Brid Murphy - The Inspirational Story of a Three-Time National Champion

October 05, 2023

Written by John Walshe.

At the Cork BHAA race in Little Island earlier this year, it would be safe to assume that few of the 400 participants would be aware of the running achievements of the smiling lady behind the counter patiently handing out cups of tea and coffee.

But it’s not only for the numerous competitive honours achieved that Brid Murphy should be acknowledged and remembered, but also for the remarkable, inspiring and equally tragic story that lays behind her introduction to the sport.

Once described in a magazine as “bubbling and effervescent and who speaks with a merry twinkle in her soft and musical Cork voice,” as she sits in the family home at Glounthaune looking out over Cork Harbour, one cannot but help notice the change in tone as she emotionally recalls a heart-rending incident all of 40 years ago.

“Our little boy David, our third child, was born on December 23, 1982 and he tragically died of a cot death on February 7, 1983. Naturally enough, the whole family – my husband David and our two other children, Vincent and Valerie – were devastated.”

Brid, a native of Mallow, then aged 30, had heard of cot deaths. But, naturally enough, never thought it would darken their door. The family lived in Ballyvolane at the time and after the tragedy she hated being on her own in the house when her two children had gone to school and with David at work.

“A number of my neighbours had started training for the Echo Mini-Marathon and my brother Michael, who knew I liked sports, suggested that I join them as I found it very hard to get up in the morning and get myself motivated.

“There was one neighbour who used to go out at seven in the morning and I started with her, another one went out at 10 o’clock and I joined her as well and then a group of us would go out again in the evening. It was just something to focus on.”

It was quite an achievement for someone who had never run before. And, in the autumn of 1983, when she was expecting her second daughter, Edel, Brid completed the Mini-Marathon for the first time. “The doctor said it was okay to run, he knew it was helping me and helping the family as well.”

Moving on to 1986, Brid’s running had now progressed to such an extent that she had joined Leevale Athletic Club. “I got a lot of help there from the late Kevin Barry who made me very welcome, along with Anne Murphy from Dublin, then based in Cork, who made out a training schedule for me.”

That year she ran the Mini-Marathon (then over 10km) in 42 minutes. The following year she finished second and although first place would elude her, she would also add another second in 1995, along with four third-place finishes (1990, 91, 92, 94).

“It was Pat Dempsey, who lived near me, along with Jackie Motherway, who got me into marathon running. I only had one long run done when I ran Dublin in 1987, and despite hitting the wall I finished in 3:47. The following year, again training with Pat and with advice now from Donie Walsh, I broke the three hours.”

The years of 1989, 1900 and 1991 saw her finish third on each occasion at the Dublin show-piece. Her fastest time of 2:43:00 was achieved in 1992, which also gained her the coveted BLE national title. First that year was Karen Cornwall from the UK in 2:41:58 and just 11 seconds ahead of Brid was Ethiopian Addis Gezahegne who had recorded 2:35:05 in Rotterdam the year before.

That time of 2:43:00 would remain the fastest by a Cork woman until Sonia O’Sullivan’s 2:29:01 in London 13 years later. It still places Brid Murphy fifth on the all-time Cork list. She would retain her national title the following year in Clonmel, recording 2:51:33. Nebraska-based Catriona Dowling, home on holidays for the race had kept Murphy company for 13 miles before the Dubliner moved ahead. By 20 miles she had a lead of two minutes, but the Leevale athlete never panicked and closed her down with two miles to go to take the win.

Brid would add another marathon title in 1996; this was no doubt the sweetest of all as it took place in her home town of Mallow. Her time of 2:52:52 gave her a margin of almost 20 minutes over Mary-Beth Dillon from the USA. Having decided not to travel to Boston, her decision proved to be correct as she took her third national crown, a remarkable achievement at 43 years of age. Third overall that day was another vet, Eileen Kenny from St Finbarr’s (mother of Leevale’s Michelle).

The IAAF World Marathon Cup was incorporated into the London Marathon of 1991 and there, as part of the Irish team, Brid had recorded another fine time of 2:47:41. At that stage she was part of a national marathon squad led by Brendan O’Shea, a former national marathon champion himself but better known as the man who had guided Jerry Kiernan to ninth place in the 1984 Olympic Marathon. “When I had finished third the first time in Dublin, Brendan got in contact and he was very good to me, including me in weekend coaching sessions and the like.”

Training in the lead up to marathons would reach an elite level of 100 miles a week. “Maybe for about three weeks, we would reach that amount. On a Sunday morning we would do 22 or 23 miles and then go out again in the evening to bring the total up to the full marathon distance.”

The Belfast Marathon of 1992 saw Brid finishing second behind Catherine Smyth from Dublin. This was not without drama, as she explains: “The morning of the marathon I was on the way down for breakfast when the lift broke. I was there for about three-quarters of an hour and the hotel said as it was a Bank Holiday they didn’t know when they could get me out.” Luckily, it was Brendan O’Shea who managed to locate someone to get the problem sorted. Amazingly, Murphy wasn’t fazed as she went on to record what would be her second fastest time of 2:45:49.

Brid Murphy’s athletics CV certainly makes impressive reading. Numbered among her other achievements are three victories in the Cork to Cobh 15-mile (1993, 94, 96); two Ballycotton Summer Series overall victories (1990, 91); three times a scoring member of the winning Leevale team in the Cork County senior cross-country (1990, 91, 92). Twice in 1991 she broke the hour for 10 miles – at Ballycotton (59:59) and Charleville (59:52).

In 1992, Brid received the Irish Runner/Seiko Award for Outstanding Performances in Athletics and other honours to come her way include a Waterford Crystal Achiever Award in 1994 and a Munster Athlete of the Month for April 1996.

“Looking back, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it and got great opportunities out of it,” says this remarkable and inspirational woman. And she has no regrets given the opportunities and prizes now available in races, especially for women: “No, prizes were never that important to me. If I won something, it was great,” she says with a smile, recalling the type of awards then on offer such as tea sets, bread bins and the like.

There’s no doubt that Brid owes a lot to the Echo Women’s Mini-Marathon and those neighbours in Ballyvolane where it all began. “That really got me going, mentally and physically. It was the first time I ever went running, I started to meet more people and it took the whole family out of a tragic situation and started me into doing something I would never have done.

“Along the way, I also raised a lot of money through sponsorship for research into cot deaths through the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association. Especially in the marathons, even if you felt bad, that was certainly an incentive to keep going.”

A big thank you to for allowing us to share this incredibly inspirational story!

This article also featured in the Echo on 14/09/23.

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