The Digger recalls the life of a medical giant
DR. Henry Seymour Murphy was born in 1871 in County Galway, the son of the Rev Charles Murphy. Dr. Murphy trained at Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and had been in practice before arriving in Lisburn, about 1905.
He married Williamza Florence Wheeler, a member of a prominent Dublin family, and soon after settling in Lisburn, Dr. Murphy became an executive committee member of the newly founded Lisburn Golf Club. In October 1910, the Board of Guardians in Lisburn held an election for the medical officership of the workhouse in the town. Dr. Murphy topped the poll with 39 votes. It was reported that he informed those present at the meeting "I thank-you very heartily. I promise to do my very best to perform my duties satisfactorily. If I don't, it will not be my fault."
He would keep his promise to the Board and in 1922 he attained the position of Medical Officer for Lisburn and Hillsborough District Hospital.
In their private life Dr. Murphy and his wife, who lived at 45 Castle Street, were devoted to their Airedale dogs. My friend Sammy, who had encountered Dr. Murphy during his stay in the Fever Hospital at Lisburn, recalled a story about the doctor that gives an insight into his nature.
It was not uncommon for Dr. Murphy to pass through the Castle Gardens area whilst walking his Airedales. He would discreetly drop a couple of half crowns around the park benches where some the elderly folk of the town spent much of their time. He was also known to drop off items of unwanted clothing in the same area. Dog showing was a popular pastime and the Murphy's picked up many prizes. In May 1929, their dog "War and Wake" of Ballymore won numerous prizes at the All Terrier Association
Annual Show at Rathmines. Later that year Mrs. Murphy picked up the President's Cup of the Ulster Airedale Club with her dog "Bride of Ballymore." Her other dog "Billy of Ballymore" won the Glandore and Larkfield cups.
The death of Dr. Murphy on the 28th March 1945 was a shock to many people in the Lisburn area and beyond. At the April meeting of the Lisburn Board of Guardians it was reported the chairman James Ireland paid tribute to the late doctor and his work. He stated that Dr. Murphy had been "a faithful and honest upholder of the Institution and father of the District Hospital." Shortly after the death of Dr. Murphy local people were looking to mark his passing with permanent memorial. In one letter published in The Lisburn Standard in April 1945 a reader suggested a new Maternity House be erected at the Lagan Valley Hospital, and it should be "associated forever with the Doctor's name." It had been reported that during Dr. Murphy's career he had often to face the handicap of inadequate buildings and equipment and the building of a maternity facility would be a fitting tribute. The suggestion was taken up and discussed by the committee of the Governors of Lisburn and District Hospital but after almost six months discussion it was decided a tablet to the memory of the late doctor should be erected in the entrance hall of the hospital.
The unveiling ceremony took place on Wednesday 3rd October, 1945 and the inscription read - "Erected by the Committee of Governors and Staff of the Lisburn and Hillsborough District Hospital in recognition of the services of Dr. Henry Seymour Murphy, who was the devoted medical officer of the Lisburn Workhouse Infirmary from October 1910 to April 1922 and of the District Hospital from April 1922, until his death on 28th March 1945."
Over a period of time a considerable sum of money had been collected for a memorial and at a meeting of the committee it was announced that a solarium should be erected and named "The Murphy Solarium." It was to consist of two floors attached to the South Wing of the hospital by an overhead passageway. The plan was agreed and a memorial tablet was to be incorporated in the structure.
On Wednesday 12th September, 1956 Dame Dehra Parker, minister of Health and Local Government, performed an opening ceremony of a transformed Lagan Valley Hospital, following a series of alterations and renovations. The project cost in the region of £80,000.
After the initial ceremony, she officially opened the new solarium, which had cost approximately £5000. A plaque was unveiled over the entrance to the new facility and read "This building is the gift of his friends in memory of Dr. Henry Seymour Murphy, first medical officer of the hospital, 1910 to 1945."
The Rev. John Hart, who was a member of the Memorial Fund Committee, made a speech in tribute to Dr. Murphy. "...to strangers Dr. Murphy might have appeared rugged and forbidding at times, but when he entered a sick room he became a brother and friend. It was very fitting that that beautiful building should have been erected to render service in the name of a man whose memory was very dear to the hearts of all."
One person absent from the unveiling ceremony was the widow of Dr. Murphy who had passed away on the 5th March, 1954 at the Lagan Valley. She had specifically requested that £1000 be donated from her estate to the memorial fund of her late husband. She also bequeathed all her valuable dog's cups to the Irish Kennel Club of Dublin.
Now some 53 years later, the Murphy Solarium no longer exists, having been demolished during the course of further development at the Lagan Valley Hospital. The current locations of the memorials, that once adorned the walls of the Lagan Valley Hospital, erected to Dr. Murphy remain a mystery.
If you take a walk across the road from the hospital to Lisburn Cemetery you will find a more permanent memorial to Dr. Murphy and his wife, in the form of a headstone. It reads simply-
"In Loving memory of Henry Seymour Murphy who died 28th March 1945 Medical Officer Lisburn and Hillsborough District Hospital 1911 -1945, also his wife Williamza Florence Murphy who died 5th March, 1954." Thanks to the Administration Staff at the Lagan Valley Hospital in their assistance in providing some background detail for this article.
The Digger can be contacted via The Ulster Star Office or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.