Northern Ireland

Mourners at funeral of UU academic hear how he wanted to 'do what was right and good whenever he could'

The funeral cortege of Professor Brian Murphy stopped at Ulster University. Picture by Mark Marlow
The funeral cortege of Professor Brian Murphy stopped at Ulster University. Picture by Mark Marlow The funeral cortege of Professor Brian Murphy stopped at Ulster University. Picture by Mark Marlow

Mourners at the funeral of an academic who worked to address educational underachievement of boys in Northern Ireland have heard how he wanted to "do what was right and good whenever he could".

Family, friends and colleagues of Professor Brian Murphy gathered to say their final farewells at St Patrick's Church in Belfast on Thursday following his death on August 18.

A piper led the funeral cortege as it stopped at the nearby Ulster University (UU) in homage to the institution where he had devoted many years of his career.

A leading academic - particularly recognised for the research project Taking Boys Seriously that investigated the factors that lead to young men underperforming in college and university - he has been remembered by UU as "much valued and respected".

The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow
The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow

Presbyterian minister Rev Cheryl Meban, chaplain at UU, told mourners that Prof Murphy was a man determined "to widen access to education".

She told of how he had been inspired to help others after, as a young boy, he had a gun pointed at him by a soldier. 

"As a Catholic boy raised in a Protestant estate in Finaghy, Brian had some unpleasant experiences of being bullied and marginalised himself, sometimes chased for wearing the wrong school uniform," she said.

Read more:

  • Ulster University research to explore why boys underperform in education
  • Taking Boys Seriously conference aims to address underachievement

"One telling occasion, he had a soldier point a gun at him - it was terrifying, yet he told me with tears of compassion in his eyes of the terror he saw in the face of the soldier - a boy not much older than himself.

"A soldier pointing a gun, terrified.

"A young man without much education with few other choices besides joining the army.

The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow
The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow

"This compassion for the terror of a soldier boy motivated Brian, inspired him to get behind and support better education opportunities for boys, particularly through the Taking Boys Seriously programme, research and practice based at Ulster University in relationship with many different educators and stakeholders across the city, across the country."

Rev Meban said she had met Prof Murphy on his first day of work at UU.

"Brian was standing alone, he didn't know anyone and I'm a chaplain so I spotted him and welcomed him and we engaged and got on well," she said.

"He was ambitious not only for himself, but for the university and the society and our world.

"He was proud to be made Dean, Professor, but as I understand it, his main orientation wasn't to climb, he didn't climb over others for the success he achieved.

"Nor did he undermine those above or those who got promoted ahead of him and he was a good boss who looked out for the well-being of his people.

"So he didn't climb, on the contrary, his passion projects were those that focussed on people marginalised or diminished by society, he worked to widen access to education, to bring in those whose lives and circumstances had hitherto held them back."

The minister added that Professor Murphy "had a great mind, great heart, he valued integrity - to do what was right and good whenever he could, even though he made plenty of mistakes and we knew and loved him as he was".

The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow
The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow The funeral of Professor Brian Murphy. Picture by Mark Marlow

Paying tribute to the academic, UU vice-chancellor Paul Bartholomew said: “We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Professor Brian Murphy, a much valued and respected colleague who will be missed by many across Ulster University.

“It has been my privilege to have known and worked with Brian closely and I was able to visit him recently to confer an Emeritus Professorship upon him.

“Brian’s dedication to the cause of widening access to education was inspirational.   

"The ‘Taking Boys Seriously’ research project, designed to understand and address the systemic and personal barriers limiting access to education for young males, is delivering real-world change today and represents a powerful and enduring legacy that we at Ulster University are committed to take forward."

Sheena, the wife of Professor Brian Murphy pictured at his funeral on Thursday. Picture by Mark Marlow
Sheena, the wife of Professor Brian Murphy pictured at his funeral on Thursday. Picture by Mark Marlow Sheena, the wife of Professor Brian Murphy pictured at his funeral on Thursday. Picture by Mark Marlow