Queen saddened at death of Ulster chaplain Gerry Murphy

Canon Gerry Murphy, former Rector at Sandringham
Canon Gerry Murphy, former Rector at Sandringham

The Queen has expressed her sorrow at the passing of a Northern Irishman who served as her chaplain.

The funeral for Anglican churchman John Gervase Maurice Walker Murphy – known as Gerry Murphy – is due to be held next week.

Warm words of remembrance were forthcoming from friends and family alike for the 87-year-old ex-soldier and former rugby star.

He passed away of heart failure on January 7 at his home in Norfolk, southern England.

A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said: “The Queen was, of course, saddened by the news.”

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) also responded to his death, issuing a statement which said that the organisation noted his passing with regret.

It added: “Gerry won six caps for Ireland between 1951 and 1958. The deepest sympathies of the union and Irish rugby are with his family.”

His widow Joy said that he had also played for Ulster and the Barbarians.

She said: “He was very sympathetic. As people in letters have said, he was a special sort of man, and a man of God.

“Some people have written to me sincerely saying when they were with him, they felt better. He was a wonderful father; a very kind man.”

He had been appointed as the Queen’s domestic chaplain in 1979 at Sandringham (meaning he was there in person).

From 1987 to 1996 he continued to hold the role of chaplain during postings to the Falklands, and later at the Tower of London. Then, from 1996, until the time of his death, he still held the title of “extra chaplain” to the Queen.

The role of chaplain to the Queen meant he was called upon to attend social functions with her and to preach at St James’ Palace.

Mrs Murphy added that some components of his extra-long name – the Gervase Maurice Walker portion – were a tribute to a soldier of that name whom his father had served alongside in the First World War, but who had not survived.

“He said that he would love his first child to be called after his great friend,” she explained.

Betty Orr, from Seaforde in Co Down, knew Canon Murphy through his friendship with her father, and grew up with him as a constant presence.

“It’s so hard to describe him,” said the 63-year-old, who added he would visit his native Co Down at least once a year.

She added: “He had this quiet, unassuming manner, and was a truly, truly good man.”

She joked that as a child she would go to watch him play rugby at Ravenhill, and on one occasion when the crowd had fallen silent, her little voice could be heard across the pitch, shouting: “Come on Gerry!” – something the late cleric always teased her about afterwards.

Her husband John, 69, described him simply as “an officer, and a gentleman”.