William Ottway Murray

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William (Bill) Murray was born in Dublin on the 22 of November 1914. His parents came from Wicklow and his father worked for the Ordinance Survey where he was involved in mapping townlands and areas of Ireland. His work eventually brought him and the family to Belfast and they lived for a while in the Sydenham area where Bill was confirmed in the St. Patricks Church of Ireland, on the Newtownards Road. Later the family moved to the Lisburn area where Bill spent his early school years before returning to Belfast to live.

Bill served an apprenticeship at painting and decorating and became an accomplished sign-writer, which he specialised in until his retirement. He was always interested in sketching and writing, so it was a natural progression for him to paint landscapes and write poems while he was cycling around many parts of Ireland. Some of these sketches and poems are incorporated in this tribute to him. In the 1940s Bill attended painting classes on the Limestone Road, Belfast. Here he developed into an artist in his own right.

His other main interest was cycling, and he joined the Belfast Cycling Club in 1934. He participated in all aspects of the sport, but touring was his preference and he became very knowledgeable about Ireland. His favourite areas were Donegal, Connemara, Kerry and of course the Mournes and Glens of Antrim. He was particularly familiar with the many highways and byways as well as the lanes and mountain passes. The bicycle was the ideal vehicle for him in pursuit of his painting, and his sketch pad and paints held permanent place in his saddle bag. As a result he produced many fine paintings in his own studio, a number of which he gave to his larger circle of friends in the cycling fraternity.

Even when he was eighty years of age, he was still getting out on his bicycle a couple of times each week, weather permitting. He described how these occasions “He communed with nature and drew inspiration that gave him a feeling of well being.”

The lowest period of his life was in 1990 when his wife Molly died, on the 24 September. They had no family of their own and were inseparable and very devoted to each other. She was his inspiration in everything he did. He then went into a long period of depression, never really getting over his great loss. Gradually, he began to get out on his bike again, and for the last four years of his life he returned again to his easel. When he passed away on the 27 September 1996 there was a dozen or more landscape paintings in his studio.

I first met Bill when I joined the Belfast Cycling Club in 1947 and it wasn’t long before I was greatly impressed by his knowledge of touring in Ireland and his love of the outdoors and sketching.

I feel very privileged to have known him for so long and in particular, sharing the last four years of his life by my weekly visits. I enjoyed our many conversations and his reminiscing has enabled me to write this appreciation. He was a human man who reluctantly projected himself when at the Club meetings or gatherings, but when he did have something to say they were words of wisdom and experience and everyone listened.

In conclusion, he was a particular influence on me and the many others with whom he associated. Our lives have been greatly enriched by his friendship over the years.

Robert Collins
July 1997.

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