Galway mourns passing of its literary son

The late Tom Murphy, during rehearsals for one of his many works for Druid.

President Michael D Higgins has led the glowing tributes to his long-time friend, the Tuam-born playwright Tom Murphy, after his death this week at the age of 83.

A year ago, President Higgins had presented the writer with his Golden Torc after he was elected as a Saoí of Aosdána, the Arts Council association that supports and recognises artists for their work – and this week he described the Tuam man’s contribution to Irish theatre as ‘immeasurable and outstanding’.

“His themes were not only those which had influenced the very essence of Irishness, immigration, famine and loss – they were universal in their reach,” he said.

“From the early beginnings of his writings in Tuam, Tom Murphy produced a unique and often provocative body of work. He was above all the great playwright of the emigrant, more than anyone capturing, in a poignant, creative way, the transience that is at the heart of the emigrant experience,” he added.

That was echoed by his long-time friends and colleagues in Druid, where writer and theatre had collaborated throughout his career.

“Druid is deeply saddened by the loss of Tom Murphy. Today we have lost a friend, a colleague, a great Irish writer and man of the theatre,” they said in a statement.

Tom Murphy was perhaps best known known for his collaborations with Druid Theatre, which produced plays including Conversations on a Homecoming, Famine, Whistle in the Dark and Bailegangaire.

During the 1980s, Murphy was Writer-in-Association with Druid. That relationship was revived in 2009 when The Gigli Concert officially opened Druid Lane Theatre as part of Galway Arts Festival.

Tom Murphy was born in Tuam in 1935 and is the youngest of ten children. He attended Tuam Tech and later became a metalwork teacher.

His siblings emigrated to Birmingham in England and he lived alone with his mother in Tuam. He began writing plays in the late 1950s – spurred on, at least in part, by what he once called the ‘outrage’ he felt growing up against the class system and the church.

For more, see this week’s Connacht Tribune.