Development & Alumni Relations Office 

John Donall Murphy, LLB 1956 (born 08.04.34, died on 27.02.10)

(Obituary details from Dr. M. Satish Kumar, School of Geography, Archaeology & Palaeoecology, Queen’s University)

John Donall Murphy, known as Donall, died on Saturday 27 February 2010 at his home in Belfast.

Donall studied Law at Queen’s from 1952 to 1956. He graduated in July 1956 with 24 other graduates with a Bachelor of Law. Donall made full use of his time at Queen’s, not only studying law but acting, debating and writing. He became the editor of the student newspaper, The Gown. But it was his passion for rowing that developed after joining Queen’s University Boat Club that tied him to Queen’s.

Back in the 1950’s, Donall was fondly known as “JD” or “Spud Murphy” by his fellow oarsmen.
He rowed to victory many times as a student for QUB including stroking Junior IV of 1954 with Gordon Gray, George Ankatelle, Ian Henderson  and coxed by Billy “the kid” Kyle.  He was elected Captain of Queen's Boat Club (1954-1955) and introduced a new and highly successful policy of recruiting and training novices. During his captaincy an outstanding novice IV made up of Ian Nelson, Gerry Nickell, Peter Rowan and Kevin MacLaverty (none of whom had been selected for the first boat) emerged to become unbeaten in Ireland.

He was first appointed the Chief Coach of Queen's Boat Club in 1970/1971 by the then Captain, Jon Scourse and took on this role many times during the seventies, eighties and nineties. He helped many winning crews including the Senior VIII of 1976 and the Novice VIII of 1990 and the intermediate IV of 1991. He became the Secretary and later the Captain of Lady Victoria Boat Club. He helped and supported many of the Queen’s graduates who rowed for Lady Victoria, including Iain Kennedy and David Gray and all those who competed at national level and at the Commonwealth games. He was instrumental in opening up the graduate rowing club to all former student rowers at Queens and not just past Captains and Blues Recipients.

He embraced the national and international rowing scene and spent a time as the President of the Ulster Branch of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union (IARU) and later served as Vice President of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union. During the early eighties he coached at Belfast Rowing Club bringing a crew to Henley Royal Regatta and in the mid eighties he was part of the coaching team that introduced the Irish Lightweight rowers on to the international rowing circuit, competing at the World Championships, which included the Queen’s Captain at that time, Neill Brown.

In 2002 he became the Founding Patron of the Boat Club Appeal and along with Geoff Canning, he realised that extra funding was essential if Queen’s rowing was to compete with the best.  This appeal was to lay the foundation for the Rowing Academy which was established in Queen’s in 2007 and has set the scene for the excellent Queen’s Senior, Intermediate and Novice Squad of 2009 and 2010.

Both QUB and Lady Victoria Boat Club acknowledged Donall’s support and contribution to the clubs by naming a boat after him in 2002 and providing a guard of honour with their oars as his coffin was carried from St Brigid’s Church. The final word went to Dusty Anderson who made a moving and yet witty tribute to Donall at the Lady Victoria Annual Dinner held on the 5th March 2010.

Donall was a very successful solicitor and after starting out his own law firm he later went into partnership with Nigel Kerr to form Murphy Kerr & Company Solicitors. After Nigel moved on, he was joined in partnership by Ken Nixon. Both personalities complemented each other and Murphy, Kerr & Co continued to grow in strength. Donall touched many of the people he met and worked for. He made the time for his clients, whether they were the man in the street or the CEO of a multinational company, everybody received the same treatment, dedication and compassion. He became known for his sense of fairness, integrity, compassion, his courage and bravery. He was renowned for his wit, his humour, his speeches, his motivational talks and of course, his letters to Counsel and opposing solicitors.

During the 70s he sat as the Law Society Representative on the then Police Authority but in 1979 he resigned along with the trade union representative, Jack Hazzard in protest over the treatment of suspects in Castlereagh Detention Centre.  Two years later he attended a meeting at Queen’s, chaired by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner to discuss the administration of justice in Northern Ireland and in particular the use of the Diplock Courts, and confessions obtained under duress. From this meeting held in 1981 he became one of the founding committee members of CAJ, the Committee for the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland.  Donall spoke out about the need for police accountability and a bill of rights long before others even thought about it. Former CAJ Director, Martin O’Brien, said of Donall: 

‘Donall was instrumental in CAJ being awarded the Council of Human Rights Prize in 1998.The organisation is only in the strong position it is in today thanks to Donall’s efforts...he was a champion of the underdog.’

There were many other organisations that he was a member of and helped both in a professional and personal capacity including the Ulster Sports Council, the Ulster Arts Club, the Gaelic League, the Belfast Boat Club, St Malachy’s Old Boys and the Queen’s Graduate Association. He was awarded a badge of honour by the Red Cross in recognition of his service to the charity.

Donall was quite the “Renaissance” man with a love of the law and science, a passion for music and sport and a fine appreciation of and supporter of the arts. In 2009, the same year as the publication of the Ryan Report, Donall Murphy was one of the executive producers on the award winning film ‘Beyond the Fire’, which highlighted relevant issues. It premiered at the Queen’s Film Theatre on the 26th June 2009.

Donall supported his wife in her role as President of the Irish Association for Social, Cultural and Economic Relations and took pride in the achievements of his family. He was a loving husband and family man.

Donall is survived by his wife Professor Pauline Murphy and daughters Emer, Maeve and Grainne and son Donall Og.


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