Crawford Art Gallerypermanent collection

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Irish School
55 x 40 x 33cm


Seamus Murphy RHA 1907–1975
Irish School

Seamus Murphy was born near Mallow, county Cork. Encouraged by Daniel Corkery, his teacher at St Patrick's National School and author of The Hidden Ireland, the fourteen-year-old Murphy took classes at the Crawford School of Art. In his autobiography Stone Mad, he recalled his first lessons in carving a tulip in soft stone. One of the carvers showed him how to hold the chisel:

Keep all the pressures on your small finger, boy. Like this, and you'll find it'll come easy to you in a few days. And don't worry about the tulip, there's more where that came from.
From 1922 until 1930 he worked as an apprentice stone carver at John Aloysius O'Connell's stoneyard in Blackpool, Cork. There were about thirty workers in the yard, including stone-cutters (who were a closed family trade) and stone carvers. Carving was open to anyone, but Murphy regretted that there was no native tradition of stone-carving. His autobiography gives a lively account of some of the characters in the yard, including 'The Gargoyle' and 'Facemould', and his excitement at going to Tralee to carve capitals in the convent. A 1931 scholarship enabled him to go to London and then to Paris. Here he was a student at Colarossi's atelier, and studied with the Irish-American sculptor, Andrew O'Connor. After returning to Ireland, he worked in O'Connell's stone yard, then in 1934 opened his own studio at Blackpool. Among his first commissions were the Clonmult memorial at Midleton, two statues for Bantry Church, and a carved figure of St Gobnait in Ballyvourney graveyard.

The Murphy household at Wellesley Terrace in Wellington Road became a great cultural and social meeting place in Cork. The Virgin of the Twilight was exhibited at the RHA in 1943, and was later erected at Fitzgerald's Park, Cork. In 1944 he was elected ARHA. That same year he married Maighread Higgins, daughter of Cork sculptor Joseph Higgins. In 1945 he designed Blackpool Church for William Dwyer, and in 1947 carved the Apostles and St Brigid for a church in San Francisco. Another of his sculptures is in St Paul, Minnesota.

His autobiography Stone Mad was published in 1950. It is a vivid account of his memories of the 'stonies' or stonemasons, with whom he had travelled and worked for many years on the construction of churches around Ireland. He became professor of sculpture at the RHA in 1964, and was awarded an Hon LLD by the National University of Ireland in 1969. Murphy died in Cork in 1975, and was buried at Rathcooney graveyard.