Monday 22 October 2018

Obituaries: 'Irreplaceable' NCAD librarian Edward Murphy

Murphy contributed hugely to the arts, writes John S Doyle

‘ENDLESSLY CURIOUS: Edward Murphy in his office in the NCAD library before his retirement in March 2013. Photo: Tony Murphy
‘ENDLESSLY CURIOUS: Edward Murphy in his office in the NCAD library before his retirement in March 2013. Photo: Tony Murphy

John S Doyle

EDWARD Murphy, who has died aged 66, was librarian of the National College of Art and Design for 35 years. When he took up the post, there were 600 books in the library; when he retired last year, there were 100,000 and it had become the most important visual arts library in the country.

But more than these impressive numbers, his great contribution was that he liked the students, and liked them to read. As one former student said at his funeral last week, Eddie talked to the people using the library, and watched what books they were reading, and would then say: you should read this. It was, the student said, a case of "if you enjoyed reading that book, you'll like this", but long before such a formulation was promoted by Amazon.com.

Last week, the college said that "while he was succeeded as librarian he has not been replaced – because quite simply, Eddie is irreplaceable". An old friend described him as "the most endlessly curious person I ever met".

Eddie Murphy was born in Dublin on March 27, 1948, and grew up in Terenure. His father – also Eddie – was a neurologist in St Vincent's Hospital; his mother Kathleen had taught domestic science. Eddie inherited from them his love of travel and good food and books, and added his own passions: art, opera, fishing, racing and clothes of many colours.

He was educated at Gonzaga College and at UCD, where he met his future wife, Patricia, the daughter of Patrick and Christina Casey. She was from Fishamble Street in the centre of old Dublin, and was a bellringer in St Patrick's Cathedral. Her father was a printer in the Irish Independent; her mother's father an Abbey actor, John Stephenson. She was the fifth generation of her family to grow up in the large Georgian house, and among her many interests was collecting fine bone china from the Staffordshire Potteries. After qualifying in Arts, Patricia took up the law, and in 1999 she was appointed County Registrar for Carlow. She died in February 2014, just three months before Eddie.

Last year NCAD conferred the name the Edward Murphy Library on the institution he founded, to honour his retirement. And the Royal Hibernian Academy awarded him its gold medal, for his contribution to the arts in Ireland – through the library and also his founding of the National Irish Visual Arts Library, a vast database of 20th-Century and contemporary art and design.

Eddie had many good friends. The thing about a long and old friendship is that you do not need to see one another every day, or every week. Sometimes months might go by without meeting, or talking on the phone. But it was enough, with Eddie, to know that he was there, that he was in the world. In the years ahead he will live on in the hearts of his family and friends, entertaining us, chiding us, making us laugh.

He died on May 17, and is survived by his mother Kathleen and his sister Ruth; he was predeceased by his brother Denis.

Sunday Independent

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