Even in their darkest hours, they remember the light she brought.
When she entered a room. When she smiled. When she laughed — that infectious laugh. Her positivity, her humour, her hope. This was their Ashling Murphy. This is how they remembered her – how they want us to remember her. Not as a victim, but as a loving daughter, a devoted sister, a girlfriend who dreamed of marriage, a talented musician, a passionate teacher.
Her mother Kathleen described Ashling as “one in a million”.
“Everyone wanted to be in her company,” she said.
“Ashling used to love cooking and always prepared the dinner on a Friday while I was in town grocery shopping. In return I would always bring her home a bar of chocolate. Ashling was every mum and dad’s dream daughter.”
She said she misses going to Ashling’s camogie matches and music concerts and the “many wonderful places” they visited and people they met.
Her sister Amy recalled how she spent years “listening, watching and adoring over the young girl, my sister, who grew up to become the soil that kept our family and friends nourished with positivity, humour and hope”.
“Our lives were enormously enriched because of Ashling. She was charismatic, compassionate and her infectious laugh could light up any room.
“As siblings do, she could roast myself or Cathal with some of her best one-liners. However, she never sought to be centre of attention. She had the ability to strike up conversation with anyone, irrespective of their age, and made them feel like they genuinely had a friend in her.
“Her zest for life was palpable to anybody that was in her company.”
In her victim impact statement at Jozef Puska’s sentence hearing, she told how Ashling had taken up a post as a primary school teacher in Durrow National School three months before her death and was “reaping the rewards” of her hard work.
She was like “a second mammy” to her 28 students and “immersed herself in all things the school life had to offer, helping out with the school choir and music groups whenever she could, always encouraging the children with genuine affection and enthusiasm”.
“Our parents instilled a strong work ethic in Ashling and she knew the value of a pound,” she said.
“They taught her that nothing is handed to you in this life and if she wanted something she would have to earn it and that she did.”
Ryan Casey, Ashling’s boyfriend since she was 15, told how they had charted their future lives together, from planning to move to Galway in the late summer of 2022 to travelling later to Dubai for two years where Ashling dreamed of teaching before returning home to build their home and start a family.
During his victim impact statement Mr Casey turned directly to face Puska, telling him: “Because of you, I’ve lost everything I’ve ever wanted in life. I’ll never get to marry my soulmate. I will never hear her voice again. I will never see her smile again. I will have to somehow carry on without her. I will have to remember her longer than I’ve known her.
“You have no idea, nor did you ever and will never have any idea, the level of connection and love that Ashling and I shared.”
Kathleen Murphy told the court her motivation and love for life are gone and she is no longer able for big crowds or small-talk.
“I used to go for a walk or jog after dinner on a Sunday with Ashling and Amy,” she said. “I will not go for a walk anymore as I am too afraid of that monster. His actions will always be in the back of my mind.
“People say you are doing great but underneath I am just barely existing from day to day.”
She added: “Why someone could go out and brutally murder a young woman who they have never met before is totally incomprehensible. His actions must have consequences. He should never see the light of day again.”
As he handed Puska the mandatory life sentence for the murder of the 23-year-old, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said it was “richly deserved”.
He said that if he had the power he would set “a very long” minimum sentence and if whole-life orders were available “this is the kind of case where that would have to be considered”.