Inishowen’s Edel Murphy has been appointed as the new head of Northern Ireland’s leading disability arts organisation – Atypical.

Edel, who has overcome many personal health challenges, plans to use her experiences to help hundreds of artists fulfil their potential.

In fact, Edel was not expected to live past the age of 12.

As a young child, she was diagnosed with Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 3, an extremely rare condition.

Doctors told her she would not live to see her teenage years, but after 19 major operations and defying all medical expectations, Edel, now 45, is looking forward to her new role in her dream job.

She said: “Today is a humbling day for me. I first came into the University of Atypical as a visitor, a fan, a friend, a volunteer and then an employee. I came because I felt I belonged. I saw then how clearly this organisation empowered people to do great things and make this city and our region a better place for people like and unlike me to be.”

The University of Atypical, funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, supports and campaigns for disabled artists through a number of programmes. With its own Atypical Gallery and the Ledger Studio for Performing Arts, the organisation also runs the annual Bounce Arts Festival and many other programmes.

While attending Queen’s University, Edel worked at QFT and then began a career as a drama teacher before going on to work for the Arts Council. She then went to UofA as a project co-ordinator and has paid tribute to former CEO’s, Damien Coyle and the late Chris Ledger.

“Over the past thirty years many great activists, artists and creators built this organisation. It is an incredible honour for me to find myself now at the helm. Most recently Chris and Damien have taken it to one of the most admired and inspiring organisations in the region, meeting and stretching expectations of d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent creatives.”

Edel also paid tribute to a woman who changed her life by helping her learn to speak again after one of her many operations.

“After surgery on my neck when I was eight, I found it very hard to speak so that people could hear me. My mum took me to meet a drama teacher in Derry called Eithne McCloskey. I’d just won a bursary of 50 punts for a drama sketch that I’d written at the Feis in Donegal and I used the money for drama lessons. But it was so much more than that. Over the years, Mrs McCloskey taught me how to speak again in public with confidence. She gave me a sense of myself beyond my physicality. She literally gave me my voice back.”

That remarkable experience with her mentor inspired her to work with other creative people with disabilities to fulfil their potential: “I want to help change this part of the world for others who are longing to live their dreams while embracing their atypical identity with excitement. It’s already happening, we are doing it today, and together the Atypical team will do it again and again.”

Next year she will marry her long-term partner Claire and believes it is important to live authentically, embracing diversity and being atypical.

She added: “I’m very proud of who I am and intersectionality is an important part of what we do at University of Atypical.”

Sean Fitzsimons, Chair of University of Atypical, welcomed Edel to her new position on behalf of the board of trustees.

“Edel brings a wealth of knowledge in respect of the Arts, a talented professional who has honed her craft across these islands and beyond. Alongside this Edel brings formidable business acumen and lived experience of disability. We look forward to her contributions to this very special organisation and I know our community and sector colleagues are all looking forward to working alongside her and the team going forward,” he said.

Like her predecessors, Chris and Damien, Edel worked for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is the University of Atypical’s primary funder, supporting the organisations many programmes and the annual Bounce Festival which has become one of the primary festivals for d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists in Europe.