A stroke in my 30s... I was lucky, now I've opened my own gallery

Photographer Kieron O’Connor, who suffered a stroke in his 30s, has recovered and now opened his own business in Cobh, writes CHRIS DUNNE
A stroke in my 30s... I was lucky, now I've opened my own gallery

“I USED to be a right hand man,” jokes Kieron O’Connor. “Now I am a left hand man!”

Kieron is a professional landscape and travel photographer who suffered a stroke in his late thirties and as a result suffers with aphasia, a condition that leaves him with difficulty speaking and writing.

Kieron became interested in the art of photography and has now taken it up as a career, despite dealing with aphasia.

He travelled the world as an engineer when he was a young man.

“In my twenties, I started working on boats as an engineer. I first became interested in photography when I was travelling the world years ago,” says Kieron.

“I just wanted to remember all these places I was seeing and what was going on.”

Kieron went around the world a few times.

“It normally took four months,” he says.

Kieron O’Connor has opened a photographic gallery at 6, Pearse Square, Cobh. The start-up business is located in the former Arch Bar in the harbour town. 	Picture: Larry Cummins
Kieron O’Connor has opened a photographic gallery at 6, Pearse Square, Cobh. The start-up business is located in the former Arch Bar in the harbour town. Picture: Larry Cummins

He saw most of the world in his twenties.

“The fastest time I did around the world was flying to London from Cork, flying to Miami, got onto a boat with two ports, Panama, Long beach, USA, Kobe in Japan, Hong Kong. Then fly back to London, to Cork. That took one month. The countries I was in were China, Taiwan, Seoul, Tokyo, USA, Mexico, Panama, Canada, UK, France, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Gibraltar, Spain, Italy, Egypt, Port Said, Suez, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, India and Sri Lanka.

“I took photographs and videos everywhere I went and I stored them away. I wanted to remember life as I went along.”

When Kieron had got wanderlust out of his system, he started work in Dublin as a Maintenance Manager Contractor..

This was a bit different to his previous occupation?

“It was, just a bit!” says Kieron.

A normal day at the office changed his life.

“It was a normal day at work, about 4pm,” recalls Kieron.

“I went to take a drink of water and it spilled all down my front onto my clothes. I called my sister and it turned out I had had a stroke. Just out of the blue. I thought I was fine but I wasn’t. Luckily, I had good doctors in Dublin who helped me.

“I thought I’d be back to work very soon, but I wasn’t. When I had the stroke, I thought I was going back to work the next week. I thought it was no issue for me.”

But it was.

“When I had the stroke, I thought I can’t go to work, what else do I do? It’s back to zero. I couldn’t use a phone or a computer. I was very lucky though. Every day I was trying to get better, talking to people, taking pictures, places in Ireland, and working on the computer, trying to get better at this as well. Now, I’m just enjoying life. I was very lucky.”

Some people who suffer a stroke bounce back and carry on in life; is this true of Kieron?

“I think it depends on what happens to that person,” says Kieron.

“I think some people are very lucky. Myself, I think I’m just very lucky that I’m alive. I have one leg, one arm, am doing as much as I can on my own. I have family support and friends.”

Kieron is creative.

“One year it was very cold and I took some photos then and they were on RTÉ news. I thought, now is the time to try and I opened my shop. I received an overwhelming amount of support from family and friends and I credit them with helping me open the showroom on Pearse Square, Cobh.”

In his gallery, Kieron is selling his latest photography book Lockdown Ireland 2020, which is full to the brim with photos of Cobh and Cork Harbour. He describes making the book as a way to “just remember what was going on” over the lockdown.

Stroke survivor Kieron O’Connor also published a book of photos during lockdown.
Stroke survivor Kieron O’Connor also published a book of photos during lockdown.

“I never had time to work on good quality pictures before. The book was not a real plan. I just knew the pandemic was going to be crazy all over the world.

“As it got worse and worse, and coming to Europe, I still never imagined it was coming to Ireland. Then I saw the Taoiseach talking on the news, ‘this was the calm before the storm’. I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“I knew I was going to take as many pictures as I could and talk about it afterwards. At that time I tried to find out if anyone else had done a book on lockdown. I could buy none of them in Ireland.

“So I wanted to show where I was during that time, during the lockdown, and that’s what I have in the book. It is a way to remember what was going on over the lockdown. And that’s what I have.”

Kieron is proud of his new shop at Pearse Square in Cobh.

“I had been trying to buy a shop for more than five years, and I couldn’t. This year I found a shop that was closed and someone helped me look into it and now I have the shop there.

“My family and friends have been through this with me.

“It’s open now and it’s going good.”

Kieron has turned his passion for photography into his full-time career. He has upgraded his hobby to his profession and he has a real love for his work.

“I’m really happy with the shop,” he says.

Kieron’s prints and books are for sale in the Cobh Gallery that is open Monday to Friday, or from his website www.kieronoconnor-photography.com

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