Ashling Murphy: Partner's tribute to 'shining light' as police make arrest in murder probe

18 January 2022, 12:00 | Updated: 18 January 2022, 18:03

By Emma Soteriou

A man in his 30s has been arrested on suspicion of murdering teacher Ashling Murphy in Ireland, who was described by her partner as a "shining light" at her funeral.

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Ryan Casey paid tribute to his girlfriend, saying she was an "incredibly loving and beautiful" person who was always willing to help others and put herself last.

Ms Murphy, who was just 23, was killed on the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore, sparking a murder investigation.

Hundreds of people, including the primary school teacher's weeping pupils, gathered in a village in Ireland for her funeral on Tuesday, after her "senseless" killing.

Large crowds attended St Brigid's Church, Mountbolus, where Ms Murphy's funeral mass was held, with her parents, Raymond and Kathleen siblings, Amy and Cathal, and her boyfriend, Ryan, among mourners.

In poignant scenes, pupils from Ashling's class held aloft photographs of her during the service.

A minute's silence was also held in Ms Murphy's memory across the country.

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

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

Pupils from Ashling Murphy's class hold photographs of her and red roses outside St Brigid's Church.
Pupils from Ashling Murphy's class hold photographs of her and red roses outside St Brigid's Church. Picture: Alamy

Mr Casey described his girlfriend, a talented musician, as the "greatest love" of his life.

"It is simply not possible to explain what Ashling meant to myself, her family, friends," Mr Casey said.

"All I'd like to say in this moment and time is that Ashling was our shining light. She loves her mum Kathleen, her father Ray, her big sister Amy and big brother Cathal and all of her family and friends so much.

"She was always there, always willing to help anybody, anywhere, at any time, and always put herself last.

"She had so many talents which combined made her an incredibly loving and beautiful person. We were all so lucky to know and love and spend as much time with her as possible.

"She is the greatest love of my life. I will cherish the last five years we spent together for my entire life. I hope that some day, God willing, we can be reunited once more and continue the great plans we had made for each other.

"Goodbye for now, but not forever, darling. Ashling shall live on in all of our hearts."

Hours after Mr Casey's tribute, Irish police investigating her death confirmed that a man has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

The man, aged in his 30s, is being questioned at Tullamore garda station.

Detectives say Ms Murphy was killed while on an afternoon jog by a canal in Co Offaly, Ireland, having been assaulted in an unprovoked, random attack.

Ashling's sister and boyfriend comforted each other as they arrived at the funeral.
Ashling's sister and boyfriend comforted each other as they arrived at the funeral. Picture: Alamy

Ms Murphy's sister, Amy, paid tribute to her on social media.

She described Ashling as the "light of our lives and the heart of our family" and asked musicians attending the funeral to bring their instrument and play music at the town's lower cemetery after the funeral.

She was later seen with Ashling's boyfriend as they headed inside for the service, the pair emotionally embracing one another for comfort.

Tens of thousands of people previously attended vigils to honour Ms Murphy, with her death provoking an outpouring of grief and anger.

Musicians formed the guard of honour while waiting outside the church.
Musicians formed the guard of honour while waiting outside the church. Picture: Alamy

Teary-eyed pupils from Ms Murphy's class stood outside the church, holding photographs of Ms Murphy with red roses as the hearse drove into the church.

Others attending included Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Government ministers Pippa Hackett, Helen McEntee and Catherine Martin.

Crowds followed the coffin into the church.
Crowds followed the coffin into the church. Picture: Alamy

The service began with music performed by members of Ballyboy Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, teaching colleagues and friends of Ms Murphy.

Neil Corcoran said: "I played music with her all my life.

"We played music from we were about seven or eight, all through the years, through the fleadhs.

"I would have been always competing with her.

"I would have always recognised her, she was lovely."

Members of Kilcormac Killoughey GAA club, where Ashling Murphy played camogie, formed a guard of honour outside St Brigid's Church.
Members of Kilcormac Killoughey GAA club, where Ashling Murphy played camogie, formed a guard of honour outside St Brigid's Church. Picture: Alamy

Symbols of Ashling's life were brought to the altar during her funeral, including a fiddle, a Kilcormac/Killoughey camogie jersey, a family picture, a school book and her photo.

Father Michael Meade told the service that Ashling's family had been "robbed of your most precious gift".

He told mourners: "Together we grieve, together we pray, together we hurt - this is the heavy price we pay for love.

"We gather as one family to be with, to support by our prayer and our presence, those whose darkness is deep, whose pain is raw and fierce.

"Kathleen and Ray, Cathal, Amy and her boyfriend, Ryan - you have been robbed of your most precious gift - a gift that gave only joy and love, fun and laughter to many beyond your family.

"The issues raised in many ways and by many voices since this horrible act of violence invaded all our lives will, we pray, continue to evolve and bring the change we need so much, to simply give and show respect."

Mourners arrived at the church with flowers.
Mourners arrived at the church with flowers. Picture: Alamy

Bishop Tom Deenihan told the funeral service: "If there is a chink of light to last week's darkness, it must be the outpouring of support and sympathy that we have all seen.

"It was manifested at the various vigils, it was manifested by those who assisted here, at the family home and in Durrow school over the past few days by those who quietly and discreetly provided refreshments, stewarding and whatever help that they could.

"Community is important and community works.

"Community is needed to overcome evils such as this and community will be needed here in the weeks ahead.

"Today, we bury Ashling as we must.

"We bury a woman who lived the short years given to her to the full, who developed her talents, who reached out to others, who made a difference, who brought happiness and who was loved."

Ms Murphy's students got emotional as they awaited the arrival of the hearse.
Ms Murphy's students got emotional as they awaited the arrival of the hearse. Picture: Alamy

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis paid tribute to Ms Murphy on Twitter.

"My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Ashling Murphy as they lay her to rest," Mr Lewis said.

"Her senseless murder is a tragic reminder of how much more we need to do to stop violence against women and girls.

"It doesn't matter what she was doing, she shouldn't have been killed."

Meanwhile, Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: "Such sadness across the country today as people think of and support Ashling's family and friends through this nightmare.

"Support each other, respect each other, as best we can through this outpouring of grief."

It comes as Irish police investigating the death of Ms Murphy renewed an appeal for information, saying "significant progress" has been made in the murder probe.

Gardai said in a statement: "We are now asking for any member of the public who was on the Grand Canal Way on the morning or afternoon of the January 12 between Digby's bridge and Ballycommon to contact the investigation team.

"Whether you think you saw anything or not, please contact gardai in Tullamore.

"We continue to appeal for any information on a Falcon Storm mountain bike with straight handlebars and distinctive yellow/green front forks prior to 4pm on Wednesday and in the previous days and weeks.

"We are now asking for people in Tullamore to think about last Wednesday after 4pm and not to confine their thoughts to the Falcon Storm mountain bike."

Police have appealed to anyone who has not made contact with the investigation team and who has any information to come forward.