He is the sole surviving founding member of Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) who has given years of dedicated service, spanning over six decades, towards improving the quality of life for people with physical disabilities in Ireland. 

But while Irish Wheelchair Association has much to thank Drogheda’s Oliver Murphy for, the man himself admits that he wouldn’t be the person he is today without IWA. 

And in an interview to commemorate the IWA’s 63rd anniversary, he encouraged people to join the association because of the many benefits being part of such a movement brings. 

“IWA gave me opportunities to live a very full life, a really lived life,” he said. 

“And I owe it a debt of gratitude for that.” 

“What I would say to people with disabilities looking in from the outside is to try it and see if it’s for you.  Try one of our sports, join a branch or attend one of our centres.  The camaraderie is great amongst everyone, you will make friends for life.” 

“We are involved in every aspect of life.” 

He said the association gives confidence to members to advocate for themselves which he views as being ‘very important’. 

Oliver revealed that he also has IWA to thank for meeting his wife, Joan! 

“I was selling flags on College Green in Dublin for IWA and she was coming off duty at Holles Street Hospital with a group of friends. I happened to know her friends having met them when I was selling flags for the IWA at the Rose of Tralee so they stopped to talk to me,” he recalls. 

He and Joan chatted, he said he would ring her that night and the rest is history! They married in 1971 and are still enjoying a wonderful life together with their family. 

“I think it was meant to be,” he laughed.   

The 88-year-old is fiercely proud of IWA and what it has achieved in the last 63 years. 

Looking back on that first meeting in the Pillar Room in Dublin’s Mater Hospital on November 10th, 1960, Oliver said. “I remember it was a Thursday night and after some discussion we made the decision to form an association and to name it Irish Wheelchair Association, with a simple concept to improve the quality of lives of people in wheelchairs in Ireland.” 

Oliver says that the 10 people present in the room that night could never in their wildest dreams have predicted the impact that this new organisation would have in driving positive change for people with physical disabilities across the country over the following six plus decades, bringing issues like access, equal rights, and opportunities to the forefront of national and international discourse. 

He said: “Sport is where we started, sport is where we grew.  It’s still so fundamental to who we are today as an organisation.  Some of us had been to the first Paralympic games in Rome that year and it opened our eyes to how people in wheelchairs were treated in other countries, they had a better life, they were living independently. That’s what prompted us to set up the association.” 

“We had lots of new thoughts and ideas. Accessibility was a huge issue, to be able to move freely without obstruction and it is something we are constantly fighting for to this day – no barriers whether it’s transport, housing, employment or public buildings and spaces.” 

He remembers there being ‘lots of battles with lots of people in the early days’, but all for the right reasons, to make life better those with disabilities. 

“No way then could we have ever thought that the association would grow to what it is today. Fr Leo Close was the prime mover who had the fire and ambition to make it happen in those early years”, he recalled.  Fr Leo, who had captained the Irish team in Rome, was determined that people with disabilities should be able to live full lives, not be hidden away, with little visible presence in society and no say on anything, which was the case in Ireland back in 1960. 

The founding committee members also included Jack Kerrigan, Kay Hayes, Joe Domican, Joe Craven, Jimmy Levins and Joe Davis, and to start their fund a subscription of 10 shillings each was put into a ‘kitty’ in the centre of the table. 

From those simple beginnings IWA has experienced phenomenal growth to become Ireland’s leading representative organisation and service provider for people with physical disabilities. And as the last surviving founder, it is very important to Oliver that the members remain at the heart of the association, that it’s about them and making life better for them. 

“The support for IWA has been colossal over the years but we need to keep fighting.  Sometimes it seems that it is one step forward, two steps back. We have achieved a lot but there is still a lot to do, we cannot take our foot off the accelerator.” 

“I am very proud of IWA, where it is now and where it was and the positive impact that it has had for people with disabilities in this country, and how it has helped shape what the country is doing to make life better for people with disabilities.” 

His birthday wish for IWA?  “That it will keep going and that it would continue to make an impact, continue to make life better for people with disabilities, to improve on the work that’s already been done and keep to the fundamental reason we started which is to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in Ireland, that’s why we were founded, that is what we started out to do.” 

Learn more about becoming an IWA member here.