Text of the Introductory Address delivered by

Professor Philip O’Kane

on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa on

Mr John J. Murphy

11 May, 2001


John James Murphy was born at Loughmark, near Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in the early years of the last century and attended the local school in Curickeens. As an active young man, he fished off Bray Head and the Blasket Islands and took part in local sporting events. He was ambitious, had a strong sense of adventure, and in the 1930s he emigrated to London.

He worked with various construction companies before taking on sub-contract work himself. With the onset of war in 1939, there was an urgent need for the construction of airport runways for the RAF and re-construction activities were an important part of the war effort. Bomb damage had to be cleared up quickly with minimum delay. Amongst the airports he constructed were Dunmore and Weathersfield in Essex and Sudbury in Suffolk.

Despite small resources initially, he succeeded against formidable competition and became a successful contractor in his own right. In the early days of trading he oversaw multiple contracts himself whilst tendering for new work and developing his fledgling company.

He has steered a path through the major reorganizations and changes that are the norm within the construction industry and always insisted on the need for high quality civil engineering in the period of regeneration and reconstruction in the post-war decades of the 1950s and 60s. The company has diversified to include all aspects of construction. Key landmark projects that have helped to formulate the culture and style of the company include the following:

1940s - airfield construction and repairs to essential services.
1950s - reconstruction of infrastructure, particularly cabling and electrification.
1960s - roads, water services and Post Office cable installation.
1970s - introduction of natural gas in both Ireland and Britain.
1980s - major commercial developments, e.g. City of London, Broadgate Development, and railways, such as the Stansted Airport Rail Link.
1990s - London Water Ring Main and Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

The company is now a broadly based building and civil engineering group with over 2,500 employees. Company operations include civil engineering, tunneling, pipelines and telecommunications engineering to industrial, commercial and residential building. Specialist divisions supply services such as piling; drilling, blasting and demolition; welding, testing and inspection.

Three recent awards won by the company were:

London Water Ring Main, High Commendation by British Construction Industry Awards in 1994; The Thames Tower, Regional Award by Royal Institute of British Architects, in 1995; Westminster Bridge Strengthening and Refurbishment, Historic Bridge Award by the Institution of Civil Engineers, in 1998.

His diligence and quiet determination have resulted in the creation of a company that is a household name. Indeed the history of the Irish in Britain from the 1930s onwards contains many references to the construction industry and in particular to a name which is synonymous with Ireland—Murphys.

The war years coincided with a period of economic depression in Ireland and resultant massive emigration. He always kept close links with the Irish community in England and engaged many of his fellow-countrymen. His ties with Ireland have remained very strong and he takes particular interest in his construction activities in Ireland. Since the early part of the 1950s graduate civil engineers from UCC have formed the technical backbone of the Murphy Group. The point is emphasized appropriately by noting that a civil engineer, who retired from the company last year, graduated from UCC in civil engineering in 1951. This special relationship has meant that graduate civil engineers from UCC have had an excellent start to their careers when they joined the Murphy organization and this was especially important during the period when Ireland produced many more graduates than the home market could absorb. The company has always been committed to the development and further training of its graduate engineers. The John Murphy Postgraduate Research Fellowship in Civil Engineering was established by Mr. Murphy and Professor Eamonn Dillon in 1977. The object of the fellowship was to foster research on engineering problems, emerging in practice, which are associated with the industrial development of Ireland, and its natural resources. The John Murphy Laboratory of Civil Engineering Materials and Construction in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering was dedicated in 1996.

Mr. Murphy has not forgotten his Irish roots and by giving useful employment he has provided a career and future to thousands of people over the past half century. He was of the view, and still is, that Irish people are most adaptable and diligent workers. The company workforce is largely Irish and in particular from Munster. The 1940s, 50s and 60s were hard times for most of the rural population in Ireland and those who had no other choice but emigrate found themselves in British cities looking for employment of any sort. The personal experience of Mr. Murphy and the wider experiences of the workforce as emigrants were typical of many of the Irish Diaspora in Great Britain.

The priceless attribute that he brings to his company is his entrepreneurial leadership that engenders motivation, high standards and loyalty and is directed toward the common purpose of being one of the best in construction.

We celebrate the long career and exceptional success achieved by John James Murphy. Were he not a man of great determination, and vision, he could not have seized the opportunities to develop his company. His powerful personality, and ability to communicate with everyone around him on an individual basis, has brought him the steadfast loyalty of his friends and thousands of employees. He has always recognized the need to support those less fortunate than himself. His generous support covers medical research, specialist charities, education, and recreational and sporting activities in both Britain and Ireland.

He is also a man with a strong sense of family. His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are a source of great delight and interest to him and he is always there for them.

John James Murphy is strongly recommended for recognition for a lifetime of endeavor, and engineering excellence. As a major figure in civil engineering construction in Britain and Ireland during the past half century and benefactor to Engineering in UCC, I am delighted to propose that John Murphy should be conferred with degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, Totaque Universitas, Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus, quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Utroque Jure, tam Civiliquam Canonico, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.