Richard Murphy was born in the west of Ireland but spent part of his early childhood in Ceylon. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford, and the Sorbonne. Then, for some years, he ran a fishing boat in County Galway. He restored the boat himself: a revealing enterprise, suggesting as it does that concern for the objective recovery of the Irish past which is so much a feature of his verse. His cosmopolitan, colonial Anglo-Irish background fitted him to explore his Irish inheritance from a position combining intimacy with a measure of detachment: an astute stance which makes itself evident both in his manner and in his subject-matter. Murphy was the author of many books of poetry over his life.
As a lyric poet, Murphy’s gift is for quiet, precise, musical phrasing but this is not his only talent. He is equally notable—indeed unusual—for his skill in narrative poems, as in “Sailing to an Island” or “The Woman of the House,” which, though it describes itself as an elegy for his grandmother, Lucy May Ormsby, is predominantly a narrative created from memory, and one which vividly succeeds in evoking the lost world of the Ascendancy. Such poems are often written in a rhythmic, four-stress, accentual meter, with some alliteration and the use of half-rhyme: they seem, appropriately enough, indebted both to Saxon and Gaelic models. In The Battle of Aughrim (1968), Murphy examines the consequences of one of the most decisive events in Irish history. “Aughrim’s dread disaster” (1691) was the final defeat for the Catholic forces arrayed against the Williamites. It was followed by the Treaty of Limerick, and the penal period. Murphy’s series was broadcast in 1968, with Ted Hughes and Cecil Day Lewis among the readers. It sought to trace some of the roots of present troubles: “Names in the rival churches are written on plaques.” But Murphy’s forebears, he seems guiltily aware, are implicated in some of the wrongs committed since then.
Murphy died in early 2018 at his home in Sri Lanka.
The Archaeology of Love. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1955.
Sailing to an Island. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1955.
The Woman of the House: An Elegy. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1959.
Three Irish Poets. With John Montague and Thomas Kinsella. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1961.
The Last Galway Hooker. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1961.
Six Irish Poets. With others, edited by Robin Skelton. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Sailing to an Island. London: Faber, 1963.
Penguin Modern Poets 7. With Jon Silkin and Nathaniel Tarn. London: Penguin, 1965.
The Battle of Aughrim and The God Who Eats Corn. London: Faber 1968.
High Island: New and Selected Poems. London: Faber, 1974.
Selected Poems. London: Faber, 1979.
Care. Amsterdam: Cornamona Press, 1983.
The Price of Stone. London: Faber, 1985.
The Price of Stone and Earlier Poems. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1985.
New Selected Poems. London: Faber, 1989.
The Mirror Wall. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1989.
The Mayo Anthology. Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland: Mayo County Council, 1990.
Richard Murphy: Collected Poems. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 2000.
The Pleasure Ground: Poems 1952–2012. Bloodaxe Books, 2013; Lilliput Press, 2012.
The Kick: A Memoir. London: Granta Books, 2002.