J P O'Malley

Interview with a poet: Richard Murphy, an old Spectator hand

Richard Murphy was born in County Mayo in Ireland in 1927. He spent part of his childhood in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where his father was the last British mayor of Colombo. From the age of eight he attended boarding schools in Ireland and England, eventually winning a scholarship to Oxford.

In 1959 Murphy moved to Inishbofin, an island off the coast of Connemara in County Galway. He settled there for twenty years, writing poems inspired by tragic tales from the local fishing community. These include ‘The Cleggan Disaster’, ‘The Last Galway Hooker’, ‘Pat Cloherty’s Version of The Maisie’ and ‘Sailing to an Island’. The latter describes a dangerous boating trip Murphy took with his brother.

Murphy has always been an outsider. Coming from an Anglo-Irish background, he spent much of his career struggling to be accepted into Irish culture. This subject is reflected in many of his poems. The west of Ireland also features prominently in his work, inspiring him to write poems about Irish landscape, myth and history.

In 1980 Murphy moved to Dublin. He lived for a short time in South Africa, and then in 2007 he returned to Sri Lanka, where he still resides. Murphy has recently published The Pleasure Ground, a collection of poems spanning 1952 to 2012.

In your memoir The Kick, and in many of your poems, you write about a conflicted sense of identity: between being British and Irish. Did you always feel that you didn’t quite belong to either nationality?

I was born into an Anglo-Irish colonial world in which people were identified with their families and with the places to which they belonged or from which they had come. As a child of six or seven in Ceylon, I was as loyal to King George V as my father was when standing to attention at the Cenotaph on the Galle Face Green during the two minutes’ silence and the bugling of the Last Post at eleven o’clock on Armistice Day.

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