"This is a time of grief beyond words"
They came in their thousands, husbands with their wives, boyfriends with their girlfriends, mothers and daughters, grannies and granddads – all numb with shock, anger, and grief at the horrific murder of 23-year old local schoolteacher, Ashling Murphy, while she was out for a jog on the banks of the Grand Canal at Cappincur on Wednesday afternoon.
Local parish priest, Fr. Joe Gallagher summed up the sombre mood in Lloyd Town Park where over 5,000 people gathered for a vigil to remember the young teacher when he simply said “this is a time of grief beyond words.”
The sense of shock and disbelief was palpable among the huge crowd as they clutched candles, tealights, bouquets of flowers and single red roses and observed a minute’s silence as they tried in vain to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Fr. Gallagher, who was flanked by representatives from all the Christian churches in Tullamore, said “we stand together, united with groups all over the country, and indeed beyond, united with women who fear and know the trauma of violence, united in grief, in anger, in shock.”
He added that the local community “need to be together and support one another”saying it was “time to pray, to reflect, to listen, to be together.”
There were tears from young and old alike when Mary Egan Campbell read a poem called “The Last Mile” which she had written just hours after news broke of the murder of Ashling Murphy on Wednesday evening, and included the heartbreaking line “her music extinguished as he turned out her light.”
There were more tears when a further two achingly poignant poems were read by Alan Murphy and Sinéad Cullen, one of which was written by Michael Joseph, a nephew of Independent Cllr Sean O’Brien.
Alan Murphy, who is no stranger to tragedy having lost his own beloved son, 19-year old Jordan, in a car accident in Athlone over three years ago, was instrumental in organising the Tullamore vigil, which MC, Ronan Berry hoped would “bring some peace and solace” to the local community.
A small measure of peace and solace was provided by way of a beautiful selection of tunes from members of various Comhaltas groups across Offaly who came together in the Town Park to remember one of their own, whom Ronan Berry said would “ordinarily be right in the middle” of the musical gathering playing her tunes. “What better way to remember Ashling than through music” he added.
The sense of loss and grief was firmly etched on the faces of many of the young musicians as they played a haunting tune on their fiddles called “An Chroi Naofa” which was composed in memory of Ashling Murphy by Attracta Brady from Killeigh Comhaltas branch.
Among the other tunes played were “The Offaly Rover” and "Tabhair dom do lámh” and as the haunting music reverberated around the Town Park and beyond it served as a chilling reminder of all that has been lost to the Murphy family and to the wider community with the horrific death of the young schoolteacher who had her whole life ahead of her.
The vigil concluded just before 5pm with the prayer of St. Francis before people began to file out of Lloyd Town Park, leaving behind them a sea of candles and a sea of broken hearts.