Murnaghan, Sheelagh Mary (1924–93), barrister and politician, was born in Dublin on 26 May 1924, eldest of the six children of Vincent Murnaghan of Omagh, Co. Tyrone, and his wife, Josephine (née Morrogh). Her grandfather was George Murnaghan (qv), home rule MP for Mid-Tyrone (1895–1910). She was educated at the Loreto Convent, Omagh, Loreto College, Rathfarnham, and QUB. After being called to the Northern Ireland bar (1948), she for many years pursued an inconspicuous career writing reports for a law journal, but she eventually came to public attention as a parliamentary advocate of various minority causes.
As a member of the small Ulster Liberal Party (from 1959), she stood for Belfast South in the British general election in October 1959 but gained only 7.5 per cent of the votes cast. Two years later, in a by-election, she was returned to the Northern Ireland house of commons for the Queen's University constituency by 2,622 votes to 2,370 (22 November 1961), the only Liberal politician ever to be elected to that body. As a woman and a catholic, she represented other minorities too. Passionate and indomitable, while possessing much common sense, she spoke frequently at Stormont on many liberal and civil rights issues. In December 1965, and on three later occasions (the last in January 1968), she unsuccessfully proposed a bill to criminalise discrimination on grounds of race or creed and to provide for a commission to investigate allegations of such discrimination. She was a close collaborator of Albert Horatio McElroy (1915–75), a presbyterian minister at Newtownards, Co. Down, who for many years was chairman of the Ulster Liberal Party and for two years moderator of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Like McElroy, she drew philosophically on the Liberal Party in Britain and through it publicised there the Ulster political causes she advocated. In 1965 she and the other three Queen's University representatives were returned unopposed but in November 1968 their seats were abolished and her parliamentary career ended with the dissolution of parliament on 4 February 1969.
Sheelagh Murnaghan served on the first Northern Ireland community relations commission (1969–72) and, after the introduction of direct rule from London (March 1972), was appointed by the secretary of state, William Whitelaw (qv), to his special advisory committee. Later she presided over national insurance and industrial relations tribunals. A firm friend of travelling people, she was chairman of the Belfast settlement committee. She was an active member of many other bodies including the United Nations Association, the Electoral Reform Society, and Protestant and Catholic Encounter. She was a little eccentric – for example, she smoked cheroots. In her youth she was captain of the Irish Ladies’ Hockey team and she never ceased to be combative, but she was overtaken by much more aggressive politicians in the 1970s. Sheelagh Murnaghan's home for many years was at 5 Windsor Avenue, Belfast (it was bombed in February 1970), and later at Crossgar, Co. Down. She died, unmarried but the head of her large extended family, on 14 September 1993.