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Friends recall ‘hospitable,’ ‘generous’ teacher Murphy

March 31, 2020

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Dennis and Martha Murphy got married in 2019.

 

By Peter McDermott

A Yonkers family is mourning its Kilkenny City-born husband and father following a car accident on last Wednesday night, March 25, in Clifton, N.J.

Schoolteacher Denis Murphy, 60, was pronounced dead at St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic an hour after his car “failed to negotiate the exit ramp” at the intersection of Route 21 North and Route 3, according to a joint statement from the Passaic County prosecutor and the Clifton police chief. 

The single-vehicle crash at about 9.40 p.m. and the precise cause of death are the subject of an ongoing investigation.

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Murphy is survived by his wife Martha, whom he married in 2019, and his teenage daughter Ciara.  He came to live in the U.S. in the 1980s, while his widow is Costa Rican by birth.

A friend, Tom Abernethy, reported that because of the global pandemic relatives have had difficulty organizing a funeral. “I feel terrible for the family,” he said. “One of the things that keeps family members who have lost someone going is the constant coming and going of people, of well wishers, etc., and his daughter and Martha will be denied this human contact.”

In addition to his close family, he said, Murphy was leaving behind “many friends who are shocked about what happened.”

Murphy taught English and Creative Writing at the High School for American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx. He was also the coach of the school’s soccer club.

Abernethy, who relocated last year from New York to Cork with his wife and two children, added: “Denis was a quiet, intense, knowledgeable man, a good friend, generous and hospitable. He was devoted to his job as a teacher and to the Irish language and Irish culture. He was always trying to get that across at his school.”

Forest Hills resident Catherine Vieyra spoke of a friendship with Murphy that went back almost 20 years.

“I first met Denis at an Irish-language immersion weekend in Esopus, New York in 2002 or 2003,” she remembered. “He was introduced as Donncha.”  

Over the years, she and her sister Emily Vieyra-Haley met Murphy at “many get togethers in Woodside, Queens, where he would stand with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. We could look forward to Donncha‘s incisive remarks on literature and education.” 

Vieyra recalled a conversation with him at a party last year. “He questioned me about why I had not been to Ireland recently to see my cousins there,” she said. “I explained that one cousin in particular that we loved to visit had recently passed away. Now the prospect was less appealing.  He told me he understood. There are some people in life who are your points of light.  You find a way to be near them, they are a kind of guiding force to you.  He said he had family in the U.S. who were his points of light and caused him to come here from Ireland.  And when those lights go out, it is very hard to continue on.

“I think Denis was a point of light to his students and family,” Vieyra said.

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