President Michael D Higgins pays tribute to playwright Tom Murphy

Award-winning writer from Galway has died at age 83

Tom Murphy at his home in Dublin in 2014 .Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

Tom Murphy at his home in Dublin in 2014 .Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

 

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to playwright Tom Murphy, who has died aged 83.

The award-winning writer from Tuam, Co Galway, worked closely with the Abbey Theatre and with the Druid Theatre Company.

His first one-act play On the Outside was written when he was in his 20s and his first full-length work, A Whistle in the Dark, was performed in London in 1961.

“It was with great sadness that Sabina and I have learned of the death of Tom Murphy,” Mr Higgins said in a statement.

He said the importance of Murphy’s contribution to Irish theatre was “immeasurable and outstanding”.

“We have had no greater use of language for the stage than in the body of work produced by Tom Murphy since his earliest work in the 1960s. His themes were not only those which had influenced the very essence of Irishness, immigration, famine and loss — they were universal in their reach.”

The president said that from the early beginnings of his writings in Tuam, Murphy produced “a unique and often provocative body of work”.

“He was above all the great playwright of the emigrant, more than anyone capturing, in a poignant, creative way, the transience that is at the heart of the emigrant experience.”

Mr Higgins said it had been “such a joy to meet Tom so many times over the years, and a particular pleasure for any of us who have been privileged to call him our friend”.

“I had the pleasure of presenting Tom with the Aosdána torc in his home in 2017, a great acknowledgement by his contemporaries of his outstanding abilities as a writer.

Mr Higgins said he and his wife Sabina wished to express their condolences to Mr Murphy’s wife Jane and to Mary, Bennan, Johnny, Nell and their extended family and his wide circle of friends.

“I will miss him deeply, but he will be fondly missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing him.”

Druid Theatre Company said it had lost a “friend, colleague, great Irish writer and a great man of the theatre” and that its links with him had been an important step in its development.

Artistic director Garry Hynes said: “I simply can’t believe it, because Tom for me, in his work and as a person, he was the essence of life, he was a life force in every possible respect in the rage with which he wrote about things, in the love with which he wrote about things and just to notion of him not being here is far too difficult to accept yet.”

“I came to his work in the late 70s, early 80s and we began our professional relationship and friendship then and he has been at the centre of my life and Druid’s life and anybody who has worked with him, he has absolutely been at the centre of our lives all that time.”

Ms Hynes said she felt bereft knew that her colleagues felt the same.

“There is not a person who works in the Irish theatre, indeed internationally who hasn’t encountered him and been changed and been changed for the better.”

Dominic Dromgoole, former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, said those productions were “one of the finest examples in the world of a company of actors and director giving particular life to a writer”.

The members of Aosdána, an association of artists, said they mourned the passing of their eminent colleague and Saoí.

“As one of our greatest playwrights, he made such an innovative and immense contribution to contemporary Irish Theatre. We extend our deepest sympathies to Jane and all of his family,” Aosdána said.

Fianna Fáil arts spokeswoman Niamh Smyth said Murphy’s plays “had a strong focus on issues such as emigration and displacement, resonating with Irish people right around the globe”.

“Tom’s writing is authentic, and sometimes uncomfortable, but it has an honesty that has captivated audiences for decades, and his work will live on long after his passing,” she said.