An Appreciation of Colin William Murphy MBE
by Lynne Murphy
A peacemaker, a businessman, a rugby enthusiast, a red wine drinker, a free spirit, a person living with dementia, a friend, a neighbour, a brother, a Papa, a Dad and a loving husband.
Thank you all for coming here today. I’m not quite sure what Dad would have made of having his funeral during a time with such restrictions in place but I do know that he would have been telling us what a lucky man he was to have even 25 here with us in this church.
And so, from the beginning…
Colin William Murphy, Member of the British Empire, was born in 1936 in Belfast to Billy and Jean Murphy nee Baxter. He came along 8 years after his sister Joyce, remaining her little brother up until his death.
They lived a modest and happy life in a leafy suburb of east Belfast. The war came and Dad had many stories of carrying his gas mask to school, the makeshift air raid shelter they had in the house and his Dad Billy being a local air raid warden.
His mother Jean died suddenly when he was 14. A hard thing for a young boy and his family to deal with. Several years later my Grandfather remarried to Madeline and my Dad was blessed with this wonderful kind lady and her extended family.
He met my Mum at her 21st birthday party when he was there as her best friend Valerie’s date! And Mum was there with her own date. They began their courtship months after that (when the two dates had exited the scene) and the rest is history. A wedding in May 1965 in Cooke Centenary Church on the Ormeau Road, a first home in Knockbracken Park and two daughters, less than two years apart. There followed a move south to Blackrock in 1975 which at that time was like moving to the end of the world.
Somewhere in the midst of these years as a young man, husband and father, the seeds of the peacemaker he became took root and began to grow. I can’t list all his endeavors but included were the Dutch Northern Ireland Council which worked to bring people from both sides of the Troubles to the Netherlands for dialogue workshops. These types of workshops became the cornerstone of his work. During this time, he met and was mentored by some wonderful Dutch men including his best friend, a Dominican Monk, Andre Lascaris. While our friends holidayed in different parts of Ireland or maybe even Spain or Portugal, Sheelagh and I were taken for our summer holidays to Andre’s Priory in Hussein in the Netherlands where we were treated like two little princesses by Andre and all the brothers of the order.
Dad and Mum had moved the family south in 1975 for a promotion in his job. He remained in the office equipment business from that time until the late 1990’s. He first opened his own shop in Blackrock which grew into a business called Addex. He was very proud of this achievement and enjoyed the relationships he formed with his customers, suppliers and as the business grew, with his counterparts in the big multinationals he worked with including Sharp and Maxell. It was less about the numbers, and more about the relationships even in business.
His business life was of course important but at the core of his being was family and peace work. He became involved in Glencree at this time.
As a Dad he was loving, caring and ever so flashy. Sheelagh and I were so lucky, and all our friends adored him. I remember him bringing home one of the first VCR recorders which was about the size of a suitcase. He was the first to have a car phone and got his first pair of converse in his late 70’s. During difficult stages of our lives he was constant with his love and support.
In 1996 he became Papa with the birth of Evan followed 2 years later by Sorcha. How he adored these two little people, born at difficult times for their Mums, especially after the sudden death of Liam. Sometimes I think he became complete when he was Papa. His relationship with Evan and Sorcha was extraordinary. “Hug me Papa” was a phrase of Evan’s that has always been recalled from that time. He stood in for them as a father figure and I cannot even start to recall the adventures Sorcha and him had together while I was at work….drinking champagne with the late Garech de Brun in Luggala and only last year, back in the company of the Prince of Wales in Glencree. They were best friends.
“How do you think her Majesty is holding up”? he asked Sorcha last Sunday over dinner. “I doubt we will see her this Christmas in Sandringham with all that’s going on” he continued. Speaking as if she was a friend of his.
Evan and Sorcha were to be joined by all the younger grandchildren over the years…. Elijah, Jasmine, Abbie, Lukas and Mason. He adored them all and celebrated the diversity they brought to our family. He carried all their photographs in his wallet and loved to take them out to show people in the most random of places.
In 2006 he was awarded an MBE for his peace work from her Majesty the Queen. He said at the time that the last award he had won was for the long jump in school when he was 9 or 10. He was offered the opportunity to receive it in person in Buckingham Palace or have a larger gathering for family & friends in the British Ambassador’s residence in Glencairn, Sandyford. It doesn’t take much to work out which one he chose…” I’m sure her Majesty will understand” he told the Embassy. And what a party we had that day, moving it on to Glencree that evening. As only Dad could, he changed out of his suit and pinned the medal to a M&S cotton shirt where he pranced away the evening amongst those he loved “I have an MBE you know” – words that he loved to speak for many years to come. Rumour has it the medal made an appearance in the same manner at neighbourhood BBQs.
And so, to his work for peace…. inspired by the likes of Andre Lascaris, Una O’Higgins O’Malley, John Hume and so many more. He tirelessly worked to open dialogue with people of all traditions and beliefs, on both parts of this island and as far afield as Israel and Palestine. He was always interested in the ordinary people and their stories and how they could transform a conflict in their lives. Things he would have said included “We must acknowledge the violence in order to find peace” “Peace must be built, nourished and looked after”, “Peace is not just the absence of violence” and one of his favourites “the plus and minus are the same”. His work, inspired by Una, focused around forgiveness and he would recount stories of forgiveness, including Una’s own, and what they meant to him.
God is a verb not a noun he believed. God is healing and peace and love. All things important to Dad.
Dad and I worked together on a Churches Programme in Glencree. We worked to bring clergy and church leaders from both sides of the tradition together to build on the political peace delivered by the Good Friday Agreement. He respectfully challenged them that the churches weren’t doing enough to cultivate peace. “Your boss is the Prince of Peace” he would say to them. We brought protestant and unionist church leaders for dinner with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in Drumcondra and a reciprocal dinner was held in Stormont for Archbishop Martin. Dad loved this. “Make sure there is loads of wine even though the Presbyterians may not drink it” he said.
We published two books together Untold Stories and A Place for Piece which we were both very proud of. He had great pride in his place on the Glencree team and adored his Glencree ladies…Miriam, Sue, Val..
At this time, he also worked for Wicklow Uplands Council as a development worker and then Coordinator. Trying to get Protestants and Catholics together and reach agreement was nothing compared to dealing with the Wicklow farmers, walkers and landowners he would joke.
My Dad was at home in so many places….in the house in Castle Manor surrounded by good neighbours, in Sheelagh’s home in Connecticut with his arm around Evan and a large glass of red wine from the big 2 litre bottles he adored. In my small house on a Sunday evening surrounded by all of us who loved him. He was at home in Glencree at the top of that magnificent valley and In Corrymeela sitting out on the edge of the sea at Ballycastle. He was at home with those he loved in Australia. He will be at home with all his grandchildren in the future as they move out into the world and find their place in it.
But he was most at home with Mum, his partner and wife and his one true love. He may have dazzled the ladies over the years but he his heart belonged to one. “I married above me” he used to say, and “I am one lucky man”. They shared such a great life together. They were independent of each other through hobbies and work but always reunited each evening over a shared meal. Their love was not perfect but was something to marvel.
He arrived up at our house about a month or two ago. “My marriage is over “he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Mags will never forgive me this time!” He spent a couple of hours with Sorcha and I and then I dropped him home. On the journey to Newcastle I said maybe you should bring Mum some flowers. Something he always loved to do. We went into the local florists and he went up to the counter. “My marriage is in trouble” he announced. “How much trouble?” the florist replied. “About €25s worth” Dad replied to which he got the answer…”Sure that’s nothing, I have guys in here most days willing to spend €200, you will be grand” He was happy with that and headed home to his love with a bunch of beautiful freesias.
In the past year we knew he was starting to fade. His great mind was facing its biggest battle and we are glad that is over. He was less connected but so present still. I texted him on the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg only weeks ago. “She believed in justice so she was my friend and I will miss her” he texted back.
Thank you to Dad’s GP Dr Philip Sheeran-Purcell and all the staff at his practice in Wicklow Town. Philip was a man that Dad trusted and in his last few months we just to joke about how many times Dad wanted to go to see him. Thank you to Dr Matt Barrett and his team in St Michael’s hospital. Thank you to his lovely carer Ann, who only started with him in July. “The District Nurse is coming today.” he would announce. They formed a bond very quickly which was of great comfort to us all. Thank you to the first responders, the paramedics, neighbours Miriam, Paul, Gerry and Hillary who were there last Thursday. A special word of thanks to Garda Gavin Colfer who has showed such care and compassion to Mum during this time. Thank you to Stephan and all the team at Colliers who have taken such good care of Dad and the family. Thank you to Sheila and Jackie for providing such lovely music for the service. Thank you to Rev Nigel Waugh for helping us plan this service and of course to our own Rev William Bennett who was came to the house immediately and is helping us to say goodbye today.
I’ll leave you with Colin Murphy’s 5 golden rules for conflict transformation. He reminded me and Sorcha of them again only weeks ago….
1 Stay in the game
2 Don’t escalate
3 Don’t scapegoat
4 Go the extra mile and
5 Do the unexpected.
May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Lynne Murphy Oct 23rd 2020
Barbara Walshe, Chair of Glencree paid tribute to Colin in this Appreciation which was published in the Irish Times on 15 November 2020.