Murphy is the son of James Murphy, a railway employee, and Margaret Sheehan of Little Island, County Cork. He attends Saint Patrick’s School on Gardiner’s Hill. In 1921 he enrolls as a part-time student at the Crawford School of Art, Emmet Place, Cork. In 1922 he finds work as an apprentice stone-carver at John Aloysius O’Connell’s Art Marble Works, Watercourse Road, Blackpool. There he specialises in architectural and foliage carving while continuing his studies at Crawford by night.
Murphy studies at the Académie Colarossi and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris in 1932-1933 where he is befriended by the Irish American sculptor Andrew O’Connor. He opens his studio/workshop on Watercourse Road, Blackpool, Cork in 1934.
He is elected associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1944, elected a full member in 1954, and appointed Royal Hibernian Academy Professor of Sculpture in 1964.
Also in 1944, he married Maighread Higgins, daughter of the Cork sculptor Joseph Higgins, and they go on to have three children – the knitwear designer Bebhinn Marten, the novelist Orla Murphy and the painter and De Dannan member Colm Murphy.
Murphy designs the Church of the Annunciation on Great William O’Brien Street in Blackpool, Cork, for William Dwyer in 1945. The stonework in the church is mostly by Murphy himself. It is officially dedicated on October 7, 1945.
Seamus Murphy dies in Cork on October 2, 1975. He is buried in Rathcooney, County Cork.
Examples of Murphy’s unique carvings of statues, gravestones, monuments and plaques can be seen around Cork and Ireland, including a signed panel of the four evangelists outside the entrance of the church of Our Lady and Saint John in Carrigaline, County Cork.