‘Father Arthur – the True and Tried Champion of the People’[1]

In 1885, the inhabitants of Listowel presented an Illuminated Address to their parish priest, Rev Arthur William Murphy, on his transfer to the parish of Prior.  Rev Murphy, later Canon Murphy, had formerly served the parish of Castleisland and later, as Parish Priest of Brosna, assumed – together with Rev William Casey of Abbeyfeale – a reputation of heroic proportions as defender of his oppressed countrymen during the struggles of the Land War.[2]


Following a recent appeal by Castleisland District Heritage on its social media platform for a photograph of Rev Arthur William Murphy, Arthur Murphy of Ballyvirrane House, Milltown, Co Kerry, and his wife Gwenola, shared a framed photograph of the famous reverend.[3]  Arthur, great grandnephew of the patriot priest, advised that for many years the portrait was in the care of his granduncle, Cornelius Murphy of Milltown.[4]


The photograph is a remarkable addition to the ongoing research of Rev Arthur William Murphy.  It has enabled a proper interpretation of the two patriot priests behind the famous clasp of hands across the Feale, as illustrated recently in a calendar produced by Noel Nash for Castleisland District Heritage.


Arthur and Gwenola Murphy (centre) of Ballyvirrane, who shared mementoes of Rev A W Murphy with Castleisland District Heritage


Arthur and Gwenola also shared the Illuminated Address presented to Rev Arthur William Murphy in 1885 on his departure from the parish of Listowel.  This followed an earlier Address presented to the reverend by the people of Castleisland in recognition of his exertions in raising funds for the erection of the new church there.[5]


The Address, with elaborate illustrations, is worded as follows:


Address to Dear and Reverend Father A Murphy


We the inhabitants of Listowel, have seen with unbounded pleasure that his Lordship the Bishop of Kerry recognising your manifold qualifications has entrusted to your solicitous care the important parish of Prior.  Yet since it necessitates your removal from us our pleasure is tinged with regret.  It is the consequence of the devoted and reverential love we bear you for your actions were ever noble and priestly.  Your memory shall ever remain green in our hearts and we fervently pray that the Almighty may ever continue to pour His choicest graces and blessings on you dear Soggarth Aroon.


Signed on behalf of the people of Listowel on the 1.5.1885:[6]



Above: Copy of the intricately designed Address to Rev Murphy in 1885 courtesy Arthur Murphy, Ballyvirrane House, Milltown


The Family of Rev Arthur William Murphy


Until now, little has been noted about the family background of Rev Arthur William Murphy.  It would appear that he was born circa 1839 at Ballyvirrane, Milltown, son of John Murphy and Miss Foley.[7]  He had a brother, Philip Murphy of Lismacfinan, Killorglin, who died in 1917, and a sister Catherine, who died in 1880.[8]


Philip Murphy was a noted athlete, as this obituary reveals.


The deceased gentleman was brother of the late Canon Arthur Murphy, Brosna.  In his early manhood he was one of the most noted athletes in Munster and those who witnessed his feats with the hammer speak of them as almost rivalling those of Matt Donovan in the ‘Homes of Tipperary.’[9]


Catherine Murphy, sister of Arthur and Philip, married Jeremiah Murphy in 1858.[10]  Catherine died from pneumonia at Ballyvirrane on 27 April 1880 at age 45.[11]  Arthur Murphy of Ballyvirrane House, owner of the portrait of Rev Arthur William Murphy, is great grandson of Jeremiah and Catherine Murphy.


The funeral notice of Jeremiah, who died at Ballyvirrane on 27 November 1909, records genealogy, and also that Jeremiah’s feted and much loved brother-in-law was unable to attend the service:


It is with feelings of deep regret we have to announce the death of Jeremiah Murphy.  He had reached his 79th year and belonged to one of the oldest and most respectable families in the county.  The funeral started at 2 o’clock for the family burying place, Kilcolman Abbey … Chief mourners were Mr A W Murphy RDC Milltown Electoral Division, and Cornelius Murphy (sons), Miss Mary Murphy and Mrs Cronin (daughters), Mr Jeremiah Murphy NT, Mr A W Murphy junior, Mr James Cronin and Mr Patrick Cronin (grandchildren), Philip Murphy (brother-in-law); Mr J P Murphy, Mr A W O’Shea and Mr John Murphy (nephews), Miss Mary Anne J Murphy, Mary Anne P Murphy, Catherine Murphy, Lizzie Murphy and Lizzie J Murphy (nieces), Mr John J Murphy RDC, Patrick Kelliher, James Nagle, Garrett Nagle, Eugene Doherty, Batt Doherty, T T Leary TDC, C Leary, D Leary, Cornelius Leary, M Leary, E McCarthy, D McCarthy (cousins). Letters of sympathy and apology were sent by Father Arthur Murphy, parish priest (brother-in-law), Dr D J O’Sullivan, Rathmore, nephew, Mrs E Lamie, Dublin, niece and Eugene O’Sullivan, Killarney.[12]


Memorial to Rev Arthur William Murphy


Rev Arthur William Murphy, ordained priest on 22 June 1868, a vocation he fulfilled with honour, died on 21 June 1916.[13]   Shortly after his death, it was proposed that a memorial be erected in memory of the saintly priest.  A committee was established chaired by Rev E Daly, CC, Brosna.[14]


It may be speculated that the scale of the proposed monument would align to some degree with the memorial erected for Rev William Casey, parish priest of Abbeyfeale, with whom Rev Arthur William Murphy joined hands during the Land War to fight oppression.


However, it was not to be.  The temper of the times did not lend to the project, and more than a decade later, in 1927, ‘Specs’ of Castleisland – otherwise Liam Brosnan of Close, a columnist and quarryman at Rhyno Mills – asked about progress:


Castleisland contributed largely a long time since to the erection of a worthy memorial to Fr Arthur Murphy, whose name is a household word in Kerry and that the ground where he rests is still a bare and desolate patch.  The brave and noble spirit, who, like Moses, led his people out of the house of bondage, deserves better than this.[15]


The following year (1928), Castleisland historian T M Donovan also queried the project on behalf of ‘disappointed Kerrymen at home and abroad’:


To the older generation, there is no need to recite the praises of ‘Father Arthur’ as he was lovingly called during the Land War of the eighteen-eighties.  But the younger generation ought to be told of the services of this great Friend-of-the-People, more especially during his curacy in the Castleisland parishes.  Castleisland was a famous centre in those days when the land of Ireland was won for the tillers of the soil.  It was men like Father Arthur who gave an impetus to the Movement and carried it on to victory.  In a word his was the Will that created a resolute opposition to landlordism and that breathed a new soul into nationalism in East Kerry.[16]


In a stirring letter, Donovan asked if the unmarked grave of ‘a Deliverer,’ ‘a Prophet of Righteousness’ who put hope into the hearts of the people and terror into the hearts of the landlords, would be left to village goats for grazing:


A very large sum of money was collected here in Kerry and in America for the purpose of erecting a suitable memorial to his memory.  This money has been earning interest for years.  Your readers would like to know the intention of the Trustees.[17]


The following year, the Murphy Memorial was unveiled, evidently without ceremony, as observed by T M Donovan:


To my great pleasure, I have just heard that the monument has recently been erected in the Brosna churchyard.  I was not the only one who was ignorant of this, as the priests of this parish and ninety per cent of the people of Castleisland, who were deeply interested in the question, did not know of its completion.  We all expected that an unveiling ceremony would take place, and that his old Land-Leaguing friends would be given an opportunity to demonstrate their affection for such a true patriot and beloved Sagart.[18]


Today, the Father William Casey Memorial in Abbeyfeale finds place in the heart of the community, a powerful and constant reminder of the life and times of their famous priest.[19] His colleague across the Feale, however, is less conspicuous.  The memorial in Brosna is inscribed as follows:


Erected By
The Priests of Kerry, and by His
Parishioners of Brosna and Knocknagoshel
To the Memory of
The Very Rev. Arthur Canon Murphy, V.F. and P.P.
of these Parishes from 1902 to 1916.
He was a Saintly Priest, an Ardent Lover of his Country,
A Public Benefactor and a Loyal Friend.
He Died Full of Merit and of Years Mid the Prayers and
Sorrow of His Flock with whom His Memory Lives.
All you that Pass Pray for His Soul, and for the Soul of
The Rev Cornelius McCarthy,
A Cultured and Zealous Curate of These Parishes
Whose Remains also Rest Here.
Requiescant in Pace.[20]
Above left, Memorial to Rev Canon Murphy in Brosna churchyard. Photo by Noel Nash, CDH.  In the centre, Rev Canon Murphy, courtesy Arthur Murphy, Ballyvirrane House.  The imposing statue to Rev William Casey (right) in Abbeyfeale, photo © CDH



[1] IE CDH 127.  Quotation from tribute in Kerry News, 1 September 1916.

[2] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/too-honest-for-the-shoneens-father-murphy-roman-catholic-curate-of-castleisland1/

[3] Arthur, who married Gwenola Ruaud of France in the Basilica of Neuvy, Saint Sepulchre, France in 1999, is son of the late Arthur William Murphy, Ballyvirrane House, Milltown, Co Kerry (RIP 21 March 2009) and Ann Murphy (née Griffin) RIP 17 December 2009.  Arthur’s grandfather was Arthur William Murphy Esq of Ballyvirrane, Milltown who married Miss Nora Tuohill-Murphy, Mein House, Knocknagoshel on 12 February 1918.  ‘The bridegroom is the nephew of the late Arthur Canon Murphy, the venerated and saintly parish priest of Brosna and Knocknagoshel, while the bride is a niece of his Lordship, Right Rev John Twohill-Murphy [sic] CSSp LLD Bishop of Port Louis, and grand-niece of Very Rev James Twohill [sic] PP, who built the church at Knocknagoshel.’ 

Wedding report Kerry News, 15 February 1918.  Nora was the second daughter of Patrick B Murphy Esq (brother of Bishop Tuohill Murphy) and Mrs Murphy, Mein, Knocknagoshel.  She was given away by her brother, Batt P Murphy Esq while her sister, Miss Ellie Patricia Murphy, LLA, MA, King’s College London, was bridesmaid.  Her mother, Mrs Patrick B Murphy, died at Ballyvirrane House in May 1932.  Nora Murphy died at Ballyvirrane House on 16 March 1974. 

Mein native Very Rev John Tuohill Murphy DD, President of Prior Park College, Bath in 1906, delivered a sermon at the new Knocknagoshel Catholic Church in July of that year.  Rt Rev John Baptist Tuohill-Murphy, Spiritan Order, Bishop of Port Louis, Mauritius, died on 16 April 1926.

[4] Canon Murphy’s nephew and namesake, Rev Arthur William Murphy, youngest son of Cornelius Murphy, ministered in America.  He was born in Milltown and educated at the Jesuit College, Mungret.  He was ordained at Carlow College in 1925 and went to the USA at age 25 where he spent two years at St Stephen’s Church, Washington.  He was for fourteen years assistant pastor of St Andrew’s Catholic Church and an extern chaplain of John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore before being transferred to St Joseph’s Church, Taneytown, Maryland in 1940.   He is buried in Kilcolman Abbey, his tomb inscribed: In Loving Memory of/Father Arthur W Murphy/Who died on the 19th June 1959/Pastor in the Archdiocese of Baltimore/Maryland USA, and Youngest son of the late/Cornelius and Rose Murphy/of Milltown/RIP.  His brother, Rev James Murphy, ministered in the Baltimore Diocese.  Their siblings were J C Murphy, NT, Mrs Catherine Ryan, Elizabeth Murphy and Margaret Murphy.  Their father, Cornelius Murphy, of Church Street, Milltown, brother of Arthur William Murphy, died on 15 July 1933.  Another brother, John Murphy, Ballyvirrane, Milltown, died on 14 March 1916.

[5] See Kerry Sentinel, 21 January 1879.

[6] Gerald McElligott JP/John Stack PLG/R Stack TC/John Troy TC/Patrick Woulfe TC/A Scollard TC/Michael Kirby TC/J O’Sullivan TC/R Browne TC/C Hanlon TC/D J Larkin TC/Dr Clancy Coroner/John Murphy TC/John J Nolan TC/J McGuire TClk/J J McElligott Sol/John Horgan/P J Houlihan/Patrick Kirby/J D Keane/Dr J C Dillon/John Moran Sol/William McMahon/D Leonard/J P Enright/Maurice Murphy/James Bunyan/M J Flavin/William Potter etc

[7] A birth record has not been located.  This information is based on the birth record of his siblings Catherine and Philip (see note 8 below).  James D Foley, CE, Leeson Park, Dublin, who died in 1931, former secretary of the Killorglin branch of the National League, brother of Thomas Foley of Anglont House, Killorglin, was a kinsman of Rev Canon Arthur William Murphy.

‘The deceased clergyman was a native of Milltown’ (Liberator Tralee, 22 June 1916).  In a discourse about the history of St Brendan’s Seminary in the Kerry Champion, 12 June 1937, it is recorded that on the opening of the new foundation in New Street in 1860, the first name on the college register of that year was ‘Arthur Murphy of Killorglin, the late Canon Murphy of Brosna.’

[8] Irish Genealogy records the baptism of Catherine Murphy, Ballyvirrane on 8 November 1835; her parents are named as John Murphy and Johanna Fouloue (Foley).  Records of children born to parents John Murphy and Bridget Foley are Mary Murphy, Ballyvolane 4 February 1830, Philip Murphy 19 June 1840, Arthur Gerald Murphy, Ballyvirrane 26 June 1842, Ulysses Francis Murphy 23 February 1844, James Joseph Murphy, Ballyvirrane 12 June 1845.

[9] Funeral report, Kerry News, 20 June 1917.  Among the chief mourners were Philip’s son J P Murphy, and daughters Mary Anne Murphy, Elizabeth Murphy, and Mrs Margaret Ryder.  Philip Murphy married Gobinet (Abigail/Deborah) Kelliher of Callinafercy at Milltown on 6 February 1869.  The Census of 1901 names sons John age 29, Philip age 24 and Arthur age 16; Philip Murphy is a 60-year-old widower.  The Census 1911 records that 12 children were born to Philip and his wife, six living.

[10] Catherine Murphy (1835-1880) married Jeremiah Murphy (1838-1909) in Milltown on 28 July 1858.  The names of parents on both sides were not recorded.  Witnesses were Arthur Murphy and John Murphy.  Special thanks to Martine Brennan for genealogical research.

[11] Cornelius Murphy was present at her death. 

[12] Kerry People, 4 December 1909, ‘Death of Mr Jerh Murphy of Ballyvorane (sic) House, Milltown.’ Arthur William Murphy RDC was present at the death of his father. 

[13] Chief mourners at his funeral: Philip Murphy (his brother) John Murphy, Killorglin; Cornelius Murphy, Milltown, Arthur Murphy, Milltown; John Murphy Milltown; Arthur O’Shea Milltown; Jeremiah Murphy Milltown, nephews; Miss Mary Murphy Killorglin; Miss Lizzie Murphy Milltown, nieces; Arthur Murphy, Thomas Cronin (grandnephews), Miss Lizzie Murphy, grandniece; and cousins: T Foley JP MCC Anglout Killorglin, J M Reidy, Killarney, Eugene Sullivan JP CUDC Killarney.

[14] Rev M O’Flaherty, Brosna, was vice-chair, Mr M J Murphy and Mr A C Guiney, Brosna, honorary secretaries, Rev E Daly CC, Philip O’Connor, RDC Brosna, and James O’Connor, Brosna, were treasurers. 

[15] Kerry Reporter, 8 October 1927.  Further reference to ‘Specs’ here http://www.odonohoearchive.com/specs-on-a-close-look-at-the-kerryman-calendar-of-1934/

[16] Liberator Tralee, 21 January 1928. 

[17] Liberator Tralee, 21 January 1928.  Donovan’s letter in full: ‘There are many Kerrymen at home and abroad who would like to know when the monument to the memory of the great patriot-priest, the late Canon Arthur Murphy, is to be erected.  All Kerry and the Kerry-Overseas are very much disappointed at the delay in erecting this well-earned monument to a beloved Soggarth. To the older generation, there is no need to recite the praises of ‘Father Arthur’ as he was lovingly called during the Land War of the eighteen-eighties.  But the younger generation ought to be told of the services of this great Friend-of-the-People, more especially during his curacy in the Castleisland parishes.  Castleisland was a famous centre in those days when the land of Ireland was won for the tillers of the soil.  It was men like Father Arthur who gave an impetus to the Movement and carried it on to victory.  In a word his was the Will that created a resolute opposition to landlordism and that breathed a new soul into nationalism in East Kerry.  Are the people of Kerry to allow the ashes of such a stirling patriot to lie in an unhonoured grave?  Are the bones of a Prophet of Righteousness, who helped to bring our people out of bondage, to lie unhoused and unentombed?  To let the village goats graze over his unprotected grave?  A very large sum of money was collected here in Kerry and in America for the purpose of erecting a suitable memorial to his memory.  This money has been earning interest for years.  Your readers would like to know the intention of the Trustees.  There are many of us still alive who listened to Father Arthur’s fiery speeches at the Land League meetings of long ago.  Who put hope and enthusiasm into the hearts of the people of Kerry and who put terror into the hearts of the landlords?  Father Arthur, the well-beloved, fearless knight!  We remember the athletic figure, the noble presence, the handsome features, we remember the loving smile and the warm heart for the poor and the oppressed; and, above all, we remember the flaming words of defiance and reprobation flung at the victors, and the words of hope and encouragement to the man on the land fighting for his homestead.  Are we going to let such a Deliverer – such a pure-souled patriot-priest, a Minister of Christ and a minister of the people – are we going to let him lie in an unnamed, unhonoured grave?  Surely not.’

[18] Kerry News, 17 July 1929.

[19] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/the-peoples-priest-rev-william-casey-of-abbeyfeale/

[20] Rev Cornelius McCarthy, CC, Brosna died on 21 January 1910.  ‘At a meeting of the Tralee Catholic Literary Society held on Sunday 23rd inst, Mr Maurice McCarthy in the chair, the following resolution was passed: Proposed by Mr Maurice Kelliher, and seconded by Mr Patrick Rosney: That, having learned with deep regret of the death of Father Cornelius McCarthy, Brosna, uncle of one of our most respected members, Mr J J McCarthy, we tender to Mr McCarthy and relatives our sincere condolence in their bereavement’ (Kerry Evening Star, 24 January 1910).