Almost as old as the state whose history he helped to write, John A Murphy’s work received permanent acknowledgment as University College Cork helped him mark his 90th birthday last night.
By Niall Murray, Irish Examiner Education Correspondent
He wowed wellwishers with a rousing rendition of the satirical ballad, ‘The Bould Thady Quill’. It included a verse of his own composition about ‘the bould Prof Quill’, a thinly veiled likening of the song’s hero to himself as historian of the university.
That honorary title’s only perk has been an enviable parking space, but the former independent senator’s birthday was celebrated with the unveiling of a bronze portrait bust.
It was commissioned from a cast of a sculpture by his friend Seamus Murphy, the two being among a group of Cork artists and intellectuals who once met in a city pub every Friday night.
“The statue is lovely but it also has peculiar connotations because it was done in 1973 and so I feel like Dorian Gray in reverse. It’s a very youthful and elegant statue and I like to think there is some resemblances to the present John A Murphy,” he said.
His fellow professor emeritus of history Tom Dunne, who worked alongside him for 20 years, said it might have been Seamus Murphy’s way of marking his friend’s then-recent appointment as professor of Irish History.
He described John A as a fearless public intellectual who has made an extraordinary contribution to UCC.
“When this bust is on permanent display, it will be a reminder of an exceptional contribution by a great college man, but also of the value of community which he embodied and celebrated,” said Prof Dunne.
UCC president Michael Murphy described the Macroom native as “an institution within our institution” who created much of the college’s history, as well as writing it.
“With this bust, his stern look will be experienced by all of my successors in the manner in which many of my predecessors have experienced it in real life,” Dr Murphy said.
Although he had refrained since retirement from the kind of criticisms that marked him out during his academic career, the historian said it might be time for a couple of parting shots.
Before signing off in song, he voiced his concerns about over-emphasis in university life on performance in rankings at the expense of teaching and learning. He also expressed sorrow at what he sees as the return of a kind of clerical censorship, “a new puritanism” in which students and some teachers seek to tell others of their juvenile propensities.