Murphy, (Henry) Gerard (1901–59), Celticist, was born 2 May 1901 in Clontivern, Clones, Co. Monaghan, second son of Henry Murphy, solicitor, and his wife Mary Travers (née Donnelly). Although baptised as ‘Henry’, he was known as ‘Gerard’ to his family, friends, and students. He was educated at Mount St Benedict, Gorey, Co. Wexford, where his interest in the Irish language and the classics was awakened. He won a scholarship in the classics group to UCD in 1918 and proved to be a brilliant student, obtaining first-class honours and a scholarship in each year of his course. He graduated with a BA degree in classics (1921) and an MA degree in Celtic studies (1929). While an undergraduate, he attended Old and Middle Irish lectures by Osborn Bergin (qv).
On graduating he entered employment in the NLI, where he worked under Richard Irvine Best (qv) for two years. As a result of ill health he spent the period 1925–30 in sanatoria in Switzerland. He was plagued by failing health for the remainder of his life. On his return to Ireland (1930) he took up a post as assistant in Irish at UCD. In 1941 a lectureship in Irish literature was created for him in recognition of his scholarship, and in 1948 he was appointed professor of the history of Celtic literature.
Highly regarded as a teacher and scholar, Murphy published widely and had a number of areas of special interest, in particular Irish literature and folklore. During his frequent visits to Corca Dhuibhne, Co. Kerry, and Cúl Aodh, Co. Cork, he collected traditional prayers and religious verse. His first publication was an essay, ‘An Phaidir Gheal’, in An Réult (1920). A further compilation of prayers he had collected in Corca Dhuibhne appeared in Éigse, iii (1941). In 1933 he published Duanaire Finn, part II, having completed part of the text left unfinished by Eoin MacNeill (qv). He published a further volume Duanaire Finn, part III, in 1954. For a number of years he worked on the Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy, producing fasc. XI in 1933, fasc. XVIII (1935) in conjunction with Winifred Wulff (1900–46), and fasc. XXV (1940) with Elizabeth FitzPatrick. In 1938 he founded the journal Éigse and remained editor till his death. He prepared Dómhnall Bán Ó Céileachair's Scéal mo Bheatha (1940) for publication. Between 1941 and 1955 he oversaw the publication of twenty volumes in the series ‘Leabhair ó Lámhsgríbhnibh’, instigated for the publication of prose texts by younger scholars. His other publications include: Glimpses of Ireland (1948); Saga and myth in ancient Ireland (1955); The Ossianic lore and romantic tales of medieval Ireland (1955), and Early Irish lyrics (1956). His final work, Early Irish metrics, appeared posthumously in 1961. He also contributed numerous articles and reviews to the Irish Independent, the Irish Statesman, the Irish Rosary, the Irish Book Lover, Studies, Béaloideas, Éigse, Celtica, the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Ériu, and the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. He broadcast on Radio Éireann on a number of occasions, including a Thomas Davis lecture, ‘Irish storytelling after the coming of the Normans’, in February 1958.
In 1932 he was elected to the RIA, and served on its council from 1938–51. He also was a member of the Academy's Irish studies committee from 1937 and served as secretary 1938–50. He died 15 April 1959 in Dublin.
He married (1924) Máire O'Neill from Limerick; they had one son and one daughter.