crucible of torment | 

Roy Curtis: Why Ashling Murphy was such a shining light in the game of life

There were no limits to Jozef Puska’s lies but the beauty of a young, vibrant life will live on for her devastated family

Schoolteacher Ashling Murphy was murdered by Jozef Puska

Jozef Puska

Jozef Puska (centre) when he was charged with the murder of Ashling Murphy.

Ashling Murphy

Kathleen Murphy, mother of Ashling Murphy outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after Jozef Puska was found guilty of her murder.

Roy Curtis

Jozef Puska spat out his self-serving lies as a malevolent dragon exhales hateful fire.

Seeking to incinerate the truth, there were no limits to how deeply into the badlands of distortion Ashling Murphy’s killer would advance to save himself, to evade justice.

Some darkness of the soul persuaded a murderer to play the victim, the same savagery of the spirit which stole Ashling from her family now facilitated the cruel deceits spilling incontinently into court number 13 like pollutants into a river.

As the damning evidence accumulated, Puska spun outrageous yarns on the spindle of his dark heart, culpable as hell yet relentless in his fumbling for an escape hatch.

A barbaric coward revealing, right until the end, his cold-blooded essence, the void where a soul would ordinarily dwell.

The jury saw through the transparent charade of a butcher mining for ever more outlandish fictions.

Jozef Puska

“We have evil in this room,” proclaimed Mr Justice Tony Hunt after the jury had unanimously found Puska guilty of the 23-year-old schoolteacher’s murder on a rustic Tullamore canal bank.

Consider those condemned to a half-life of permanent pain by that hateful January 2022 waterside violation of decency.

Step for a moment into a crucible of torment, the benches in the courtroom occupied by those in whose hearts that brutally erased young Offaly woman will forever dwell.

Join her family outside after the verdict, all the different shapes of love apparent in their soft words, their consoling embraces, their haunting, grief-stricken tears.

Labouring beneath the tonnage of a mother’s crushing pain, Kathleen Murphy hugged a framed photograph of her beautiful, beloved child.

Kathleen Murphy, mother of Ashling Murphy outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after Jozef Puska was found guilty of her murder.

Ashling’s brother, Conor, spoke with immense restraint and dignity of this terrible page in his family’s history.

As I type his compassionate, forlorn words, I find my eyes watering, wondering how it is that the director of the movie of life could have such an appetite for the savage.

“Ashling was subjected to incomprehensible violence by a predator who was not known to her. While we do not glory in any conviction, we recognise the importance of holding accountable those who would commit such terrible atrocities.

“The judicial process cannot bring our darling Ashling back, nor can it heal our wounds, but we are relieved that this verdict delivers justice. It is simply imperative that this vicious monster can never harm another woman again.”

Now stand by the shoulder of Ashling’s boyfriend, Ryan Casey, their future together ransacked, so many dreams stillborn, a young man marooned on the loneliest island.

He described the love of his life as a “shining light”, “vibrant, intelligent and highly motivated”, “a perfect role model for every little girl to look up to and strive to be.”

His voice was strong, but you knew that inside he was churning, sinking to the fathomless depths of his oceanic hurt.

God love them all.

Ashling Murphy

A young woman goes for some afternoon exercise, a camogie player in her Kilcormac Killoughey top out for a gentle run.

And she never comes home.

It might be your daughter, your sister, your girlfriend.

A gleaming tower of humanity torn pitilessly down by the wrecking ball of pure evil.

A canal bank transformed into a death ward for decency by the devilry encoded in one man’s moral software.

Every murder is monstrous but some, by dint of horrific circumstance, touch us as a people and shake us to the core.

As Justice Hunt lamented: “What happened here is enough to make you physically ill.”

Ashling’s boyfriend, Ryan, spoke eloquently and with powerful clarity on this theme.

“From day one, the outpouring of love and support was felt in abundance from the Irish people both at a national and international level as they stood in solidarity with our family to both mourn the loss of our beautiful, talented Ashling and to condemn gender-based brutality with visceral repulsion.”

Through the stories of her friends, we came to know the girl whose heart was stilled in an overgrown midland verge.

Ashling Murphy was a musician, camogie player, teacher, a giver in the game of life, custodian of an open, trusting smile, a woman setting out on the road of life.

Outside a Dublin court room last week, her essence endured in the hearts and words of her bereaved family.

They held each other, they told stories, her beautiful portrait was held tight in her mother’s still protective grip.

One more mighty and devastating reminder of the poet Philip Larkin’s immortal line: “What will survive of us is love.”

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