‘Dear Ashling, our hearts are broken’: Tullamore unites to mourn loss of murdered teacher

Amid grief, shock and anger, thousands gather in town park for Ashling Murphy vigil

 Ashling Murphy’s mother Kathleen Murphy , father Raymond Murphy, brother Cathal Murphy and sister Amy Murphy comfort one another as they attend a candlelit vigil near the scene of her murder in Tullamore. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Ashling Murphy’s mother Kathleen Murphy , father Raymond Murphy, brother Cathal Murphy and sister Amy Murphy comfort one another as they attend a candlelit vigil near the scene of her murder in Tullamore. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

From mid-afternoon on Friday they came in their thousands – families, groups of young women, and of young men, elderly men, middle-aged women, mothers pushing buggies, fathers with their teenage daughters, making their way to Tullamore’s town park, for a vigil for Ashling.

Just inside the park gates they placed candles at the base of a makeshift shrine to the schoolteacher who was murdered on the outskirts of the town while out for a run last Wednesday afternoon.

There at the park entrance, around a poster-size photograph of Ashling Murphy’s radiant young face, they attached hundreds of messages on Post-its to a board, expressing their grief, shock and anger.

“Dear Ashling, our hearts are broken. We shall miss your infectious sense of humour, your sharp wit,” read one message.

“You were one of the most talented and beautiful people I have ever met. You will always be in our hearts,” said another.

“Ashling you welcomed my daughter with such kindness and warmth. I’ll never forget it. It made me feel that she would fit in and make friends,” wrote one parent.

Clutching flowers

Beyond the entrance, in the open green below, several thousand stood, many holding candles or clutching bunches of lilies, roses, carnations and other flowers as prayers were said from a stage by leaders of the main religious groups in the town.

Fr Joe Gallagher spoke of the need to be together, and to stand together with Ashling’s “heartbroken family”, who also attended the vigil. Ashling was a “generous teacher and friend who has been taken so violently from us”, he said.

“We need to stand together, united with women who fear and know the trauma of violence . . . united in grief, and anger and shock.”

The Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Cornerstone churches were also represented at the event.

Dozens of traditional musicians played reels, double jigs and airs, including Inis Oírr.

Attracta Brady, who taught Ashling fiddle for 10 years from when she was aged six, said there was “nothing else” she could do but be there on Friday. The event was “beautiful”, she said.

“But it’s not good enough, not good enough for the life that has been lost. There is no closure on something like this. It is a forever nightmare.”

‘Just devastated’

Several women were too upset to talk; among them young women, holding each other in long embraces, wiping tears from their faces.

Danielle Devine was there with her young daughters. “It’s just so wrong that women can’t go out on their own. That girl did everything right and still it wasn’t good enough. Every time something like this [happens], it just feels, again, yet another woman.”

Enda Murphy was there with his daughters as they were “just devastated for the family and the town.

“You would absolutely be worried for your daughters. We walk that canal all the time. Everyone has always said how safe that walk is. But we know now it isn’t. Where is safe? It’s unbearable.”

People light candles after a vigil in memory of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore Town Park, Co Offaly. Photograph: Damien Eagers/PA Wire
People light candles after a vigil in memory of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore Town Park, Co Offaly. Photograph: Damien Eagers/PA Wire

As the vigil ended the number of messages posted at the entrance had increased significantly. One read: “We want to walk in the park, in the dark. Stop the violence.”

A hand-painted sign had also been placed beneath Ashling’s smiling image. “Ní saoirse go saoirse na mban,” it read. There is no freedom until the freedom of women.

Thousands also attended vigils outside Dublin’s Leinster House as well as in Limerick city, where Ashling had studied to be a teacher. Hundreds too gathered in front of Belfast City Hall, as well as in towns across the State.

Mountbolus memorial

Later on, Ray Murphy and daughter Amy joined the Ballyboy Comhaltas traditional musical group and performed in front of a massive crowd at a vigil for Ashling in Mountbolus.

The vigil took place at the Mountbolus GAA grounds of the Kilcormac Killoughey club. Ashling was both a member of Ballyboy Comhaltas and played camogie with Kilcormac Killoughey.

Club chair Joe Slevin said he trusted and prayed that the family would have the support of the community in any form they needed it in the future.

“We all remember the beautiful, vibrant person that Ashling was and maybe we can bring some of that beautiful person out in our own lives every day from here on in to honour her memory,” he said.

John Leahy, a GAA coach and local councillor, said he hoped the event would give the grieving family a lift when they needed it most.

“This is to show the family that the community is behind them and God knows, they need that. We’re all astounded by the way this has gripped the whole country,” he said.