The family of murdered Offaly schoolteacher Ashling Murphy have spoken of a special girl, a little angel and their rock as they attempted to come to terms with the devastation of her sudden and inexplicable death.
Comforted by neighbours, friends, and the local community in the rural townland of Blueball near Tullamore, they spoke of a young woman with energy, drive, commitment, talent and love.
The photographs on the walls of their family home reflect the love and pride that her parents have for all their children.
Now they are trying to think about what life will be like without their youngest child, their baby girl who was just starting out on her career as a teacher with a life of opportunities ahead of her.
“The last thing she’d say in the morning going out was ‘Mam, I love you’,” her devastated mother Kathleen said.
“She was just a special girl. She’s the youngest, a little angel,” her father Raymond said, with tears in his eyes.
“She was a brilliant girl in every sense of the word.
“She was a great worker, with great drive. A marvellous musician. She crammed so much into her short life. She played with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí all over Ireland and all over the UK on the tours. She was in their youth choir and senior orchestra.
“She played all over and had so much respect shown to her by her peers.”
Ashling’s passion for music came from her family. Raymond has played for the Furey Brothers in the past, and later with the band Best Foot Forward.
Kathleen is also a talented musician, so Ashling was immersed in music and the country’s musical heritage from an early age.
Described as having had a natural talent, she played the fiddle and tin whistle, and had recently taken up mastering the difficult uilleann pipes.
But her musical exploration wasn’t just personal. Ashling (23) liked to share her talents, her family explained.
Despite being busy with work and hobbies she would teach local people music at the family home on Friday nights and all day Saturday, making sure that music would spread beyond her own family, and that its future as a traditional and cultural expression would be alive and vibrant. In the corner of the room sat a box containing her instruments and equipment.
Picking up her tin whistle delicately, dad Raymond almost whispered: “That’s Ashling’s.”
His daughter’s time as a teacher was to be tragically short-lived. The proud
father said she had graduated from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick just last October.
Photographs show her with her partner Ryan Casey and with her family, smiling proudly, with her whole life ahead of her.
“When the position in Durrow National School came up, Ashling was interviewed and she was happy to be offered the position teaching the young first-class pupils,” Mr Murphy said.
“And she was so happy because she was able to come home at night,” he added with a palpable sense that that proximity should have been a safety net of sorts.
School principal James Hogan spoke of how Ashling was adored by pupils and staff, and how she brought all her talents to the classroom with a smile.
A shrine of candles and flowers was placed at the gates of the school yesterday along with a photograph of Ashling. At another one inside the school doors, young pupils are leaving their own notes and thoughts.
Ashling’s family also remember her love of sport, a passion she had since she was a young girl. “She was a marvellous hurler. She played camogie with the Kilcormac Killoughey club since she was five years of age,” said Kathleen.
Raymond said Ashling was jogging on the canal pathway to get her fitness up because the team were back training. “I was just talking to the manager of the club and he’s so distraught,” he said.
Ashling was delighted to be able to get back into her life after Covid lockdowns started to ease and brightness lingered longer in the evening sky now that the shortest day of winter had passed. The new year held promises of better days to come, but she could not have known when she left Durrow National School on Wednesday afternoon that she would never make it home, and never return to school.
As neighbours arrived throughout yesterday to comfort the family, Ashling’s grieving mother told how her daughter was “so well loved by everyone, and so well known”.
“She was a beautiful girl, she was just the best, She was our rock. She loved her style and her fashion, and she was so elegant.
“She was so soft and gentle. She loved her boyfriend Ryan who she was with for five years.
“He’s heartbroken. We’re all devastated.”