bay. It evokes memories of the sadness felt when myself and others had to immigrate. I remember feeling homesick in the early years in the UK and this song spoke loudly to me that there is no place like home.

One person you would like to see in concert?

Prince, but too late now. I missed my opportunity. I was a big fan.

Do you have a pet?

We have two dogs (Bonnie and Sugar) and two house cats (Freddie and Otto). We are both big animal lovers and enjoy nothing more than taking the dogs on long sea walks – being spoiled as we are for choice here in the Mizen.

Morning person or night owl?

I think I have always intuitively been a morning person. I love the light of the dawn. It evokes all sorts of feelings of hope, newness and potential for me. I start my morning with a long hour’s brisk walk around the roads of Lowertown, meandering around to Castle Point through to Croagh Bay and home to a hot cup of Barry’s tea.

Your proudest moment?

I think marrying Simon was a pivotal landmark for us both. A very happy day indeed.

Spendthrift or saver?

I am one of those unfortunates who is stuck in the middle. At once I am watching the pennies and then on an impulse I can be feckless and consequently must face the awful regret when reading through the bank statements at the end of the month. It’s a balancing act, I guess, between being careful and not being ruled by money. I’m afraid I haven’t mastered this art yet!

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

It’s hard to say as Schull is so great in many ways, However, I think more employment opportunities could be created locally by directing more of our foreign tourists down west when they step onto the tour buses in Cork and Shannon. I think a lot of our visitors are missing out on a trick in bypassing the unique beauty of The Mizen. There are endless tourist opportunities here.

What makes you happy?

I know we can’t be happy all the time, but every now and then something or someone does something which can take me by surprise and fills me with joy and hope. I think I am happiest when I am grateful. My faith makes me most content. My father is a man of simple but strong faith and he would say when younger ‘keep in with the Man upstairs and you will be all right’.

I think when we are stripped back in life of finances, relationships and health, as often is the human experience, all we have left is our simple and uncomplicated faith to hang our hat on.

How would you like to be remembered?

Tricky question. Well, I would like to think that I will be remembered as one who loved, laughed and did my bit to help others, but I will never know. I think I have an awful long way to go yet.

What else are you up to at the moment?

Both Simon and I at Modern Botany have finished the first of our company launches and are planning more campaigns and events in the coming year.

We are excited about taking on some employees and expanding the business. We are looking at more formulations and new product development using Irish indigenous ingredients.

We are also scoping out the export market for the launch of Modern Botany Oil mid-2017. All very exciting stuff. Modern Botany Oil is available in all Lloyd’s Pharmacies nationwide and on www.modernbotany.com and retails for €35.

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