Diarmuid Ó Donobháin

Gate Posts, Dog Troughs and Other Things – Diarmuid Ó Donobháin

I first met Seamus in the mid-nineteen forties through an organisation called “Aiseirí” and again as a member of the Cork Public Library Committee. His pleasant, quiet demeanour was often punctuated with the most delicately satirical observations, especially if related to Cork of Corkonians. So in the matter of gateposts, I remember an incident concerning a rather typical Corkonian, who barely knew one kind of stone from another but he had a good eye for fine lettering! Going through a city cemetery, he saw a gravestone and decided he liked the inscription or rather the lettering in which it was cut. When he enquired he was told it was done by Seamus Murphy – “out in Blackpool”. Eventually he met up with Seamus and told him he wanted a name on his house “in marble”. Well came the day when Seamus turned up with a small slab of marble wrapped in brown paper and unwrapping he revealed the name-plate with its beautifully carved lettering. He gave it to the man concerned and promptly refused any kind of payment. Later I asked him why he did not accept even a token sum to pay for the marble, he said it would be a shame to spoil his ignorance, he has no idea in the world except his gatepost and Seamus Murphy’s lettering.

The dog-trough in Patrick Street – just opposite the statue and beneath the window of a well known restaurant – in some respects epitomises the wry comments that Seamus could make on dogs and Corkonians. It is distinguished for the carving of a single word ‘Madraí’. Surely Seamus must have smiled his way through this job. Credit too the originator of the thought.

“Other things” include boarding a bus one day long ago, bound for Bandon. There was Seamus sitting all alone and naturally I joined him and asked him whither he was bound. Pointing to a neatly rolled bundle on his lap, he said “Drimoleague – to cut letters on a headstone”. The notion of Seamus Murphy R.H.A. – sculptor of ‘The Black Madonna’ and ‘Michael Collins’ – cutting letters on a headstone did not appeal to me so I tentatively began “surely a sculptor of your renown” – he cut in quickly and said “renown does not buy bread and butter but headstones do”. The breadth and dignity of the man, Seamus Murphy, is engraved on my memory because of a little encounter with him at the foot of Patrick’s Hill many years ago. Tired and dusty at the end of a day’s work, he met me and proceeded to sit on the steps of the hill. We fell to discussing a recent review of his work, his rejoinder was “they’ve made a bloody myth out of me. I don’t believe the half of what I read but I’m going into ‘Jackies’ now for a pint and that’s no myth”.

Thus did fame rest so lightly on a wonderful, generous, lovable man – Seamus Murphy R.H.A.