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Despite the huge crowds, just silence: Ashling Murphy's community pays its respects

The nation came together yesterday to mourn the death of the 23-year-old teacher.

Image: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

SILENCE. DESPITE THE huge crowds, just silence.

At 11 am yesterday morning, the village of Mountbolus, Offaly, fell silent as Ashling Murphy’s funeral cortege made its way to St Brigid’s Church.

The silence which enveloped the village was reflected across the nation as the public stopped to pay their respects to the young teacher.

The narrow rural roads which lead to Mountbolus were thronged with mourners – those who knew and loved Ashling and those who had never met her but wanted to show support for those who had.

Stewards directed traffic into nearby fields around a kilometre from the church. Homes leading up to St Brigid’s had memorials set up for Ashling.

The mourners glided towards the church, many with their heads down, masks covering faces. Nothing was to be heard but the sound of feet on tarmac and the occasional cough or sniffle.

The silence was remarkable, given the numbers. 

But then, as the bereaved inched closer to St Brigid’s Church, you could hear something which shattered that silence. The melody of traditional music. Ashling’s music. 

Ashling herself, as the funeral heard, was an extremely talented musician. Her love of the fiddle and concertina was on display – one of the offertory gifts was her fiddle. She adored Irish traditional music and loved spending time with her friends in Comhaltas.

The mourners had arrived and now they waited for Ashling. The roads were lined on either side. No talking. Heads to the ground. This was not your typical rural funeral. There were no handshakes or nods. There was just disbelief.

Then she arrived. 

A cavalcade of cars followed Ashling’s hearse into St Brigid’s Church, each one of the drivers ashen-faced. The grief was raw and palpable, even from a distance. 

The chugging of engines mixed with music playing out over the grounds of the church. Yet still there was no talking, no conversation, no ‘isn’t it terrible’, no platitudes from people trying to fill an awkward silence with something, anything. 

As people struggled to hear the mass take place, one enterprising teenager brought out a Bluetooth speaker and connected RTÉ’s livestream so people could hear. 

The crowd was a mix of young and old but notably, groups of young men in their late teens and early twenties gathered together.

One group of young men came from Birr to show their support, they said, despite not knowing Ashling. 

One man, who only gave his name as Tom, said that he and his friends came to show support to their female friends and girlfriends who were also in attendance. 

“We thought it was only right we come down.”

Around this time, one of the funeral celebrants, Bishop Tom Deenihan began to speak. His words echoed much of the commentary around Ashling’s death – the role of men in society, especially their role in violence towards women.

He said the crime has also “asked questions of ourselves and of society”.

It has questioned our attitudes and, particularly, our attitudes towards women, and it has questioned our values and our morality. Whether those questions will be addressed or passed over remains to be seen but we cannot allow such violence and disregard for both human life and bodily integrity take root in our time and culture.

During this address, I noticed a group of teenagers begin to catch each other’s eyes. This part resonated with them, it seems. They now represent the generation in line to face this challenge, something preceding generations have ultimately failed to do.

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VIGIL 215 A vigil for Ashling in Dublin. Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

Before the funeral began, we spoke to several young women about Ashling’s passing. 

Alana Murphy (no relation to Ashling) was attending the funeral with her mother and her sister. The 20-year-old student said what happened to Ashling is every woman’s worst nightmare. 

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“It honestly could have been any one of us. I have been thinking about her every day for the last week. If we aren’t safe going for a run in the day time, then when are we? I am actually so angry about this as well. Ashling should be here. We shouldn’t be here.” 

Shauna Carroll is a 24-year-old dental nurse from Offaly. She knew Ashling “to see”, and  she said that her death should not be in vain. 

“I am here to just to show my support for her family and to say this isn’t good enough. There needs to be more people now who just stand up and say no more. When I heard the news, it really just made me sick as in I got a horrible pain in my stomach. 

“It was like someone winded me. I just want to say to Ashling’s friends that there are plenty of people behind them and are here to support them.” 

Shauna’s words were echoed in the funeral mass by Ashling’s cousins. 

One of the Prayers of the Faithful was that “the many vigils that took place in memory of Ashling mark the beginning of an end to violence against women”.

“May the candlelight tributes bring an everlasting hope to all those who live in fear.”

As the funeral mass came to an end, the traditional music started back up, Ashling’s final journey was accompanied by the music which acted as the soundtrack to her life.

But as the mourners walked back to their cars, an eerily familiar feeling started to set in. 

The trudging of feet on tarmac, the sound of wind whipping at umbrellas, the rustling of trees in the distance. 

Heads down, masks on, bleary-eyed mourners going home still in disbelief. 

Silence. Despite the huge crowds, just silence. 

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