Despite running out of Kilkenny as soon as she could in order to ‘see the world’, Dee Murphy came back home to settle down with her Dublin husband Fran in tow, 17 years ago.
Speaking to Dee this week, she told me “the happiness of my childhood memories growing up in the Kilkenny countryside helped me make the decision to raise my own two children here. We now live in the beautiful surrounds of Burnchurch and have been very happy here.”
I first met Dee a year ago through her involvement in Cois Nore and I couldn’t help loving her energy and vibrancy. This woman has a great ‘get up and go’ attitude to life.
At the end of 2018 she discovered she had breast cancer and started the journey through what she calls her ‘Cancer Year’.
Earlier that summer, she founded the great Lady Desart Choir & Musical Society with Liam McCabe. In just two years the Choir has become well known for their beautiful uplifting performances. This month they released their spine-tingling version of Run by Snow Patrol in honour of our healthcare workers. Eighty members of the choir contributed virtually to the number, which is sure to move you to tears.
Here is a glimpse into Dee’s world…
Dee, how did you manage to record 80 choir voices with social distancing?
It wasn’t easy, it took two weeks of hard work by our wonderful Choir Director Gillian Coulter.
Members of the choir can’t get together at the moment, because of the coronavirus social restrictions, so we pulled out the stops and put together an amazing virtual choir performance in honour of our hero frontline workers. The piece is led by beautiful soloists Sebastian Rodriguez Benavente and Gemma Downes.
We all recorded it individually at our homes. My husband and I recorded it from our hot press, after discovering it was pretty good for acoustics!
Little did you know when you founded the choir that you would produce such uplifting music in these poignant times.
That’s for sure. It’s gone viral - we can’t believe it. RTE’s Operation Transformation want to feature it too, so we are thrilled.
The choir was founded in the summer of 2018. I heard that there was talk amongst the Cuffesgrange, Burnchurch and Danesfort community of people wanting a choir. I jumped at the chance to get involved and set up The Lady Desart Choir with Liam McCabe. We started as a small group of neighbours singing songs with a guitar in Cuffesgrange National School. This quickly grew to what is now a wonderful secular choir of 80 members with a wait list of over 40 people who want to join us.
We range in age from 26 to 72. Most of our members are from Kilkenny and everyone has a broad range of musical influences. I love this choir and work hard along with our wonderful Committee to make us bigger and better each year.
This is all made possible by our amazing Choir Director, Gillian Coulter. I dragged Gillian to a practise, promising that she would just give us a few ideas to work on. Once we had her on board, we didn’t let go and she has made us the Choir we are today.
So let’s reel back the years. What happened when you headed off to ‘see the world’?
I started my career out of college in TEAM Aer Lingus, where I met my husband Fran. I started working in Finance and Administration in various companies in Dublin. Then I decided to move with my best friend to Jersey, as the word on the street was that the pay was amazing, along with the weather and the nightlife! I spent two years in Jersey and, along with a lot of other Kilkenny natives, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
Then came the time to settle down and I moved back to Dublin to work in Davy Stockbrokers. Fran and I bought our first house in Phibsboro, where we spent three very happy years there before deciding to “grow up” and get married and settle down!
I decided to leave the financial services sector when I moved home to Kilkenny. I started to work in a field I had great interest and love for, Estate Agency. However as my husband travels a lot for work, we decided that I would stay at home and raise our children until our youngest was through First Class.
You were ready to go back to work when you got some shocking news.
I was at the stage of thinking of returning to work after being a stay at home mum for over 10 years. Then just like that, the week before Christmas, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer in 2018.
What followed was a year of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation. Whilst this is not what anyone wants to hear, I can honestly say that when I was diagnosed I never thought “Why me?”. I just thought “Why not me!”. I had already lost a very dear friend to the disease and knew many people who had been dealing with themselves. It was a tough year but I feel that my natural positive attitude and upbeat disposition got me through it beautifully.
I will be living with the after-effects of Cancer for the rest of my life, but I take a very proactive approach to my health and well-being. Pilates and strength training have been instrumental to me in my recovery. I feel that every person who has gone through cancer needs to be informed about the wonders that Pilates can do for your body and mind. Luckily one of my close friends, Mafra Looby, is a Pilates instructor and she has helped me get to the stage I am at today.
The Lady Desart Choir were also an amazing support to me during treatment and I was so thankful to them.
You also credit Cois Nore for getting you through what you call your ‘Cancer Year’.
I approached it like a job and called it my “Cancer Year”. During this time my family benefited greatly from the wonderful people in Cois Nore Cancer Support Centre. My children, Daisy and Albie, attended their climb club programme to help them deal with the fact their mum had cancer.
After my treatment was finished I also received classes, which were wonderful. Cois Nore is an amazing local service for anyone dealing with cancer or their families and friends. It is a walk-in service, providing counselling, therapies, classes, men’s groups; basically a listening ear for anyone who needs it.
I made a promise to myself that once I was well enough, I would commit a year of my life to volunteering in Cois Nore. I have been involved now for over six months with my marketing hat on and I have enjoyed my work and the camaraderie with the staff, volunteers and friends I have made from my time there.
So how is Cois Nore surviving with no funding at the moment?
With great difficulty. They depend mainly on fundraising and we had a huge event calendar planned for this year. The ground work is all done and we have two wonderful brand ambassadors on board - Jackie Tyrrell and Evanne Ní Chuilinn. However, everything is put on hold for now.
We had planned a Camino Walk for October as a fundraiser. With the pandemic we are postponing it until April 2021. There’s six places left on our walk if anyone is interested. Everyone will have to raise €1,500 each and the trip will cost around €700, with the balance going to Cois Nore.
Your attitude to life is great. From your personal experience do you have any advice for people not feeling so upbeat during this pandemic?
Today, I am happy, healthy, busy and making sure to take time for me as much as I can. I treasure to be able to just sit back, appreciate the life I have, the amazing husband, children and friends I to be able to just keep going on.
I would advise people to consider how this could be worse. It could be raining every day but it has been beautiful; our hospitals could be overrun but they have managed really well with the pandemic and all you are being asked to do is stay home.
A quote I was most struck by during all of this is “Your grandparents were asked to go to war, you are being asked to stay on your couch”.
This says it all for me. We are all too comfortable in our lives and it’s no harm for us to be reminded of the bigger picture once in a while. We are all in this together.
We must all look out for each other and family and great friends are the most important things in life. I am so lucky to have the most amazing friends and family around me and I am thankful for this every day.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the Cois Nore Camino.