Statue, Séamus Murphy RHA, ‘St Finbarr’

14 Mar 2023

Limestone: 'St Finbarr', 1933, statue, 213 H.

Ref: UCCHS.1934.001 © University College Cork

Sculptor: Séamus Murphy RHA

Date: 1933

Provenance: The statue was commissioned by the Academy of St Thomas, a student society at UCC, in possibly 1933. Séamus Murphy, a native of Cork, had returned from his  studies in Paris in 1933. According to Frances Hyland and Bebhinn Marten, Séamus Murphy 1907-1975 [exhibition catalogue], p77, Murphy opened his own stoneyard and studio in 1934. The Academy donated the statue to UCC in May 1934 (the letter was accompanied by the black and white photo shown here) and it was accepted by the Governing Body at their meeting on 1 June 1934. In that year the statue was placed at the apex of the gable end of the North Wing (over the Aula Maxima) where it remains to this day.



Séamus Murphy was born on 15 July 1907 at Greenhill, Burnfort, near Mallow, Co. Cork, but moved with his family to Cork city when he was very young. He received his early education in Cork. He then became an apprentice stone-carver at John A. O’Connell’s Art Marble Works, Watercourse Road, Blackpool, where he specialised in architectural and foliage carving. He was also attending the Crawford School of Art in Cork city centre at this time. In 1931 he was awarded the Gibson Bequest Scholarship and exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy exhibition. In 1932-33, he studied in Paris at the Académie Colarossi and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. He returned home in 1934 and opened his studio at the Watercourse Road. Murphy was elected associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1944 and a decade later became a full member. In 1964 he was appointed RHA Professor of Sculpture and became a member of the Arts Council of Ireland in 1973. The National University of Ireland conferred him with an honorary LLD in 1969.

His exhibitions included: Salon de Printemps, Société des Artistes, 1933; a group exhibition at UCC in 1935; World Fair, New York, 1939; solo exhibition in Cork Public Library, 1956; joint exhibition with artist William Harrington, 1967; Adare, Co. Limerick, 1973; exhibited at ROSC ’75, Cork; as well as at the Royal Hibernian Academy. A retrospective exhibition was held in 1982 at the Crawford Municipal Gallery of Art, Cork, and at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, TCD. His memoir Stone Mad, first published in 1950, remains in print, and in 2013 was chosen as Cork’s Favourite Book.

Séamus Murphy married Maighread Higgins (daughter of sculptor Joseph Higgins (1885-1925) and Katherine Turnbull), with whom he had two daughters and one son. He died in Cork on 2 October 1975 and is buried in Rathcooney cemetery, north of Cork city.

The RTÉ website has several online films that feature Séamus Murphy:

Sculpting in Cork’ (1965)

Stone Mad’ (1969)

Working with stone’ (1973)

See also: ‘A home for sculpture in Cork’ (1967)



UCC Archives, Secretary's Office, Gifts File 1800(1)

Frances Hyland and Bebhinn Marten, Séamus Murphy 1907-1975: The Work of Séamus Murphy Sculptor [exhibition catalogue] (Dublin: Douglas Hyde Gallery, 1982)

Peter Murray (ed.), Seamus Murphy (1907-1975) Sculptor (Kinsale: Produced by Gandon Editions for the Crawford Art Gallery, 2007)

© University College Cork 2023

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