WARM tributes were paid to historian and former independent senator Professor John A Murphy last week when he was honoured by University College Cork with the unveiling of a bust to mark his 90th birthday and his contribution to academic life at the university.
UCC President and Kilmichael native Dr Michael Murphy led the tributes to Prof Murphy at the special birthday gathering at the university’s Aula Maxima, which was attended by over 100 invited guests including many from Prof Murphy’s hometown of Macroom, where he grew up on North Square.
Dr Murphy said that it was noteworthy that it was 72 years ago that his namesake had travelled from Macroom to begin his association with the college, which saw him subsequently graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree (hons) in History and Latin.
‘By my estimate, he has been on campus for some 62 years and in that time he has made much of the history here as well as writing it. He is quite simply an institution within the institution, and that is one of the reasons we are honouring him here this evening,’ Michael Murphy said.
‘The second reason is that without John A, there would be no formal professional record of the institution and if a university doesn’t know its own story, how it came to be in this way, it doesn’t really have a sense of itself – John A provided that to UCC and he’s worthy of celebration.’
A warm tribute was also paid to Prof Murphy by his former colleague and historian Prof Tom Dunne, who recalled not just his celebrated academic achievements but also his roles as a fearless public intellectual where he helped educate Irish public opinion, especially on Irish nationalism.
Prof Dunne said that Prof Murphy’s celebration with his family and friends of a significant birthday, also provided an opportunity to remember ‘his extraordinary contribution to this university – as a teacher and professor’ as well as a member of its governing body and an NUI senator.
His contribution also involved chronicling the development of UCC from Queen’s College Cork in 1845 and was fully deserving of the honorary title, bestowed by its governing body of ‘University Historian’ as his several books on the university are models of their kind.
Prof Dunne pointed out that while Prof Murphy eventually became a critic of highly influential UCC Professor of English Daniel Corkery, he ‘remained a Corkeryite in his commitment to connecting the college to the city’.
‘And his many contributions to the life of the city were marked by his being voted “Cork Person of the Year” in 2005 – beating Cork’s All-Ireland winning captain that year, Sean Óg Ó hAilpín, no less,’ said Prof Dunne.
Prof Dunne spoke about what a pleasure it had been to be present on the previous Sunday night at an important aspect of Prof Murphy’s linkage of city and university when he was the featured singer at a crowded session of the Singers Club at the Spailpín Fánach.
‘He sang splendidly, despite a bout of tinnitus, a series of songs in Irish and English from his remarkable repertoire including the most difficult, “An Ciarraioch Mallaithe”, introducing each with his characteristic wit and erudition.’
Prof Murphy spoke of his pleasure at being honoured by UCC and how he was delighted to be joined by his family and former colleagues for the event while he was particularly touched by the fact the statue was cast from a model done by his good friend, the late Seamus Murphy.
‘The statue is a lovely statue, it has a particular connotation because it was done in 1973 so I feel like Dorian Grey in reverse – it is a very youthful and elegant statue and I would like to think it bears some resemblance to the present John A Murphy,’ he quipped.
‘It’s a peculiar feeling at 90 to hear such tributes being paid to me – it’s next best thing to reading a good obituary – with a few obvious differences ... it’s hard to believe I am 90 but history is what the evidence compels us to believe and my baptismal certificate is the irrefutable evidence.’
However, Prof Murphy showed little evidence of his age when he concluded proceedings by singing several verses of ‘The Bould Thady Quill’, including a verse he composed himself, before being joined in the chorus by many of his guests familiar with the tale of the Muskerry sportsman.
Joining Prof Murphy for his birthday celebration at the Aula Maxima were his wife, Cita, his sons Hugh and Brian and his daughters, Eileen and Cliona as well as his nephews and nieces from Macroom, Tom, Tim, Jill, Mary, Ellen, Margaret and Ann O’Leary.
Among the many others attending the event were Minister for Transport, Shane Ross; President of the National University of Ireland, Maurice Manning; former senator and Press Ombudsman, John Horgan; former senator Joe O’Toole and Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Des Cahill.
Among these others to attend the event to honour Prof Murphy were Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, President of the National University of Ireland, Maurice Manning, former senator and Press Ombudsman, John Horgan and Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Des Cahill.