Iris Murdoch centenary marked with stamp and plaque

‘Even at the end of her life when she had Alzheimer’s, she remembered she was from Ireland’

Philosopher Clare MacCumhaill; Rosanna Turner, a finalist in this year’s Irish Young Philosopher Awards; and Cllr Mary Fitzpatrick, representing Dublin City Council, after the unveiling of a plaque and special postage stamp to honour the centenary of the birth of author and philosopher Iris Murdoch at Blessington Street, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Philosopher Clare MacCumhaill; Rosanna Turner, a finalist in this year’s Irish Young Philosopher Awards; and Cllr Mary Fitzpatrick, representing Dublin City Council, after the unveiling of a plaque and special postage stamp to honour the centenary of the birth of author and philosopher Iris Murdoch at Blessington Street, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

A stamp and plaque to honour the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch was unveiled in Dublin’s north inner city on Thursday.

Murdoch was the first Irish writer to receive the Booker Prize, for The Sea, The Sea, in 1978 and five more of her 26 novels were nominated for the accolade. She was also a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Dublin City Council and An Post marked the birth centenary of Murdoch in Blessington Street Park, metres away from her birthplace at 59 Blessington Street.

Iris Murdoch: ‘It’s been easy to dismiss Murdoch as a philosopher because she was such a brilliant novelist.’ Photograph: Getty
Iris Murdoch: Born in Dublin on July 15th 1919. Photograph: Getty

The only child of a middle-class Protestant couple, Murdoch was born in Phibsborough in 1919. She moved to London with her parents as an infant but the family often holidayed in Dun Laoghaire and Ireland featured in a number of her works.

She married John Bayley, a literary critic and novelist in 1956. Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her later years and she died in 1999.

Brendan Teeling, Dublin City Council’s deputy librarian said Murdoch maintained contact with Ireland “throughout her life”.

“Ireland does feature in a bit of her work, she always maintained her link with Ireland. Even at the end of her life when she had Alzheimer’s, she had forgotten that she was even a novelist but she remembered that she was from Ireland. It was very strong in her life,” he said.

Mr Teeling said Murdoch’s former home on Blessington Street was currently undergoing renovations. The plaque to honour Murdoch will be relocated to her birthplace from Blessington Street Park following completion of the works.

The new stamp, which is based on a portrait photograph of Murdoch, was designed by Steve Simpson.

Philosophy by postcard

Dr Clare MacCumhaill, philosopher at Durham University, said Murdoch identified Ireland as “an island of spells and magic”.

“She’s mostly known as a novelist but in the last 15 years, her profile is starting to rise again in philosophy and there is a major following around her. She’s basically being recognised as one of the major female philosophical voices of the last century,” she said.

Dr MacCumhaill is part of a research project on Murdoch’s contribution to philosophy and her collaboration with three other notable thinkers – Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley – at the University of Oxford in the 1930s and ’40s. “They developed a different way of responding to the horrors of the second World War.”

To mark the centenary, Dr MacCumhaill has helped to organise the #PhilosophybyPostcard initiative, under which members of the public will be invited to “send a postcard to Iris Murdoch” asking any philosophical question they wish.

In Murdoch’s stead, 100 philosophers have been recruited to supply answers, which will be sent back by postcard to entrants, with all correspondence published online. The address to which questions can be sent will be announced on Monday, the centenary date, at https://www.philosophybypostcard.com/

Members of the public can ‘ask Iris Murdoch’ a question under the #PhilosophybyPostcard event to be launched in July. Illustration: Philosophy by Postcard
Members of the public can ‘ask Iris Murdoch’ a question under the #PhilosophybyPostcard initiative. Illustration: Philosophy by Postcard

David McRedmond, chief executive of An Post said “we have a proud tradition of celebrating our great writers with stamps”.

“Iris Murdoch unusually achieved mass popularity with a deep philosophical core in her novels,” he said.

Among others attending the launch was Rosanna Turner, a finalist in this year’s Irish Young Philosopher Awards, who read a poem at the event. One of the winner’s of this year’s awards came up with a card design for the #PhilosophybyPostcard scheme.