Roots: Murphy, O’Murchu,
By Gregory Chestler, Contributor
October / November 2019
The Irish surname Murphy is a modern form of the ancient Irish name O’Murchadha, which means “descendant of sea warrior,” from the Gaelic muir, meaning “sea,” and cath, meaning “battle.” And, true to the clan’s moniker, the Murphys have traveled and battled far and wide. It’sthe most widespread surname in Ireland, and according to the 2010 census, it’s the 64th most common name in the United States.
One of the earliest Murphys on record is of one Domhnall Dall O’Murchadadh, who was listed in The Annals of the Four Masters as chief sage of Leinster back in the 12th century. In modern times, the name has become even more associated with the Munster counties of Cork and Kerry than its originating county of Wexford.One of the most fascinating Murphys was Marie-Louise O’Murphy (1737-1814). Immortalized by the painter Boucher, who captured her beautiful features in several of his paintings, Marie-Louise, the daughter of an Irish-born soldier of the French army, became the mistress of King Louis XV. (Read about Marie-Louise in our Wild Irish Women feature in this issue.)
Another Murphy of enduring fame is Father John Murphy (1753-1798), the priest who led the revolutionary forces in Wexford during the 1798 rebellion. Despite a total lack of experience in military warfare, he led his peasant army with great prowess during the capture of most of
County Wexford. Finally defeated by the military might of the British, he was hanged in Tullow and is immortalized in the Irish ballad “Boolavogue.”
Father Murphy was not the only Murphy to make a name for himself as a soldier. Over 500 Murphys are recorded among the many Irish who fought in the American Revolutionary War. These included Captain John Murphy of the Massachusetts Navy Privateer “Swallow,” Colonel Archibald Murphy of the North Carolina Militia, Captain Maurice Murphy of Hicks South Carolina Regiment, and Timothy Murphy, the most famous marksman of the Revolution. The son of Irish immigrants and a member of Morgan’s Rifle Corps, Timothy, played a major part in the American victory in the Battle of Saratoga when he picked off two British commanders.
Another American hero named Murphy is Audie Murphy (1925-1971), the most highly decorated United States serviceman of World War II, earning a total of 28 medals. Born in 1924 to Irish sharecroppers in Greenville, Texas, he enlisted in the Army in 1942 and quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant. Wounded three times, he was repeatedly cited for gallantry in action. He won the Medal of Honor for single-handedly holding off a German force of half a dozen tanks and over 200 men. Audie was a passenger in an Aero commander 680E in 1971 when it crashed in the Appalachian Mountains on Memorial Day weekend. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. A more recent military hero is Patrick Murphy, the first veteran of the Iraq War to serve in Congress. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 from the 8th district of Pennsylvania. During his three-term stay in Congress, Murphy served as Under Secretary of the Army and became the lead advocate for a bill that would repeal the Defense Department’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy concerning gays in the armed forces. Today he is executive chairman at WorkMerk, an education technology company.
Off the battlefield, Murphys made a name for themselves in medicine as well, including John Benjamin Murphy (1857-1916), a skilled surgeon who liked to perform his surgeries in front of an audience. The terms and devices Murphy Button, Murphy Punch, Murphy Test, Murphy Drip and Murphy-Lane Bone Skid are all attributed to him. A more recent star in the medical arena is Barbara Murphy, System Chair for the Department of Medicine, the Murray M. Rosenberg Professor of Medicine, and the Dean of Clinical Integration and Population Management at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is one of just a handful of women hospital chiefs in the country.
The Murphys also have a knack for business and entertainment. Patrick Francis Murphy (1855-1931) was a salesman at Henry W. Cross’ Mark Cross Store before he went on to expand and buy the business, and make a fortune selling pens and other high-end goods. His son, Gerald Murphy (1888-1964), married Sara Sherman Wilburg, and the couple, famous socialites of their day, moved to Paris and ran in the circles of Ernest Hemingway, Jean Cocteau, Dorothy Parker,and even James Joyce. Most notably, F. Scott Fitzgerald dedicated his novel Tender is the Night to Sara Murphy, and Picasso painted her. Gerald was a gifted modernist painter himself. His work can be found in the Whitney and MoMA museums.
If the Paris Murphys’ lives were the stuff of high drama, closer to home, Tom Murphy (1935-2018), a playwright from Co. Galway, wrote some of the most important plays of the 20th century, including A Whistle in the Dark and Famine.
From the stage to the screen, we move on to Ryan Murphy, who has co-created and single-handedly imagined some of the 21st century’s most successful television shows. Glee, Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, and most recently, “Pose” are Ryan’s most celebrated creations. He has also acquired over 650K twitter followers – without ever sending a single
And back to the stage, we have renowned ballerina Gillian Murphy. Gillian was just age 17 when she was accepted into the American Ballet Theater Co. (ABT) in 1996 and was just 23 when she became a principal dancer. Her mother was born in England to Irish parents, and her paternal grandfather Murphy was a cartographer that assisted in the mapmaking of the United
States. Gillian can be seen next performing the title role in Giselle in February 2020 at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Probably the most famous American in the entertainment field to bear the name Murphy is actor and comedian Eddie Murphy (b. 1961). Eddie grew up in Brooklyn. He had a pretty rough childhood. His parents broke up when he was three. Afterward, at the age of eight, his father, Charles Edward Murphy, died. He and his two brothers, Charlie Murphy and Vernon Lynch, lived in foster care for a while when their mother Lillian became ill. Murphy first became known as a comedian on Saturday Night Live and went on to star in many successful movies, including Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming to America. In 2015, Murphy received the
Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize For American Humor.
Of course, we couldn’t move on from the entertainment field without mentioning actor Cillian Murphy. The Co. Cork native has been in numerous Hollywood blockbusters and is slated to be alongside Emily Blunt in the upcoming film, A Quiet Place 2. The star’s first credit was in a 1997
comedy short titled “Quando,” but might be most well-known for his starring role in the television show Peaky Blinders, which centers around a crime-ridden family in post-World War I Birmingham, and is loosely based on a real 19th-century urban youth gang that was active in the city from the 1890s.In New York, Charles Francis “Silent Charlie” Murphy, also known as Boss Murphy, made a name for himself in political circles and became the longest serving head of New York City’s Tammany Hall, from 1902-1924.
Domhall Dall O’Murchadadh, Marie-Louise O’Murphy, Father John Murphy, Captain John Murphy, Audie Murphy, Patrick Murphy, John Benjamin Murphy, Barbara Murphy, Patrick Francis Murphy, Gerald Murphy, Sara Murphy, Tom Murphy, Ryan Murphy, Gillian Murphy, Eddie Murphy, Cillian Murphy, Boss Murphy, Maureen Murphy, Murphys, Daniel and John Murphy, John James Murphy, Bob Murphy, Mike Murphy, Conor Murphy, James J. Murphy, Kathleen Murphy.
Also in New York, just steps away from the site of Tammany Hall, you have the Irish Hunger Memorial. It was Hofstra University professor Maureen Murphy who directed the Great Irish Famine Curriculum Project in New York state and served as the memorial’s historian.
Moving on to other places where the clan left their mark, we find ourselves in Murphys, California. Located in the Sierra Foothills of Calaveras county, the town was named after Wexford native brothers Daniel and John Murphy. The brothers were part of first immigrant party to bring wagons across the Sierra Nevada to Sutter’s Fort in 1844. They earned a living as
merchants, but like many others began prospecting when the gold rush began. Roughly $20 million in gold was discovered in the surrounding area, but the Murphy brothers made more money as merchants than they did with prospecting. John was so successful that he amassed a
fortune of two million dollars before he left the town in 1849, never to return. Today the town is a popular tourist destination catering to local vineyards – the main street had more than two dozen tasting rooms. The town still remembers its Irish roots and the annual St. Patrick’s Day
parade and festival is a big draw. Murphy’s Hotel serves as the center of the action. Built in 1856, notable guests include Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, Jr., John Jacob Astor, J.P. Morgan, and former President Ulysses S. Grant.
Wexford native John James Murphy (b. 1822) emigrated far from Irish terrain in 1844 to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He left the capital for the fertile lands to the west, where he acquired enough acreage to establish the town of Murphy in Santa Fe, Argentina. Although the small town did not have a railroad reaching it until 1911, it has still managed to make its mark on the
world. After the arrival of the fútbol fanatic Ponchettino family from Piemonte, Italy, and the founding of the Centro Recreativo Union y Cultura in 1925, Murphy, Argentina, became a breeding ground for soccer players, having churned out over a dozen professional players. Most famous is Argentina World Cup 2002 teammember Mauricia Pochettino (b. 1972).
A plethora of other Murphys have had a presence in sports in the U.S., including Bob Murphy (1924-2004), the long-running announcer for the Mets. One of his most memorable moments came in 1990 after the Mets barely came out victorious over the Phillies in a 10-9 victory. Bob rejoiced, “They win the damn thing by a score of 10 to 9!” He was such a staple to the game that he received the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick award in 1994.
We couldn’t mention sports without saluting Mike Murphy, or as he’s known by San Francisco Giants fans and players alike, Uncle Murph. Since being hired as a batboy during the Giants inaugural season in 1958, Uncle Murph has been a San Francisco staple. He was promoted to equipment manager and served in that position from 1980-2011. He currently serves as the senior advisor to the Giants clubhouse. Uncle Murph has never missed a single Giants home game, which means he has been the only consistent in the stadium for over six decades!
Back to this issue, it’d be hard to overlook Conor Murphy, who is on our Wall Street 50 list. In addition to his stellar career in the financial industry, Conor is also a founding trustee of Cristo Rey High School in Harlem, where he has led the internship program for young students for over a decade. Additionally, Conor’s family back in Donegal have been running the Murphy Family Store for 80 years, ensuring that the generations of Murphys are proud of their same-name-bearing ancestors.
Our celebration of the Murphy clan would not be complete without a mention of Murphy’s Brewery in Cork. It was founded by James J. Murphy (1825-1897) who first started producing his frothy flavorful stout in 1856.
Last, but definitely not least, our final Murphy is the subject of our cover story. As President of Fidelity Personal Investing, Kathleen Murphy, is one of the most powerful women in finance. While she oversees a business that has grown to more than $2.7 trillion in client assets, 23 million customer accounts, and over 15,000 employees, she is passionate about helping individual investors achieve their life goals, and is a fierce advocate for women taking more active control of their finances.
Let’s raise a glass of Murphy’s stout to the successes of the Murphys everywhere. Sláinte! ♦