“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you will look back and realise, they were the big things”
An inspirational quote by Robert Brault that seems even more meaningful after the last 12 months.
For me, the trial of Jozef Puska for the murder of Ashling Murphy really stands out. The horrific details of her killing, which came to light during the three week long trial really hit home how precious life can be and how in an instant, it can all be taken away.
The 23-year-old primary school teacher was killed as she walked beside the Grand Canal in Tullamore, on 12 January 2022.
Ashling Murphy, as it was said so many times during Puska’s trial, was the best of us.
Her family remembered her as a loving daughter, a devoted sister, a girlfriend who one day dreamed of getting married, an accomplished musician and a passionate and caring teacher.
This Christmas her place at the dinner table will once again be empty and all her family and friends have is the memories they once made.
For so many of us, it’s easy to be consumed by Christmas and the pressures that it brings, but it’s important to never lose sight of what is really important, what really matters – family, love, kindness and the gift of time.
At Durrow National School, where Ashling taught, her legacy continues. Sixty students at the school are now learning the fiddle, an instrument we know Ashling was passionate about.
“She had such a strong passion for music and singing. She brought great joy to so many children in the classroom. They saw her play the fiddle, they heard her sing. They loved her voice, they said she had the voice of an angel,” said school principal James Hogan.
“She made music cool. We definitely will keep the music and singing going in memory of her. She wanted to see a fiddle school set up as part of our traditional music programme in the school and we’ve done that,” he said.
“We’ve 60 children now learning fiddle in the school and that’s all because of Ashling,” he added.
Mr Hogan has known Ashling since she was aged just seven, and as he put it himself he “had the privilege of knowing her with two caps on, as a principal and as a friend.”
“She was a natural born teacher and she wanted to give every child the best chance. She cared for every child and continues to do that,” he said.
During the trial, Ashling was described as a “second mammy” to the 28 students she taught in First Class at Durrow NS. She loved each and everyone of them.
“She was always a giver. She gave so much to the community. Sport, old folks parties and music events, you name it, she was involved,” said Mr Hogan.
“She was very involved with her parish, her community and her county.
“With her music she toured nationally and internationally with Comhaltas and she entertained so many people with her great talents,” he added.
On the pitch he recalls “a feisty one, a fantastic camogie player.”
Ashling Murphy played camogie with Kilcormac-Killoughey. She also lined out for the college team in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick during her time studying there.
A third level camogie competition has been named in her honour. The previously unnamed Division 5 Cup is now called the ‘Ashling Murphy Cup’, just another example of the impact she made in her short life.
Offaly Camogie honoured Ashling by also naming a cup in her honour, with the Division 1 league winners being presented with the ‘Ashling Murphy Memorial Cup’.
Recalling how Ashling embraced all aspects of college life, Dr Ailbhe Kenny, one of her lecturers in Mary Immaculate College said that Ashling was one of those people who enjoyed every aspect of her college life.
“Ashling embraced it to the fullest. She had a great social life here and a great musical life with the Trad Society here and she also played on the pitches of Mary I. She was one of those people who just embraced full her college life.
“Ashling never stopped. She was a hard worker. She went from being a great student during the week to then teaching music at the weekend but she enjoyed the work.
“She was passionate, passionate about education, she was passionate about music and she combined those things in a very beautiful way,” Dr Kenny said.
Mary Immaculate College has also named a scholarship in Ashling’s memory. The joint scholarship awarded by Mary Immaculate College and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation is awarded to a first-year student for their exceptional achievement and talent in the field of traditional music.
“We’re doing our best to honour her legacy, honour her memory and we’re so proud of the fact that someone will be taken in off that scholarship. It’s one of the ways in which we will continue to remember and honour her”.
As Dr Kenny explained that Ashling was so giving of her time and shared her talents with so many people. She was a member of Ballyboy Comhaltas in Offaly where she taught younger members.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann now offers three scholarships in her memory.
The first is to support artists working to develop participation and practice in traditional arts, while the second is focused on the music education of young people. The third is for research on an area in the Irish traditional arts. The decision to offer scholarships in Ashling’s memory was the first time Comhaltas has done something like that and will ensure her legacy will live on.
James Hogan said that was Ashling down to a tee, dedicated to everything.
“She gave 100% to everything she did, and she always had a smile on her face,” he said.
A memorial fund has now been set up in Ashling’s honour. Twelve months on from when it began its work, several events have taken place, all with the aim of raising money to continue her legacy.
Mr Hogan is chair of that committee and said the family and Ashling’s friends have been overwhelmed by the support they have received.
Last summer adventurer Paul Tierney took on an 11-day challenge during which he cycled 1,200km around Ireland and climbed 23 mountains for the memorial fund.
The total of 23 peaks was chosen to represent one peak for each year of Ashling’s life. Many more events are planned for 2024.
“With her family and with her friends we want to remember the real person Ashling was and make people aware of the fund and of its purpose to keep her legacy alive,” said Mr Hogan.
He admits the trial was difficult for Ashling’s family and friends, but now that it is over “we can really talk about Ashling again”.
“The fund is set up in memory of Ashling with the main focus of promoting traditional Irish music, arts, culture or science.
“Any group or individual that may have any of those key target areas in their settings and they’re looking to develop, maybe they need tuition or equipment, they can apply for the funding
“The main purpose of this fund is to keep her legacy going and that will happen for sure”, Mr Hogan said.
In her victim impact statement at the conclusion of the trial of Jozef Puska, Ashling’s mother Kathleen described her daughter as “every Mum and Dad’s dream daughter”.
As a mother of a young girl, I know only too well the hopes we all harbour for our children. For those dreams to be snatched away so senselessly is every parents’ worst nightmare.
This Christmas I will hold all those close to me a little tighter. I only hope that the light Ashling Murphy brought to the lives of all those who knew and loved her will burn brighter and her family will find some peace knowing the legacy she has left behind and the joy she continues to bring to so many people.
With 60 more fiddle players in the world, her music lives on.