Though her beloved violin sat in an empty chair, Ashling Murphy’s indomitable spirit and the remarkable legacy she left behind permeated every aspect of the proceedings at a wonderful memorial concert at the Tullamore Court Hotel last night (Sunday).
The concert – Ceiliúradh Ceolmhar ar Ashling Murphy – was a fitting conclusion to Tullamore Tradfest 2022, which brought hundreds of musicians from all corners of Ireland and abroad to the city for a weekend of traditional music, song and dance.
Tradfest committee member Tommy Craven told the sold-out crowd at the concert that it was “a great privilege to be able to organize a concert in Ashling’s honor as her family had been “greatly supportive” of the first Tradfest in 2019,” he added adding that they also played “a major role” in putting together the program for the memorial concert.
In a night punctuated by many poignant moments, the 23-year-old teacher’s incalculable loss was made clear on several occasions, not least when a video was shown showing Ashling and her beloved father, Ray, sitting side by side and playing tunes at the first Tradfest in 2019.
Showing remarkable strength and steadfastness amid their unspeakable grief, members of the Murphy family were the focus of yesterday’s concert, and audiences heard that Ashling herself would have been “the center of attention” at the concert, too, had it not been for her tragic death on March 12 January when she was jogging on the Grand Canal after work.
Her only sister Amy, herself an accomplished musician, joined many of the musical groups on stage and was the narrator for a musical performance conducted by many former Sacred Heart School students who had sung in the choir and played in the orchestra alongside Ashling by legendary music teacher Regina McCarthy.
Her father Ray also joined musicians on stage, participating in a rousing medley of tunes with his lifelong friends and fellow musicians in the popular local folk group ‘Best Foot Forward’ ‘Best Foot Forward’ Ger Kidney, Pat Fulton and Mick Lynam, creating a stirring rendition featured Ashling’s favorite song, “Sweet Sixteen” by the Fureys, and drew a sustained and emotional standing ovation.
Ashling’s mother, Kathleen, was also in attendance, as was her only brother, Cathal, and her partner, Ryan Casey, both of whom took part in the evening’s opening parade, which saw the Irish, Offaly and Tradfest flags being carried onto the stage with a picture of Ashling and her beloved violin, placed on an empty chair.
James Hogan, who acted as MC for the occasion and is also Principal of Durrow National School, where Ashling Murphy was the first year teacher, told the audience that “this was her place for the night – if she were here, she’d say ‘drive it up guys and keep it going’ and that’s what we’re up to and I have no doubt she’s right here with us tonight.
About 185 musicians, singers and dancers took part in the four and a half hour concert, which will be remembered by all those present for a long time.
James Hogan expressed hope this would “bring some comfort” to the grieving Murphy family, while Ashling’s uncle Des, who became emotional while speaking on behalf of the Murphy, Leonard and Casey families, said he had been told this before Amy Murphy said for the week that “music speaks where words fail,” adding that the music at the memorial concert “spoke volumes” about the kind of life Ashling had lived and the legacy she left behind.
The Murphy family has established a memorial trust in memory of their beloved daughter and all proceeds will be donated to causes close to her heart.
A GoFundMe page set up by the Tullamore Tradfest has already raised almost €10,000 in donations.
Donations can be made at: TTF 2022 for The Ashling Murphy Memorial Trust.