Bishop laments ‘disrespect for human life’ at funeral of 23-year-old attacked while out jogging in Tullamore
A depraved act of violence took the life of the talented and admired Ashling Murphy but such “disrespect for human life” must not be allowed to take root in communities, mourners at the funeral of the murdered schoolteacher were told.
The bishop of Meath, Tom Deenihan, said nobody should die like the 23-year-old did when attacked and strangled last Wednesday while jogging. “No family like Ashling’s should suffer as they do now,” he said.
Thousands gathered to pay their last respects at the church and the community hall next door where large screens were erected to accommodate the crowds. There was a sense of profound sadness and bewilderment as friends, family and pupils gathered to pay their respects in a community convulsed by her death.
“The past few days have been a nightmare. A walk on a mild and sunny afternoon in January should be a happy event, promising the brighter and warmer days of spring and summer,” Bishop Deenihan said. “That, as we know, was not the case. A depraved act of violence which deprived a kind, talented, loved and admired young woman of her life has since united the country in grief and support.
“The crime has also asked questions of ourselves and of society. It has questioned our attitudes and, particularly, our attitudes towards women and it has questioned our values and our morality,” he told the packed church in the village of Mountbolus in County Offaly.
Police said later on Tuesday they had arrested a man in his 30s on suspicion of murder.
More than 20 seven-year-old boys and girls from the primary school class Ashling taught lined up opposite older girls from the Sacred Heart school in Tullamore to form formed a guard of honour as the funeral cortège entered the church to the sound of traditional music.
The small children each held a single red rose photos of Murphy’s graduation bearing the words “fly high in the sky” and “our shining light”.
Paul Carroll, who lives in the same rural stretch as Murphy’s family described “a terrible sense of distraughtness everywhere”. He added: “It’s like a blackness around us.”
Carroll’s son, Ultan, a banjo player, was taught music by Murphy, a talented fiddle player. “I am completely shocked,” said the 17-year-old. “I couldn’t believe it for two days. You hear about bad things but you never think it’s going to happen here.”
He was one of about 100 people who turned up with instruments answer to a request from Ashling’s sister Amy to help the community celebrate her life.
In a touching gesture, the family also decided it would be a near all-female funeral with all mourners appearing on the altar for readings, songs or prayers of the faithful young women from her family and circle of friends.
Her parents, Raymond and Kathleen, her sister, Amy, her brother, Cathal, and boyfriend, Ryan, were the chief mourners while many of her friends from school, college, her local GAA club Kilcormac/Killoughey and musicians from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann were also in attendance.
The Irish president, Michael D Higgins, the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, and the justice minister, Helen McEntee, also attended.
Parish priest Father Michael Meade told how her family had been “robbed of your most precious gift – a gift that gave only joy and love, fun and laughter to many beyond your family”.
A poignant homage to the murdered school teacher Ashling Murphy on one of the approach roads to the village where she will be laid to rest this morning. Hundreds already on the streets here. pic.twitter.com/XTv6GCP7n9
— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) January 18, 2022
He spoke of the “raw and fierce pain” and “darkness” that has been visited upon them but urged everyone to pray for change.
“The issues raised in many ways and by many voices since this horrible act of violence invaded all our lives will, we pray, continue to evolve and bring the change we need so much, to simply give and show respect,” he told mourners.
There was a heavy silence and the Irish flag flew at half mast as the chief mourners emerged from the church walking behind the hearse towards the cemetery.
Musicians playing fiddles, banjos and tin whistles filled the air with a medley of traditional music as hundreds of remaining mourners filed past.
Outside the church, Rosemary Bracken of the local music group Ballyboy Comhaltas summed up the feelings of the townland: “It is something that is going to be written into our history, that we never thought would be – the horrendous death of a young person at the deliberate hand of a stranger.”
“We have dealt with tragedy here before, car accidents, deaths, but we have struggled with this. People just can’t process it,” she said.