Who was Ashling Murphy? The ‘shining light’ teacher who loved music – The Irish Times

todayNovember 17, 2023 3

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“Our shining light.” Those are the words people who knew and loved Ashling Murphy use to describe her, even almost two years after her death.

Young children she taught in the Durrow National School held signs with those words during her funeral procession. Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after the verdict was delivered in the trial this month, her boyfriend Ryan Casey repeated them again.

It is three words that attempt to sum up the monumental impact she, in her too-short 23 years, had among those she encountered.

Born in Blue Ball, near Tullamore in Co Offaly, Ms Murphy grew up with two siblings: her sister Amy and brother Cathal.

She studied at Mary Immaculate College (MIC) in Limerick and graduated from the Bachelor of Education programme in October 2021. Here, she was loved by so many people.

Speaking at a vigil held shortly after her death, Róisín Burke, then president of MIC Students’ Union, said she was “deeply saddened by the senseless and tragic death of Ashling”.

“She was loved by so many during her time in MIC and although she had graduated, she was still a member of our community,” Ms Burke said.

Prof Eugene Wall, president of MIC, said it was with “profound sadness and shock” that the college community learned of her death in January 2021.

“Ashling, a talented musician and performer, had just commenced her teaching career when her young and promising life was cruelly snatched away from her,” he said.

From a family that adored traditional music, Ms Murphy was no different. At a candlelit vigil days before her funeral, her father Ray paid tribute to his daughter by performing her favourite song on the banjo. As the final chords of When You Were Sweet Sixteen fell out to those in attendance, his own tears fell too.

Ms Murphy played all over Ireland with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, performing in its national orchestra. Among the instruments she played were the tin whistle and the fiddle, and she was learning the uilleann pipes.

A teacher by profession, she also applied that to her love of traditional music, taking younger musicians under her wing and showing them how to master their instruments.

The director general of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Labhrás Ó Murchú, described the effect Ashling had on the lives of those who knew her.

“The word celebration in the context of Ashling Murphy is very, very important. Every person she met was enriched by her, genuinely enriched. There was great connection she had with people,” he said at a memorial for her.

“All of the people she met through Comhaltas, there is a sense within them that Ashling’s name will never be far from their lips or our heart.”

Three music scholarships have been set up in her name by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, as has another in MIC for a first year for their exceptional achievement and talent in the field of traditional music.

On the path where she was murdered is a bench, the words “in memory of Ashling Murphy” engraved into it.

In the words of her long-term partner Mr Casey, who provided a victim impact statement in court on Friday, Ms Murphy was “simply everything to me and I simply lost everything”.

He was 15 when he met Ms Murphy at a disco 10 years ago this September. He knew way back then there was something special about her and they were in a relationship within weeks.

They separated in 2014 because they were so young, but they remained in constant touch. In late 2016 he asked her to be his girlfriend and gave her a watch which she almost never took off, and which her mother now wears.

Her murder meant he has lost his partner in life, “my closest friend, my best friend”, he said. All the plans they had made – to get married, have children and design their dream home – would now never happen.

Ms Murphy’s mother, Kathleen, said her daughter was one in a million and there was now “such a void in our home” without her presence and “sweet music”. Her daughter loved camogie too, and spending time with friends and family. In short, she said she was “every mum and dad’s dream daughter”.

After the guilty verdict was returned, her family shared a statement. They described her as an “integral part of our family”, but also highlighted the impact she had in the community. “Year in, year out, she gave back as best she could.”

Now, even in her absence, she will continue to give back. In November 2022, her family established the Ashling Murphy Memorial Fund, describing her as a “breathtakingly talented and exceptional musician, talented sportsperson and an inspirational teacher to the many young people she encountered within her 23 years”.

The establishment of this fund, to further projects connected with traditional Irish arts, culture and heritage for young people, they hope, will help to “fulfil the strong legacy left by Ashling”. This way, she can continue to be that shining light.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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