Friday, 28 January 2011

Jack Murphy TD and Archbishop McQuaid

Many years ago I was asked to write an article about Jack Murphy, the TD for the Unemployed Protest Committee. Not knowing very much about the man other than that he had been elected to Dail Eireann in 1957, but had resigned a year later taken his family to Canada, I asked around among people who were of the same political family as Mr Murphy (republican socialist), but since they belonged to a later generation and knew as little as I did, I drew a blank.

Until, that is, I spoke to a man named Sean Doyle who had, as it transpired, worked for Jack Murphy during his time in Dail Eireann. Sean Doyle was only a young lad at the time but he recalled Jack Murphy with affection and admiration, and he told me that the man could not leave his house in the morning without some poor woman asking him for the price of a loaf or a bottle of milk. And Jack Murphy never refused.

If memory serves me right the weekly wage of a TD at the time was fifteen pounds (those were the days of noblesse oblige) and that wage would only be pocket money to most TDs. But when you were trying to support a family and a multitude of truly deserving neighbours in Ballyfermot, it didn’t go far.

Years later—by one of those quirks that fate sometimes throws up—I found myself working alongside the man himself. He had returned from Canada and was working as a self-employed carpenter in Cadbury’s, and I can say without any hint of exaggeration that Jack Murphy was one of the most highly principled men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. He was quiet and well-read, an autodidact with more learning, I suspect, than most of the TDs who occupied the Dail during his time there.

He told me that his brother had at that time won a house in a Canadian lottery and had prevailed upon him to take his family there. Being the man he was he never complained about the financial pressure he was being put under by his unfortunate neighbours, and I would never have learned of that had it not been for my conversation with Sean Doyle. He did, however, tell me about his meeting with the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

I recalled those conversations when I heard the name of Jack Murphy being mentioned on the Live Line of January 26th. The impression given on that radio programme, it seemed to me, was that John Charles had summoned Jack to Archbishop’s House in Drumcondra to persuade Jack to give up his seat in the Dail. Whether that was mentioned openly or not, that was the impression created in my mind. I can unequivocally say that not even the Pope himself could have expected obedient attendance had he summoned Jack to a meeting in the Vatican. Jack Murphy told me the story of what actually happened.

A meeting had been arranged between a delegation from the Unemployed Protest Committee and the Archbishop (at whose instigation I do not recall), and a delegation had been selected with John Charle. The delegation was to consist of Pronsias MacAonghusa, Seamus Sorohan, a Dublin barrister, and Jack himself. The other two failed to show up and Jack Murphy alone ended up meeting with the Archbishop. He told me that the meeting had been cordial and at no time during the course of it had John Charles attempted to exert pressure on him.

I suspect that, though Jack did not say it, that it was the non-attendance of the other two that may have tipped the balance in favour of his going to Canada.

During the course of the Liveline programme, Anthony Cronin, the writer, phoned in to say that it was his impression that Jack Murphy had been “confused” at the time. The following day a contributor phoned up to give it as his opinion that, having met him in the Dail, he thought that Jack Murphy was “swamped” and “out of his depth”. I can assure Jack’s family that their father would never been either of those things. He was a cool, lucid thinker, modest but certain in his beliefs.

I have long suspected that Joe Duffy has a pronounced animus against the Catholic Church. During the course of the programme he mentioned John Cooney’s biography of the Archbishop. I have read it, and the book is filled with supposition and rumour. I suspected that even now Joe Duffy and John Cooney collaborating on the theory that John Charles McQuaid was responsible for bringing bubonic plague to Ireland.

Peadar Kelly

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