Clan Icon: Fr. John Murphy, the 1798 Irish Martyr

Last Update 2012-04-21 08:23:55 | Posted On 2012-03-08 04:54:49 | Read 3548 times | 1 Comments

We Murphy’s like a good sing along and an old Irish ballad that strongly references our great name is that of “Boolavogue” – a song commemorating one of the most heroic Murphy’s in our history; Fr. John Murphy, one of the leaders of the United Irishmen.

Born near the Co. Wexford village of Ferns in 1753, he travelled to Spain to study for the priesthood and was ordained in 1779. Having made the journey back to Ireland, Fr. Murphy became the parish priest of the small village of Boolavogue in Co. Wexford in 1785.

Originally, he was against the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and even tried to persuade local people in the area to lay down their arms and to align themselves to British rule. However, having witnessed the brutal actions of the British Crown forces against the local population, Fr. Murphy showed tremendous courage and leadership by gathering “the Pikemen” of the area and commanding them in several battles as part of the rebellion.

Notable victories followed at Oulart Hill and at Enniscorthy though defeats at Arklow and New Ross weakened his troops and following the United Irishmen’s defeat at Vinegar Hill, Fr. Murphy went on the run before being captured in Tullow, Co. Carlow. His capture ultimately culminated in his death, the heroic Irish priest being hanged, decapitated, his corpse burnt and his head impaled on a spike in public view to warn all locals against partaking in the rebellion.

For a religious man, Fr. Murphy was bereft of any military skills or background but his leadership qualities and tactical approach to battle was to prove invaluable for the 1798 Rebellion.

During the battle at Oulart, he instructed his men to put their hats on their pikes (weapons at that time) and hoist them into the air to appear as if they were moving along the cover of the battleline – when the Crown forces opened fire, Fr. Murphy’s men attacked before the ammunition could be reloaded. Other military strategies included causing a cattle stampede into British held towns and villages, causing confusion for the opposing forces and giving the rebels ample opportunity to attack without warning.

A century after his death in 1898, the ballad “Boolavogue” was written to pay homage to the heroism of this most famous of Murphys.


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