'Watershed moment': Hundreds attend vigils in memory of 'beautiful' teacher Ashling Murphy

14 January 2022, 19:42 | Updated: 14 January 2022, 19:46

A vigil was attended by hundreds in Belfast on Friday in memory of Ashling Murphy.
A vigil was attended by hundreds in Belfast on Friday in memory of Ashling Murphy. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Vigils have been held across Ireland after the "senseless" killing of 23-year-old teacher Ashling Murphy, who was fatally attacked while jogging along a canal.

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Hundreds of people gathered at vigils across the island of Ireland and beyond on Friday, with Ms Murhpy's death provoking an outpouring of grief and anger at another young woman allegedly murdered while going about her business in public.

One of the vigils outside Belfast City Hall, which drew crowds of around 700 people, was described as a "watershed moment" in highlighting the issue of violence against women by Stormont deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

At the vigil a small photograph of Ms Murphy was laid on the ground alongside a banner which read "Her name was Aisling".

Candles were lit, flowers were laid, and tributes were read as people mourned the death of the Co Offaly teacher.

Young musicians who knew and had played with Ashling Murphy performed during the vigil.

Following the reading of a poem highlighting the issue of violence against women, the crowd paused for a minute's silence.

Read more: Hunt for killer after teacher, 22, attacked while jogging along canal in Ireland

Ms O'Neill said there had been an "outpouring of grief" following the murder of Ms Murphy and said women are saying "enough is enough".

She said: "At the start of this week I launched a strategy. I called for views in terms of developing a strategy to tackle male violence against women.

"Little did I know on Monday that I'd be standing here only a short number of days later, joining with other women who have gathered here outside Belfast City Hall to show solidarity to the family and all that loved Ashling Murphy.

"A horrific murder of another woman in our society at the hands of a male.

"We are all here because we want to show that support, that love.

"There has been an outpouring of grief all week for Ashling Murphy and for all that loved her."

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Flowers and candles at a vigil for Ashling Murphy outside Belfast City Hall.
Flowers and candles at a vigil for Ashling Murphy outside Belfast City Hall. Picture: Alamy
Candles at the vigil in Belfast.
Candles at the vigil in Belfast. Picture: Alamy

Ms Murphy's friend of over 20 years, Grace Corrigan, described her as one of the "nicest, kindest, most caring person you will ever possibly meet in your life" at a vigil outside the Dail.

"She was so happy all of the time, she'd lift you up," she added.

"She was the kind of person where, if she asked you 'how are you?', she genuinely cared for the answer, and she would repeat it back to you six months later. She was just such a caring, caring person.

"On behalf of every musician here tonight, every musician all over the country, our deepest, deepest condolences go out to Ray, to Kathleen, her brother Cathal, her best friend Amy and above all, her boyfriend Ryan Casey.

"My heart is just broken for them all.

"(She was) just an incredible, beautiful person. This shouldn't have happened to her. They shouldn't be going through that, the Murphy's shouldn't. Ashling, we absolutely love you and we will never, ever forget you."

Ashling's friend Grace Corrigan at a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin.
Ashling's friend Grace Corrigan at a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin. Picture: Alamy

Ms Murphy was killed on Wednesday afternoon along the banks of the Grand Canal at Cappincur in Co Offaly.

Police said she was violently assaulted in an unprovoked and random attack. Officers believe the attacker and victim were not known to each other.

Late on Thursday night gardai released a man who they had been questioning over the death of Ms Murphy, stating he was now "no longer a suspect".

On Friday, gardaĆ­ said they had identified a person of interest as part of the investigation.

Officers say they have made "significant progress" and are waiting to interview a man who is currently in hospital.

Earlier, gardai appealed for witnesses and asked anyone with information about a "Falcon Storm mountain bike" with "straight handlebars and distinctive yellow/green front forks" to come forward.

The deputy First Minister said vigils taking place across Ireland demonstrated women saying that violence against them needs to stop now.

She said: "We are here because we are saying enough is enough.

Crowds gathered in Belfast.
Crowds gathered in Belfast. Picture: Alamy

"It needs to stop, the violence against women and girls needs to stop now. Male violence against women and girls needs to stop now.

"I think the sheer fact that right across every town, village and county across this island today people are gathering in large numbers to remember Ashling Murphy shows that women have had enough.

"We are entitled to feel safe, we are entitled to be safe. We are entitled to go for a run.

"We are entitled to go to work and feel safe, we are entitled to go to the shops and feel safe.

"I think this is a watershed moment in our society today."

Events took place at a number of other locations in Northern Ireland including Londonderry and Newry.