Every year NUI Galway awards honorary degrees to a small number of individuals who have distinguished themselves in various walks of life.
This year the governing Authority of NUI Galway invited Professor James Murphy to accept the Degree of Doctor of Literature, in recognition of his commitment to promoting Irish Studies globally and developing cultural and academic relations between Ireland and the United States.
Professor Jim Murphy is Director Emeritus of the Irish Studies Program at Villanova University. He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1940 of Irish parents. His mother was Kathleen Sloyan from Ballyhaunis and his father was Patrick Joseph Murphy from Aughakiltubrid, Cloone, Co. Leitrim. That background shaped his connection to Ireland, especially the West, and subtly led him to his academic career.
“I didn’t realise it at the time, but Ireland was always in the air of my growing up. I breathed in a world of brogues and ballads, and out of that raw material of Irish voices, I gravitated to Irish writers and felt at home there. I was always a reader, but in college I first read Joyce and Yeats. I found there voices and a world that I knew at once. It was all over for me.”
The first in his family to go to upper-level study, he did his academic work at Manhattan College (B.A.), Niagara University (M.A.), and Temple University (Ph.D.). His doctoral work was ‘The Book of Kells, James Joyce, and the Irish Literary Tradition’.
In 1963, he joined the faculty at Villanova University and in 1979 founded the University’s Irish Studies Program, dedicated to bringing an inter-disciplinary focus on the study of the history and culture of both Ireland and Irish-America.
In 2008, Irish America Magazine named Professor Murphy one of the Top 100 Irish Americans. He has been a winner of the Lindback Award for Outstanding Teaching. He retired from Villanova in 2010.
In 1985, when Villanova was looking for an affiliation with an Irish university, Professor Murphy’s family background made him look to the West, so it was only natural that the Villanova program affiliated with the then newly established UCG Irish Studies Summer School.
Since then, Villanova has sent over 400 American students to NUI Galway, not only in the summer but throughout the academic year. More recently, NUI Galway students have been invited to study at Villanova as McGuinn Scholars.
So, the link between Professor Jim Murphy and the West of Ireland comes full circle with this honour.
Professor Murphy is a first cousin of Patsy Walpole from Mohill and he was very proud to be invited to the Honorary Degree Conferring Ceremony to see him receive this prestigious award.