Ashling Murphy: ‘She was a shining light as a teacher, the children in her class adored her’

Tributes paid to young teacher and talented musician from Tullamore, Co Offaly

The principal of Durrow National School where Ashling Murphy taught first class has described the newly qualified teacher as “a shining light” and said “her pupils adored her”.

Children had been coming into school this morning with tears in their eyes, James Hogan told RTÉ radio’s News at One, but although she was not there, she was not forgotten by her class or her colleagues.

The school community was devastated to have lost a colleague and a friend, a person who brought light with her and who would put a smile on anyone’s face, he added.

Mr Hogan said that the children in the school had been invited to write “little messages” to Ms Murphy which were being put into a memory box for her.

Although she had been in the school for a relatively short time – since March 2021 – she had made a “huge impact” and “fit in so well”, said Mr Hogan. “Her personality, her bubbliness, her smile, her talents. She would reach out to any child.

“She was one in a million. It’s heart-breaking that it was all taken from her.”

Mr Hogan said the priority of the school community was to care for the children and staff, and supports had been put in place. Staff had met early this morning for a briefing at which “there were waves of tears”, he said.

Mr Hogan said that the thoughts and prayers of everyone in the school were with the Murphy family as they attempt to cope with the loss of their lovely daughter.

Bouquets of flowers and a candle have been left on the bank of the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly, close to where Ms Murphy was killed.

She had been out for a run along a canal towpath when she was fatally attacked on Wednesday afternoon.

Damian White, principal of Killeigh National School in Co Offaly where Ms Murphy had carried out her teaching practice three years ago, said she was a fabulous young teacher and person.

“[She was] just the very essence of a good teacher: kind and warm, empathetic, keen to learn,” he told RTÉ. “She was shy but she had so many talents.

“She was just setting out on what was going to be a great teaching career.”

Mr White described how he had been at a local football match when news of the murder began to circulate.

“You could actually get a sense that the crowd were all hearing what was after happening at the same time. Interest was lost in the match…suddenly there was nobody talking football. Then when it emerged who it was, it’s actually mind-blowing.”

‘Absolute gem’

Former principal of Durrow National School Frank Kelly, who is also a friend of the Murphy family, told The Irish Times: “She was a shining light as a teacher, the children in her class adored her. Her word was gold, they worshiped the ground she walked on.”

He added: “She was an absolute gem. She came to the school as a substitute teacher in March 2021 and was then put on a fixed-term position from September.

“Ashling was very musical, she had recently bought a set of uilleann pipes and was going to learn how to play them, they are a very difficult instrument to master, but no obstacle was too big for her. She also loved her sports and was involved with the choir.

“Her smile would light up a room.”

Mr Kelly returned to the school today to assist in implementing the critical incident plan. Counsellors from NEPS met with teachers at the school at 8am to prepare them for how best to explain what had happened to the children and to assist them in processing their loss.

The president of Mary Immaculate College (MIC) in Limerick, where Ms Murphy studied, said: “The entire MIC community is heartbroken and shocked to the core to hear of the tragic and senseless killing of Ashling Murphy who graduated from MIC only three months ago. Our heartfelt sympathy go out to her family, friends, colleagues and pupils. RIP Ashling.”

The flag in the college is at half mast, there is a remembrance table with her photograph and a lighted candle, and a memorial page is due to be set up on Friday.

The college chaplain Fr Michael Wall said her death would also have an effect on the hundreds of students and teachers at the college, and set out the young woman’s achievements.

“She’d come through primary school, come through secondary school, got the course she wanted did very well in that course despite the Covid stuff and went out with a very good honours degree and then got a job at home,” he told RTÉ’s Drivetime programme.

“She achieved all the things that loads of parents would like their children to achieve, or loads of students would like to achieve.”

In a statement on social media, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said “for such an appalling tragedy to befall a young woman, who only recently began her teaching career, adds to the profound sense of loss and grief felt”.

The secondary school that Ms Murphy attended, Sacred Heart School Tullamore, said in a post on Facebook that she was a “vibrant member of our school community during her six years here and she will be sadly missed”.

Always smiling

Ms Murphy played with the Kilcormac/Killoughey Camogie club in Co Offaly. A statement by the club said: “It is with profound sadness, devastation and shock that we learned of the untimely and tragic death of our friend Ashling Murphy.

“Ashling was a much-loved member of our junior and senior teams, having also played underage for the club. She entered and exited the pitch with a smile every time, was enthusiastic and pleasant to everyone, while also being quietly determined and dedicated, often driving from college in Limerick to attend training.

“She will be sadly missed by her devastated friends and teammates.”

In an unsigned handwritten message left with flowers at the scene of her death, a local person wrote: “You were one of the kindest girls I’ve met. Always helpful, always had a smile on your face. You were a great mentor on and off the pitch. Fly high angel. Rest in peace.”

Tina Stones, who works in a corner shop nearby, said it was a sad day for the country. “A sad day for women, sad that you can’t go for a walk in broad daylight and feel safe. She was after working a hard day and never made it home,” Ms Stones said.

“I find it hard to talk about it because I get too upset. It’s horrific. Even last night someone commented that there was no one out walking the streets on their own.

“Normally women would be out walking early. It’s a sad day for women and a sad day for Ireland that this happened.

“We all walk there and everyone knows everyone who walks it and you all say hello to each other.”

Tim Malone, a resident of Thornsbury Estate, which is also close to the Grand Canal, said: “It’s disgraceful that you can’t go down there and do what you want to do. It’s terrible. It’s a grand place to go.

“It was a fierce shock. It was hard to believe. Look at all the people that uses that [walkway] . It was a grand bright day at four o’clock and the sun was shining.”