Tom Murphy receives highest arts honour from President

New Aosdána Saoi described as the ‘great playwright of the emigrant’

President Michael D Higgins has presented the playwright Tom Murphy with the gold torc and the title of Saoi, Aosdána's highest honour, which recognises remarkable achievement and the esteem in which the recipient is held by peers and fellow artists. The presentation took place at a small private ceremony at the writer's Dublin home on Monday.

The President described it as a great honour for him to bestow the title on one of Ireland's greatest contemporary playwrights. "Reflecting upon a lifetime of outstanding creative work, which continues, it is a pleasure to congratulate him on being chosen by his peers in the world of arts and culture for this honour, and as President of Ireland to thank him for all he has given, and continues to give to our society."

Pre-eminent theatrical voice

Born in Tuam, Co Galway, in 1935, Murphy had his first successful play, A Whistle in the Dark, performed to acclaim and controversy at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, in London, in 1961, having been rejected by the Abbey Theatre. The Sanctuary Lamp, The Gigli Concert, Bailegangaire and others followed, cementing his position alongside the late Brian Friel as one of the pre-eminent Irish theatrical voices of the era.

President Higgins said Murphy’s contribution to Irish theatre had been of an immense and unique kind. “He has been above all the great playwright of the emigrant, more than anyone capturing in a poignant, creative and provocative way the transience that is at the heart of the emigrant experience.”


Murphy, he said, had gone on to produce a body of work of extraordinary brilliance. “In that work, there is something that sings to us, a beauty is emerging, through the work of a genius willing to take all the risks – such is the contribution of great theatre, and Tom Murphy has been a master in that regard.”

Family, friends and colleagues

The presentation was attended by a small number of Murphy's family, friends, and colleagues from the theatre and arts worlds, including the artistic director of Druid theatre company, Garry Hynes; the actors Sean McGinley and Marie Mullen; the poets Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan; and the psychiatrist Ivor Browne.

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan is an Irish Times writer and Duty Editor. He also presents the weekly Inside Politics podcast