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Murphy

The coat of arms of the great sept of Murphy of Wexford.

The coat of arms of Murphy of Muskerry (Cork / Kerry). This sept is said to be a branch of the Wexford sept, descended from Felim, a younger son of Eanna Cinsealach, progenitor of the Kinsella sept.


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Murphy is easily the commonest surname in Ireland: birth registration statistics indicate that of, a population of 4 millions, no less than approximately 55,000 are Murphys. The name, with which the prefix O (or more rarely Mac) is never used nowadays, may be either O Murchadha or Mac Murchadha in Irish and is derived from and old Irish word for "sea warrior". It arose independently in several parts of Ireland: there are, for example, indigenous septs so called in Counties Tyrone and Sligo, both these are unimportant in comparison with the great Murphy clan of Leinster. This was centred in Co. Wexford. The Chief of the Name is O'Morchoe, an otherwise obsolete form in English. Birth statistics indicate that Murphy is the commonest name in Co. Wexford and it also has first place in Co. Carlow. The Wexford Murphys were directly descended from the kings of Leinster. In the thirteenth century a descendant, Dermot MacMurrough, the warring King of Leinster, opened the floodgates to the Anglo-Normans. The Murphys descend from Dermot's brother Murrough. They took their surname from Murchadh or Murrough, grandfather of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, and thus share their origin not only with the MacMurroughs but also with the Kinsellas, the Kavanaghs and the MacDavy Mores.

Their territory lay in the barony of Ballaghkeen in Wexford, and was formerly known as Hy Felimy, from Felim, one of the sons of Eanna Cinsealaigh, the semi-legendary, fourth-century ruler of Leinster. Their chief seats in this area were at Morriscastle ('O Murchu's Castle'), Toberlamina, Oulart and Oularteigh. The last chief of the name to be elected by the old Gaelic method of tanistry was Murtagh, who in 1461 was granted the right to use English law, thus entitling him to pass on his possessions to his direct descendants. The arrangement lasted only until the late sixteenth century, when Donal Mor O'Morchoe (as the name was then anglicised) was overthrown, and virtually all his territory confiscated; most of his followers were scattered and settled in the surrounding counties, in Kilkenny and Carlow particularly. One branch, however, based at Oularteigh, did manage to retain their lands, and their succession continues unbroken down to the present.

A branch of the Murphy family, originally from County Wexford, moved to County Tipperary when their lands were confiscated by Cromwell. A member of the family who saved the life of one of William III's entourage was granted a lease of lands at Ballymore, Cashel, County Tipperary, in 1689. Succeeding generations lived there until it was sold in 1848.

The surname, however, is even more numerous today in Munster than in Leinster, particularly in Counties Cork and Kerry. This Munster sept, which is associated particularly with the barony of Muskerry, Co. Cork, is said to be a branch of the Kinsella section of the Wexford clan, descended from Felim, a younger son of Eanna Cinsealach.
 
The Ulster sept of Murphy is still numerous but is now more common in the adjacent county of Armagh, where in fact it is first in the statistical list. A chief named Flaherty O'Murphy is recorded in the Annals of Tir Boghainne, i.e. the modem barony of Banagh in Co. Donegal, so that it will be seen that the Murphys were and are widespread in Ulster also.
 
McMurphy, from Mac Murchadha ('son of Murchadh'), is exclusive to Ulster, where the family were part of the Cineal Eoghain, the tribal grouping claiming descent from Eoghan, himself a son of the fifth century founder of the Ui Neill dynasty, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who was reputedly responsible for the kidnapping of St Patrick to Ireland. These Ulster Murphys (or MacMuphys) were originally based in present day Co. Tyrone, in the area known as Muintir Birn, but were driven out by the O'Neills and settled in south Armagh, where they were subjects of the O'Neills of the Fews. In Ulster today, Murphy remains most numerous in Co. Armagh, though it is also to be found in great numbers in Fermanagh and Monaghan. Livingstone states that the Murphys of Fermanagh are in Gaelic Mac Murchu, descendants of Murchadh, a brother of Donn Mor Maguire. These MacMurphys were erenaghs of the church lands of Farnamullan and of Tullynagaorthainn, and anglicised their name to both Murphy and Morrow.

The name of the Clan Donald sept of MacMurchie was made MacMurphy and Murphy in Arran and so it is likely that some of the name in Ulster will be of Scottish descent.

As might be expected in the case of a name as numerous as Murphy the references to prominent persons of the name in the Annals are frequent throughout the centuries, both of the Leinster and the Ulster septs, for the most part to chiefs and soldiers; but there are others, for example, Domhnall Dall Ua Murchadha "chief sage of Leinster" who died in 1127.

In most Irish families a definite thread runs through the generations. In the innumerable Murphys there is a whole skein to be unravelled. Murphys figured largely in the lists of the Irish Brigades in Europe. In the nineteenth century, for instance, there were Marshal le Baron O Murphy, Commandant of the Legion d'Honneur; Colonel le Chevalier O Murphy and l'Abbe Charles of the 3rd Regiment of Cuirassiers.

Sean O Murchadha na Raithineach ("na Raithineach" after the Cork village of his birth), or John Murphy, born about 1700, was the last recognised head of the Blarney bards. Before him there was Daithi O Murchu, or David Murphy, the blind harpist who entertained Grace O Malley, known as Granuaile the pirate queen.

Arthur Murphy (1727 - 1805) of Clonquin, County Roscommon, was educated in France, as was customary for those who could afford it. Not liking the commercial work offered him on his return to Ireland, he went to London. Lack of money turned him to acting and he made his debut in Covent Garden as Othello. This gave him an entree to London literary life, and soon essays, verse, translations, periodicals and plays were pouring from his pen. In 1761, with Garrick playing one of the principal parts, his play, The Way to Keep Him, was a great success at Drury Lane. It was produced in Dublin as recently as 1977. Arthur Murphy wanted to study law but entrance to the Bar was forbidden to actors. His influential friends, however, had this ban removed, enabling him to qualify and to practise law. It was said that his literary talent was more given to adaptation than to originality. All his life he worked hard and lived well, but was never out of debt.

His elder brother James had adopted their mother's name, French, and, as James Murphy French (1725 - 59), he shared with Arthur the legal and literary life of London.

John Murphy (1740 - 1820) of Cork went to London to study engraving. In time he became a master of the mezzotint and was commissioned to make plates for the nobility and the family of George III.

Because of his allegiance to the United Irishmen, Denis Brownell Murphy was forced to leave Dublin in 1798. Safe in London he made a name as a miniaturist, even being appointed by royalty. His fame was surpassed by his daughter, Anna Brownell James, who was one of the early art historians.

James Cavanagh Murphy (1750 - 1814) of Cork began work as a bricklayer, followed by study in a Dublin art school. He lived for a long while in Spain and Portugal, becoming an eminent authority on Iberian architecture. His advice was sought when London's House of Commons was being extended.

Three Cork men have been successful sculptors. Thomas J. Murphy, born in 1881, son of John Murphy, also a sculptor, went to London where he had a very successful career. Seamus Murphy (1907 - 75), born near Mallow, County Cork, became a stone carver at 14 and later studied at the Cork School of Art, where he won a scholarship to Paris. He specialised in portrait heads and sculpted many leading Irishmen. He was Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Hibernian Academy and his book, Stone Mad, published in 1950, has been made into a play.

The Murphys have had a remarkable number of ecclesiastics. In the eighteenth century Edward Murphy was Archbishop of Dublin. John Murphy (1772 - 1848), Bishop of Cork, was a scholar who collected the largest private library in Ireland (the Murphys were given to book collecting). He sold most of this in London, except for 120 Irish manuscripts which he left to Maynooth College in County Kildare.

Francis Murphy (1795 - 1858) from Navan, County Meath, went to Australia where he became Bishop of Adelaide. Reverend Canon Jeremiah Murphy (1840 - 1915) of Cork, who was ordained at Maynooth College, was an Irish speaker, traveller and writer. When he died, his library, which was sold in Cork, weighed fifteen tons.

The most remarkable of the many ecclesiastics was John Murphy (1796 - 1883) of the Cork distilling family. His youth was spent chasing rainbows, as midshipman, traveller in China and financier in London. In North America his work with the Hudson Bay Company brought him close to the Indians who made him an Indian Chief and named him "Black Eagle of the North". During a severe illness he had a vision and, as a result, went to the Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood. Back again in his native Cork, Father John Murphy commissioned the fashionable architect Pugin, with generous contributions from Murphy's distilleries, to design the church of St Peter and St Paul of which he was made an Archdeacon.

His brother Francis Stack Murphy (1807 - 60) was a lawyer, a Member of Parliament for Cork and a scholar. He helped Francis Sylvester Mahony with literary contributions. His first cousin, Jeremiah Daniel Murphy (1806 - 24), a boy genius, mastered seven languages, wrote verse in various languages and contributed to intellectual magazines, but died very young.

Two revered Murphys are the patriot priests, Father John Murphy and Father Michael Murphy. Father John (c. 1753 - 98) of Ferns, County Wexford, was a leader in the rising of 1798. He had been educated in Spain and was parish priest of Boolavogue. At first a loyalist, he became outraged by the savagery of the army and led his people in revolt. He was killed in action, as was his colleague, Father Michael.

James Gracey Murphy (1808 - 96) of County Down, a Presbyterian minister, compiled Latin and Hebrew grammars and many biblical and philosophical studies. Reverend James E.P. Murphy of Cork (b. 1850), a Protestant, translated the four gospels into Irish. Reverend Hugh Davis Murphy (b. 1848), also of the Protestant faith, came from County Antrim and was chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

The most notable woman bearing the Murphy name was the famous courtesan Marie Louise O Murphy (1737 - 1814), fifth daughter of an Irish soldier who had taken up shoemaking in Rouen, France. After his death, their mother brought the family to Paris where she traded in old clothes while finding her daughters work as actresses or models. Marie Louise posed for Boucher, a painter at court. He painted her so attractively that she came to the notice of Louis XV, who soon appointed her his mistress. Their child is supposed to have been General de Beaufranchet. She married three times and was divorced by her third husband, who was thirty years her junior. For a period during the reign of terror, she suffered imprisonment because of her royal connections.

Patrick Murphy (b. 1834) of County Down achieved physical notoriety as the tallest man in Europe at eight feet and one inch. He was exhibited internationally, but died at the early age of 28. His embalmed remains were returned to County Down, to medical practitioners.

Jeremiah James (b. 1795) of Lota Park died in 1851, at Pisa during a tour of Italy. The Neapolitan sailors refused to carry his coffin, fearing it would bring them bad luck, so the resourceful Murphys had the body shipped home from Naples inside an upright piano. He was buried in this in County Cork, three months later.

The Murphys of Cork have been as famed for their alcohol as for their priests. In 1825, James Murphy of Ringmahon, Blackrock, County Cork, a Justice of the Peace, founded with his brothers the prosperous firm of James Murphy and Company, Distillers, while in 1854, James Jeremiah Murphy of Bellevue, Passage West, County Cork, and his brothers founded the firm of James J. Murphy, Brewers of Cork. In 1867, the James Murphy company merged with the Midleton and four neighbouring distillers to form Cork Distillers Ltd. In 1966, in another big merger, with Powers and Jamesons, they became Irish Distillers Ltd., now the biggest whiskey distillers in Ireland, with headquarters at Midleton, County Cork. The Murphy family is still represented on the board.

This family has been prominent, too, in the world of sport. Frank Murphy, who won the Grand National riding Reynoldstown, was killed in the Second World War. Flora Murphy (b. 1932) was an international tennis champion. Patricia Ann (b. 1943) was a British ski champion.

William Martin Murphy (1844 - 1921) of Bantry, County Cork, was one of Ireland's first business tycoons. He established railways, tramways and large department stores in Ireland, Britain and Africa. He founded the Irish Independent Group of newspapers. He was a Member of Parliament, but refused a knighthood offered him by Edward VII during his visit to Ireland in 1907. In the 1913 general strike in Dublin he led the employers, earning the obloquy of the workers, but he was not without philanthropic concern for the poor, of which there were many in Dublin.

Thomas Murphy (b. 1935) of County Galway trained as a teacher, and is one of Ireland's leading playwrights. He was a recent director of Dublin's national theatre, The Abbey, and his play, The Gigli Concert, made a great impact.

The Murphys are well represented in Australia, especially in law and medicine. Francis Murphy (1809 - 91) of Cork went to Sydney as a colonial surgeon. He settled there and took up farming and politics. He was knighted in 1860.

In the United States of America there are probably more Murphys than in Ireland. Henry Cruse Murphy (1810 - 82) was the grandson of an Irish doctor who had emigrated to the New World. He practised law in Brooklyn and was its mayor for many years. He served in the state senate, and besides being a progressive promoter of such developments as railways and the Brooklyn Bridge, he was also a scholar and collected a fine library.

John Murphy (1812 - 80) of Omagh, County Tyrone, was brought to the United States as a child. He too had that remarkable feeling for books typical of so many of the Murphys, and became a publisher. Murphy and Company specialised in publishing theological books at their headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. (The original Baltimore is in County Cork.)

John Benjamin Murphy (1857 - 1916) was of Irish parentage. He became one of the leading professors of surgery in Chicago, and invented the famous Murphy Button which simplified abdominal operations.

It was a different Murphy sept who were to advance the progress of temperance reform. Francis Murphy (1836 - 1907) of County Wexford arrived penniless in New York at the age of 16. For many years he led a dissipated life until a term in prison brought him into contact with a reformer, which led to his taking a pledge of total abstinence. He developed into a dynamic preacher in the cause of temperance, drawing thousands to his meetings and, it is said, causing the closure of 500 saloons in Allegheny and the adjoining counties. He carried his reform campaign to Canada, Australia and other countries.

Tammany Hall, the New York headquarters of the Democratic Party, reached its peak under the leadership of Charles Francis Murphy (1858 - 1924). The son of poor Irish immigrants, he spent his childhood in East Side, New York. A man who could handle men, he worked his way up from the dockyards to become a successful politician and master of diplomacy. He made his fortune from real estate, and was held in esteem because of his remarkable aloofness from the various corrupting influences then prevalent.

The father of Frank Murphy had emigrated to America and was jailed for his part in the Fenian attack on Canada. In 1933, Frank Murphy, who had studied law in Dublin and London, was Governor General of the Philippines, in 1936 he was Governor of his native Michigan, and in 1939 he was US Attorney-General. He died in 1949.

Audie Murphy, who was born in Texas in 1924, earned more decorations than any other US soldier in the Second World War. Afterwards he became a star in films including Beyond Glory and To Hell and Back. He died in a plane crash in 1971.
Michael Charles Murphy, who was born in Massachusetts of Irish parents, coached the US Olympic teams in the 1900s, and introduced the crouching start for athletes which is now used by sprinters everywhere.

Priests, publicans, politicians and police are among Ireland's contributions to the New World. Two of New York's most able police commissioners have been Murphys. Thomas Murphy, a police commissioner of New York City in 1951, was afterwards a federal judge, and prosecutor at the Hiss trials. Michael J. Murphy, also a New York City police commissioner, led the drive against corruption in the 1960s.