‘Too Honest for the Shoneens’: Father Murphy, Roman Catholic Curate of Castleisland[1]

He left in each parish warm-hearted friends and a memory
as green and as lasting as the shamrock of St Patrick[2]


On Sunday 11 September 1881, a meeting took place in the village of Currow under the auspices of the Castleisland Land League attended by about 7,000 people.  Among the speakers was Castleisland publican, Timothy O’Connor-Brosnan, a ‘released suspect,’ and John Kelly.


Kelly, organiser for the county, described the sufferings in the area from ‘the crowbar brigade and the sheriff.’[3]


Mr Kelly, in the course of a pithy and witty speech, was interrupted by the advent to the meeting of Father Arthur Murphy of Ardfert which was the signal for an outburst of cheering vehemently loud and very long continued.[4]


Father Arthur Murphy, RC curate of Ardfert, was well known and loved in Castleisland.  He had been curate there until a few months earlier and, during a fund raising mission abroad, had raised £2,000 towards the new parish church.


He had been removed suddenly from the parish, very soon after his appointment to the presidency of the Castleisland branch of the Land League.  It was a dangerous role: his election followed the arrest and incarceration of its former president, Mr Patrick D Kenny of Ballymacadam.[5]


Father Murphy’s removal came as a shock to the people of Castleisland.  Business was suspended in the town, and shops shut as crowds gathered in the streets to unite in sorrow at the departure of ‘a public benefactor.’  Six thousand congregated outside the Land League rooms and it was asked, ‘Who sent away Father Murphy … He was too honest for the shoneens.’[6]


Now, five months on, Father Murphy was back in Currow among his people.  The scene there was described in detail: police and military in great force – in cars and on foot – and in a mown meadow nearby stood armed constables of the Royal Irish.  Dicksgrove Avenue, which led to the residence of landlord, Mr Meredith JP, was ‘variegated with red coats.’


Along the public road which led through the village ‘some patriotic road contractors provided about a thousand cubic yards of broken stones in heaps by the highway no doubt as a set off against the liberal supply of Buckshot doled to the Queen’s forces.’  There was great rejoicing when the Castleisland representatives arrived:


Large crowds came early on the scene but the nucleus of the meeting was the contingent from Castleisland with bands playing and banners and portraits upraised and waving branches, ringing cheers and general plucky air.  With this contingent came the liberated suspects, P D Kenny, T O’C Brosnan and J Bourke, and they were loudly cheered.[7]


Father Arthur Murphy took the stand and to loud cheers addressed the crowd.  He informed them that he was there to unite with the people in welcoming the ‘suspects’ who had been incarcerated ‘for being peaceful citizens and advocates of land reform’:


He was glad to see that the seed he helped to sow was now bearing fruit in the shape of a Land Act, and when they would be threshing it they would leave very few grains to the landlord (laughter and cheers).  But a great deal more remains to be done before the farmer owns the land he tills.


The farmer, he said, should help the labourer by every means:


They were before the walls of a citadel, and they had got fifteen years to storm it; but he thought fifteen months would be enough.  In that time they ought to be able to drive the landlords off the scene, and he knew well Irishmen would never stop until they drove the landlords and the English out of Ireland (cheers).


A police report of the land league meeting attributed further remarks to Fr Murphy:


We have cooked the small land-grabber.  He is done brown (boos for Browne).[8]


The Horan Eviction


The remark, if indeed such remark was made, alluded to a recent case of eviction in the district.  Edmund Browne had purchased an evicted farm in Castleisland.  The farm, at Adraval, Scartaglen, on the estate of Sir Maurice J O’Connell, DL, had been occupied by Browne’s neighbour, Horan, who had been evicted by the sheriff on 28 December 1879 for non-payment of rent:


Poor Horan was only short a few pounds of the rent due and it would not be accepted by the landlord.  So the unfortunate man had to go to America leaving his aged parents, a wife and seven children to the mercy of a heartless landlord.[9]


It transpired that after the eviction, Mrs Honora Horan, her in-laws and her children had taken refuge in an outhouse where they had existed for some months until they were reinstated at night by a band of disguised men.  In September, Mrs Horan was once again forcibly removed from her home, this time by Edmund Browne, senior and junior:


One of the children, the boy John Horan, who was lying in bed at the time, was greatly frightened by the exercise of force which was deemed necessary and he became ill.  He was attended by Dr Harold but grew worse and on the 10 December he died.[10]


Scared to Death


An inquest into the death of John Horan gave his mother the opportunity to describe the scene that occurred:


I am mother of the deceased child, John Horan, his age was about seven years.  He died on the 10th of this month, he was sick about six weeks, that is since the morning Browne and his son threw me out of my house.  There was nothing ailed him before that.


Mrs Horan described how Edmund Browne senior asked her to go out quietly but she refused, and said she was under oath not to leave except by force:


I ran up in the room to where the children were sleeping to wake and dress them.  Browne and his son ran up after me.  I caught the bed post and asked the Brownes for God sake to let me wake my children and dress them but they would not.  The children then woke up and began to cry.  I was dragged down to the kitchen and pulled out in the yard.  Browne’s son then knocked me down in the yard and held me there.  I was then so weak that I could not speak and I do not know what they did to my poor children and I blame him and nobody else for my poor child’s death.


Dr Harold described how he attended the sick child on 20 October 1880 who he found to be suffering from ‘violent palpitation of the heart … those symptoms may be caused by fright.’[11]


Dr Hugh Brosnan, who also attended the child, stated:


I came to the conclusion that the child got such a shock that he was not able to digest his food; all what I saw of the child would have been produced by a shock; in this case it was my opinion that there was a shock; he heard the mother say that the child was a healthy child till he was frightened.[12]


The inquest found the Brownes guilty of manslaughter and they were committed to the local county jail – where they spent 21 days – for trial.[13]


Shortly before the inquest, Edmund Browne jun had attended the offices of the Castleisland Land League.  A report of the meeting reveals that Fr Murphy had been actively involved in the league before his appointment to the presidency in March 1881.  Indeed, Fr Murphy’s Land League membership card shows he was admitted a member in November 1880.[14]


Browne explained to the league that his father had sought the farm at Adraval for a man named Keane but that he had decided to take it himself, paying the landlord, via his bailiff (and brother-in-law) Daniel Moynihan, a year’s rent of £15 and the cost of a lease.


Father Murphy questioned Browne about the affair and stated, ‘I am aware that there can be very little expected from Sir Maurice O’Connell.  I wrote to him in the beginning of this business and he had not the common courtesy of replying.  The Ven Archdeacon O’Connell then wrote to Sir Maurice and he gave one fortnight’s time to see if poor Horan would send money from America.’  Fr Murphy added:


Before you today stands poor Mrs Horan, a picture of misery, her husband in America and her two children in eternity since this eviction.


Father Murphy then informed Browne:


Three members of this league will go up to your place.  You then will give up possession to Sir Maurice’s man, and he is then to hand back that possession to Mrs Horan, and you will get the £15 but as a matter of course an agreement will be drawn up, which you all will have to sign.[15]


Shortly afterwards, Mrs Horan and her family were peaceably reinstated in the holding.[16]


However, Browne was not paid and he took legal action against Father Murphy for the recovery of his money.  In court, Browne alleged that Father Murphy had promised to sell his gold watch valued at £22 if necessary to refund Browne.  However, despite repeated demands, the money had not been forthcoming and in the end, Father Murphy had told him ‘to go and whistle for it.’[17]


Father Arthur William Murphy


Arthur William Murphy was born at Ballyvirrane, Milltown, Co Kerry in about 1840.  He was educated at Killarney before proceeding to Maynooth where he was ordained priest on 22 June 1868.  He was subsequently appointed to the curacy of Caherdaniel where he remained for four and a half years before being transferred to Castleisland in 1873.


Following his fund raising mission in Australia and the United States, he resumed his curacy in Castleisland in 1878. His sudden removal from the parish three years later was attributed to William Edward Forster (1818-1886), Chief Secretary for Ireland, whose repression of the Land League won him the nickname Buckshot Forster:


Fr Murphy’s exertions on behalf of his oppressed fellow-countrymen soon roused the ire of the famous ‘Buckshot’ Forster who called on his bishop to curb the zeal of this young curate on their behalf.[18]


After his transfer to Ardfert, he was appointed to Listowel, and then to Prior.  On his departure from Listowel, he was presented with an illuminated address by the kind-hearted people of North Kerry ‘who were loathe to part with their warm-hearted and patriotic curate.’[19]


In 1903 he was translated to Brosna as parish priest.  His fine reputation was proved when news of his appointment caused ‘the whole population’ to go along the road for miles to greet him accompanied by the band, and lighted tar-barrels:


They took him by surprise and to his dying day, he never forgot that spontaneous welcome.


Force to be reckoned with: The momentous handshake in 1903 when Fr Murphy (right) clasped hands with Fr Casey of Abbeyfeale as the two joined forces to end the land question in the district.[20] To the left and right, Fr Arthur Murphy’s admission to the Irish National Land League

When Fr Murphy first took charge of Brosna, the depressing conditions under which he found his parishioners struggling appealed to his generous nature.   Only one small estate had been purchased, the rest was ‘rack-rented, processed, bailiffed.’


He first tackled the Collis-Sandes Estate and succeeded in bringing the Congested Districts Board to the rescue of his people, ‘the first place in Kerry where the operations were carried out’:


He got down Mr Henry Doran who went through the property and the result of the Canon’s business-like step was that in a few years all the tenants became owners, their houses were improved, new roads made.[21]


In this work he was supported by the parish priest of Abbeyfeale:


He was ably assisted by the great patriotic pastor of Abbeyfeale, Father Casey, whose hands clasp, at a memorable meeting in East Kerry, across the Feale, sealed the doom of landlordism in East Kerry and West Limerick and left in either place a happy and contented peasantry.[22]

Honouring Ireland’s Soggarth: Monument unveiled in Abbeyfeale on 29 December 1910 in memory of their parish priest, Fr William Casey (1844-1907)


Fr Murphy subsequently turned his attention to the villagers and as a monument to his industry, each householder soon had a small vegetable garden as well as three to five acres of land … ‘so well he combated the tyrannical system of landlordism that not one vestige of it now remains in the parish.’[23]


Father Murphy was elevated to the Canonry of Kerry in 1911, on which occasion:


The people of Abbeyfeale united with those of Brosna and Knocknagoshel in a great demonstration held at Brosna to appreciate the event and seize the opportunity it afforded of conveying to the pastor their congratulations and thanks for the many acts of kindness and patriotism which characterised his lifework.


Canon Murphy was described as an indefatigable worker:


It was an every day occurrence to see the old saintly priest driving his horse along the bleak mountain roads to the most distant station in Knocknagoshel and on days when warmer clothing and easier mode of conveyance would have made many a younger man shirk the duty.[24]


Rev Canon Arthur William Murphy died on 21 June 1916:


He was looked upon as a saint and truly his death was most edifying and calm.  As one of his devoted curates, Father Daly, recited the Rosary and Litany for the dying, in broken accents, the other, Father O’Flaherty, read the usual prayers and sprinkled the Holy Water, his two bon Secour nurses, his broken-hearted nephew and niece knelt at the bedside, and in the presence of a few parishioners, the great priest breathed his last.


On the day of his funeral, a simple bunch of shamrocks laid by the coffin by Mrs Harnett, wife of the parish clerk, was placed in the vault as a fitting, if small, tribute to his great love for Patrick, and for the old Green Land.[25]


[1] Shoneen, a derogatory term used by Irish nationalists to describe Irish people regarded as adhering to English culture and custom.  It may find its etymology in John Bull – ‘seoinin’ –‘Little John.’

[2] Kerry News, 30 June 1916

[3] Two recent eviction campaigns had been carried out in Firies (tenants of Lucy Thompson) and in Currow (tenants of Richard Meredith).  The evicted tenants of the latter were named as Thomas Brosnan, Patrick Herlihy, Hugh Brosnan, Humphrey Kerin, John Griffin, Maurice Connor, John Riordan, Timothy Culloty and Michael Lyne, all of Killeentierna; John Dennehy, Denis Bradley and James Murphy of Clounreeny.  Following the evictions, all except Herlihy and Brosnan were admitted as caretakers.  ‘On the furniture having been removed from Herlihy’s house, it was at once turned into a police barracks; the three men appointed to do duty in the miserable mud-wall, windowless thatched cabin, pointed out the danger to their health of being located in such a hovel, but duty must be done even at the cost of life, and the three men were stationed in the thatched hut of Herlihy, the result of which is that one of them, Sub-constable Moore, was brought into the Castleisland Fever Hospital on yesterday. This case may tend to point out to the government the misery in many homesteads in Ireland, the result of landlord oppression’ (Kerry Sentinel, 16 August 1881). 

[4] ‘Land and Labour Meeting,’ Kerry Sentinel, 13 September 1881.

[5] Kenny was imprisoned in Kilmainham with many others under the Coercion Act.

[6] Dublin Weekly Nation, 2 April 1881.  A ‘monster meeting’ of the Land league took place at which ‘fully 6,000 people gathered in front of the Land League rooms’ to express regret at the removal of Rev A Murphy, CC.  ‘Who sent away Father Murphy … He was too honest for the shoneens.’  Rev D McGillicuddy was subsequently elected president of the Castleisland League.  A resolution was passed at a meeting of the Killarney Land League ‘that we, the members of the Killarney branch of the Irish National Land League, sympathise with our brother members of the Castleisland branch of the League on the occasion of the removal of the Rev Arthur Murphy from amongst them, he having substantially and loyally taken up the office of president of the same league on the occasion of the arrest of Mr P D Kenny PLG and we furthermore sympathise with the rev gentleman as we attribute his removal to the occasion of Mr Kenny’s arrest.’

[7] ‘Land and Labour Meeting,’ Kerry Sentinel, 13 September 1881.

[8] To which he added, ‘The big land-grabber well merited it (boos for Meredith).’  Further reference IE MOD/C73 Murder at Dromulton An Incident in the Land War in Kerry (1996) by Peter O’Sullivan. 

In 1888, Sir Peter O’Brien, Attorney General, during his opening address at the Special Commission, stated that Rev Murphy’s remark about Brown alluded to Thomas Browne of Dromulton, shot dead in October 1882, for which Sylvester Poff and James Barrett were hanged (see Attorney General’s speech in Kerry Evening Post, 27 October 1888).  In this he was mistaken: ‘Sir Charles Russell wished to point out a mistake in the Attorney-General’s opening statement in reference to this man Brown, in which he referred to a speech by Father Murphy who said, “One good thing, you cooked a small land-grabber.  He is done Brown.”  The Attorney-General then stated that this Brown was shot by Poff and Barrett.  His learned friend was entirely mis-instructed.  Sir C Russell then examined Edmund Brown on this point.  Witness stated that Brown, for whose murder Poff and Barret were hanged, was never accused of land-grabbing.  The President – it amounts to this – that from your point of view the Attorney-General made a mistake’ (Flag of Ireland, 1 December 1888).  The Attorney General replied, ‘I made many mistakes, I am aware.’  Matter also reported in Cork Constitution, 29 November 1888.

[9] Kerry Sentinel, 24 December 1880.

[10] The Ayr Advertiser, 30 December 1880.  The solicitor for the Brownes contended that there was no corporal violence and as such there could be no manslaughter and the coroner informed the jury that as Browne was the legal owner of the house he was justified by law in using a reasonable amount of force to put Mrs Horan out. 

[11] Kerry Sentinel, 24 December 1880. ‘Violent palpitation of the heart may produce gastritis and both combined could have caused death.  Violent palpitation of the heart would be caused by fright and the result may be gastritis; both combined would have caused death.’

[12] Nation, 1 January 1881.

[13] The Attorney-General later declined to prosecute the charge against the Brownes. Reference Kerry Independent, 14 April 1881. 

[14] Copy of Fr Murphy’s membership card held in the O’Donohoe Collection, ref: IE MOD/A20, donation of John Roche.

[15] Kerry Sentinel, 21 December 1880.

[16] ‘On Monday last Mrs Horan was peaceably reinstated with her remaining children in the holding.  The reinstatement is however without the sanction of the landlord, Sir Maurice O’Connell’ (The Ayr Advertiser, 30 December 1880). 

[17] Edmond Browne v Rev A W Murphy, Kerry Independent, 14 April 1881 & Kerry Sentinel, 15 April 1881.  The case was dismissed, ‘Loud applause in court which could not be suppressed for several minutes.’

[18] Cork Examiner, 28 June 1916.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Kerry People, 19 September 1903.  The image caption: ‘Two Patriotic Priests Clasping Hands Across the Feale: Sunday’s great meeting at Knocknagoshel marks a new era for the National Cause in that district.  The newly-appointed patriotic pastor, Rev Arthur Murphy, who in the old days played such a prominent part in the National Cause in the Castleisland district, gave an earnest of the patriotic ardour which still actuates him by presiding at the first public meeting of the United Irish League held in his parish since his appointment.  By his side stood his old friend, Rev W Casey, the patriot pastor of Abbeyfeale who was cheered to the echo when, gripping Father Murphy’s hand, he welcomed him as a neighbour and appealed to the parishioners of Brosna to clasp hands with their neighbours across the Feale in fighting the old fight again.  ‘Let them in Brosna and Knocknagoshel,’ said Father Casey, ‘join hands with their neighbours across the Feale, and with Father Murphy at their head, and he (Father Casey) at the head of his people, they would soon have an end to the Land Question in that district – and with other districts throughout the country acting similarly – priests and people standing shoulder to shoulder, as of old – the day was not far distant when they would attain the end they were so long struggling for.’

[21] Kerry News, 30 June 1916.  See the Kerry People, 11 March 1905 for Fr Murphy’s exchanges with the CDB and the Estates Commissioners. 

[22] Ibid.  Father William Casey, born at Kilbeheny, Castlequarter, near Mitchelstown in 1844, was ordained at Carlow College on 2 July 1868.  He ministered temporarily in Abbeyfeale in 1869, returning there permanently in 1871 as curate and, from 1883, as parish priest.  He died on 29 December 1907.  His remains were interred in the interior of the parish church of St Mary, Abbeyfeale. St Mary’s Church was knocked to make way for St Mary’s Boys’ National School and a new church, Church of the Assumption, built further up the town in 1968.  When the old church was demolished, Fr Casey’s body was reinterred in St Mary’s Cemetery, Abbeyfeale where a plaque records: Of Your Charity/Pray for the Souls of Your Parish Priests/of Abbeyfeale/Whose remains were transferred from St Mary’s Church/on 16th December 1968/V Rev Daniel Lyddy 1824-1849/V Rev Thomas Carroll 1849-1856/V Rev Michael Cochlan DD 1856-1883/V Rev William Casey 1883-1907.  Further reference, A Patriot Priest (1920) by Rev D Riordan, CC and Galtee come West The story of Fr William Casey (2007) by Marian Collins.  A film, Fr Casey of Abbeyfeale / Fr Casey and The Land War by Radharc Films for Telifis Eireann was produced in 1963, directed by Fr Joe Dunn.

[23] Ibid. ‘Up to two days before his death he was causing still further negotiations to be made for the purchase of meadow land for the inhabitants who had none, a scheme now being carried into operation.  His whole thoughts were for the welfare of his people.’

[24] Kerry News, 30 June 1916.

[25] Ibid. ‘The funeral on Monday was of extremely large proportions, many journeying long distances to participate in the last tribute of respect to the great, kindly-hearted, unassuming pastor, whose remains were reverently laid to rest beside the parish church of a people placed for ever under obligation to his memory by his unselfishness and patriotism … Chief relatives, Philip Murphy, Milltown (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, Killorglin (nieces); Arthur Murphy, Thos Cronin (grandnephews); Miss Lizzie Murphy (grandniece); T Foley JP MCC Auglout, Killorglin; J M Reidy Killarney, Eugene O’Sullivan JP CUDC Killarney (cousins).  See obituaries, Cork Examiner, 28 June 1916 and Kerry News, 30 June 1916.