Subscriber OnlyObituaries

Lisa Murphy obituary: Former model, TV star and businesswoman who ‘left people feeling happier’

Despite her glamorous image and camera-ready smile, Ballinteer woman was a reserved person, so shy she had been unable to read aloud in secondary school

Born: September 7th, 1972

Died: February 1st, 2024

When former model, television star and businesswoman Lisa Murphy died, many of the online condolences were left by people who had never met her. Mostly women, they wrote admiringly of her dignity, grace and gentle nature. They knew her from the magazine spreads, television appearances, and the men she had dated. They included dancer Michael Flatley, solicitor Gerald Kean and boxer Joe Egan.

But despite her glamorous image and camera-ready smile, she was a reserved person. She slipped from public view when she contracted cancer in 2018 and her death at the age of 51 came as a shock to many.


Lisa Murphy grew up in Ballinteer, Dublin 16, the second of four children born to Des and Eileen Murphy. Her oldest brother Paul had special needs and she assumed the role of trustworthy older sister to younger siblings Noel and Kira. At her funeral, Noel said she never gave an ounce of trouble growing up. “When Kira and I had maybe been in a spot of bother, Lisa, as the sensible, sober, older sister, was always on hand to bail us out.”

While she gave the appearance of a flamboyant, party-loving extrovert, she told the Sunday Independent she was so shy as a child that her mother had to request that she not be asked to read aloud in secondary school because she would start hyper-ventilating.

She was always interested in fashion and beauty and would hone her make-up and stylist skills on Kira and her friends. After leaving school, she worked in a hair salon, modelled part-time and took night classes, studying accountancy. At this stage she was dating heavyweight boxer Joe Egan and they later got engaged.

Tragedy struck in 1995 when her brother Paul was killed in a road traffic incident. It devastated the close-knit family, and she said no words could describe the loss. After Egan moved to the UK for work, she met another former boxer turned dancer, Michael Flatley, in Lillie’s Bordello nightclub. His worldwide fame with the shows Riverdance, Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames propelled her into the limelight and the couple were regularly featured in the social diaries of newspapers and magazines.

In 2002, the dancer proposed to her at a lavish party in Monte Carlo, with fireworks lighting up the sky. However, the relationship ended in early 2006, just before his autobiography was published. His claims about intimate moments between them were widely publicised and, while she said it was hurtful, she maintained a dignified silence. “I’m only hoping that those comments were said in a passing moment,” she later told RSVP magazine.

She dismissed speculation of a pay-off from the dancer to never speak about their relationship. “I was living with my parents. If I got a big pay-off, I’d be driving a Bentley. Or I’d have bought myself a place,” she wryly said.

Later that year, she began dating solicitor Gerald Kean. They would go on to spend 10 years together and get engaged, before splitting up in 2016. He described her death as devastating news. She had a particularly close relationship with his daughter Kirsten, who was eight when they met. “Kirsten adored her and she was very good with children, gifted, even.”

He said she was a huge help when it came to his charitable work and she was a gracious host when they held events. Despite her glamorous image, if she had a choice between going to a charity ball or changing into a tracksuit and spending time with kids, she’d always favour the latter.

In 2009, she opened her own beauty salon, New Lisa Life, in Sandycove. Kean said people went there specifically to see her. “They always left feeling great. It was like a sanctuary for them. If anyone had a problem, they left Lisa feeling happier.” It was around this time that she took the leap from featuring in the pages of RSVP magazine to writing for it when she did a stint as beauty editor. She never hid the fact that she had cosmetic surgery and, after her salon closed in 2014, she worked as a patient adviser for a cosmetic surgery clinic.

She was unlucky to be at home alone in Kean’s home when burglars struck in 2011. They tied her up and threatened her with a knife before fleeing with her jewellery. Afterwards, a bird flying from a bush was enough to trigger traumatic memories of the night. She talked about the benefit of counselling in helping her to get over the incident. “You can bounce back from anything no matter how harrowing or traumatic it may seem,” she said.

Her high profile made her an interesting guest for TV shows. In 2011, she made an unlikely pairing with journalist Nell McCafferty on TV3′s Driving Me Crazy series. It brought opposites together and challenged them to drive to a destination within a certain timeframe to raise funds for charity.

But if the producers expected angry sparks to fly between the feisty feminist and glamorous socialite they were disappointed as the two women chatted away amiably. Lisa Murphy amused the writer by whipping off her towering stilettos and driving in her bare feet while McCafferty encouraged her to tear up their instructions and drive to west Cork instead.

She returned to TV3 the following year when she became part of the Dublin Housewives reality show (later known as Dublin Wives). She said she did it because people tended to pre-judge her and this would allow them to see the real person. She was stung by the perception of her as a party girl who found fame on the arms of rich men. “The thing is that while the three boyfriends I have had were all high-profile men… I was approached by each of them. I certainly didn’t go gold-digging or anything like that,” she told RSVP. “So for people to make nasty comments is hurtful, but I rise above it. I know who I am as a person.”

Gerald Kean marvelled at how she was unable to hold a grudge, even when people had treated her badly. He recalled two such instances of shoddy treatment and when she met those people again she greeted them like long-lost friends. “She was just very kind, very gentle and very caring.”

Broadcaster and writer Maia Dunphy got to know her when she interviewed her for a documentary many years ago. “She was sweet and kind, and what struck me most about her was how much love she had, and wanted to give to the right relationship,” she recalled. “My objective observation was that she was worth so much more than she was so often treated, and I hope she found a little of the happiness she deserved.”

After feeling unwell on holidays, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. True to form, the illness did not affect her sense of style and she always looked immaculate when she attended St Vincent’s hospital for treatment. Up until recently she was well enough to live in her own apartment and was still pounding the paths of Marlay Park.

She often said she had no regrets despite things not working out as expected. “I have been happy in my life more times than I have been sad,” she once said. “Life is way too short to hold grudges and, you know what, life is also too short to feel guilt as well. None of us are perfect so we should all learn to let things go.”

Lisa Murphy was predeceased by her brother Paul and is survived by her parents Des and Eileen, brother Noel and sister Kira, nieces and nephews and extended family.