Volunteer (Patrick) Joseph Murphy

Volunteer (Patrick) Joseph Murphy (aged 24) of Pouladuff Road, Cork city (Cork Gaol)

Date of incident: 25 Oct. 1920 (died on hunger strike)

Sources: II, 26, 28 Oct. 1920; FJ, 26, 27, 29 Oct. 1920; CE, 26, 28 Oct., 13 Nov. 1920; CC, 28 Oct. 1920; British Official Reports, 1920 (Military Archives, A/0530); Florence O’Donoghue Papers (NLI MS 31,444 [5]); John Jones’s WS 759, 67-68 (BMH); Michael V. O’Donoghue’s WS 1741, Part 1, 75 (BMH); IRA Roll of Honour, Cork No. 1 Brigade (Cork Museum, Fitzgerald Park, Cork); Rebel Cork’s FS, 25; Last Post (1976), 73; Costello (1995), 201, 205; UCC IRA Memorial; www.irishwarmemorials.iehttp://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015); https://rebelcitywriters.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/rebel-lives-volunteer-joe-murphy-toghers-forgotten-hunger-striker/ (accessed on 5 March 2016).  


Note: The British authorities arrested Joseph Murphy on 15 July 1920 on the charge of being in possession of a revolver. He was one of the eleven Volunteers who began a hunger strike in Cork Gaol on 11 August. He died after Michael Fitzgerald on 25 October following a very long fast of seventy-six days—before the hunger strike came to an end on 12 November. Murphy’s death occurred only a few hours after that of Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney in Brixton Prison in England and thus was overshadowed. Throughout his hunger strike Murphy took neither food nor drink, but only (and late) some medicine to relieve his pain. See CE, 28 Oct. 1920.

‘His anguished parents, who had been in constant attendance upon him throughout his prolonged agony, were present at his death-bed. The Prayers for the Dying and the Rosary were recited by Father Fitzgerald, chaplain to the prison, and while the Litany of the Sacred Heart, to which the intrepid prisoner had had a great devotion, was being recited by Father Fitzgerald, another soul left its earthly tenement to join the spirits of those who died that their country might be free. In addition to his father and mother and Father Fitzgerald, there were also present Father Duggan, assistant chaplain, the prisoner’s sisters and other relatives, and four nuns of the Bon Secour Order, and some relatives of the other prisoners.’ Murphy was said in this report to have been only 17 years old, and the story appeared under the headline ‘Boy Prisoner Dead’. See II, 26 Oct. 1920.

A subsequent military court of inquiry placed Murphy’s age at 24, not 17, and noted that he was an unmarried resident of Pouladuff Road in Cork city. This court ‘returned a verdict that the cause of death was prolonged abstention from all forms of nourishment; that suitable food was always available [in his cell and his hospital room], but that he . . . persistently refused to take food; that [the] said deceased was of sound mind, and deliberately caused his own existence to end and did feloniously kill himself.’ See CE, 28 Oct. 1920.

Murphy was given an extraordinary funeral on 27 October: ‘The remains of Joseph Murphy were taken from St Finbarr’s Church at 3 o’c[lock] and placed in the hearse in the presence of a dense mass of spectators. Several Volunteers carried wreaths, one of which had attached to it an American flag. Just before the start an announcement was made in the street, as on a recent occasion, by a military officer using a megaphone, that not more than a hundred people would be allowed to follow the coffin. A number of priests walked at the head of the procession, and immediately behind the hearse came the father Mr Timothy Murphy and his little son. There followed a number of young men [Volunteers], and after them a numerous body of girls [members of Cumann na mBan] wearing mourning bands, and many carrying wreaths. A long line of carriages contained relatives and friends. The route, which lay through some of the principal streets of the city, was for the greater part lined by crowds of people. The [British] military display consisted of six lorries containing armed men, some holding revolvers and others rifles, and also two armoured cars. The proceedings at the cemetery were well regulated by a body of Volunteers. . . .  When the grave was being closed, poor young Murphy’s mother broke down completely and wept aloud. The widow of the late Lord Mayor MacCurtain was with some of the members of the Murphy family, who did their best to soothe Mrs Murphy.’ Her son was interred in what was called ‘the MacCurtain Circle’ in St Finbarr’s Cemetery. See II, 28 Oct. 1920. Among the chief mourners were his father Timothy Murphy, his mother, his brother Daniel, his sisters May, Anne, and Nora, and his uncles Richard Murphy and Michael O’Brien. See CE, 28 Oct. 1920.       

The British military sought to prevent a Volunteer military display at the graveside, but without success. As former Volunteer Frank Hynes remembered: ‘There was an armoured car and some lorries with soldiers at the funeral. We had secret arrangements made for a firing party [at the Republican Plot in St Finbarr’s Cemetery]. The officer in the armoured car stood at the cemetery gate to see that no shots were fired, but [to] give him his due, he had his cap in his hand during the burial service. We said the Rosary and other prayers, delayed as long as we could until the armoured car was gone. Some of the huge crowd departed, thinking all was over, but a great many waited to see if we would have the courage to fire the volley. The [IRA] commandant came to me and said he thought I should put it off for another time. I said, “We’ll wait another bit.” Then the officer got into the car, and at a signal our firing party appeared from nowhere. The car had only started from the gate when the crowd were aroused by hearing the word of command, “Firing party—attention.” Everybody looked up. I marched the men round the grave and fired the three volleys and everyone in the crowd clapped. I had a queer feeling listening to the people clapping in the graveyard. After this incident every young man in the area joined our company.’ See Frank Hynes’s WS 446, 68-69 (BMH).

Born in Boston in March 1895, Murphy came to Ireland as a child. After attending Greenmount and Togher National Schools in Cork city, he gained employment as a Cork County Council official. A zealous follower of both Gaelic football and hurling, he was a well-known bowls player—a sport with a wide following in County Cork. A lover of literature, he especially favoured the novels of Canon Sheehan. A Volunteer since 1917, he became a member of H Company of the Second Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade. He was arrested by British forces on 15 July 1920, sent to Cork Gaol, and joined the great hunger strike that began there on 11 August. See www.irishwarmemorials.iehttp://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015).

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,