One of Co. Tipperary’s most respected and well known sports and news journalists, John A. Murphy, who passed away last week will be dearly missed by all who were privileged to know him.
The 71 year-old native of Cashel, who lived at 26 Western Bay, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, was a noted GAA reporter and columnist as well as a legendary news reporter and one of Irish journalism’s great characters.
The retired Irish Examiner journalist passed away on Ash Wednesday, February 13 following a short illness and the huge crowd of mourners at his funeral in his adopted home town of Dungarvan included many colleagues and friends from the media, politics and sport from all over the country.
Johnny Murphy, as he was popularly known, was born in Boherclough Street in Cashel.
Even though the family moved to his mother’s hometown of Dungarvan during his teens, following the death of his father, Jackie, Johnny never forgot his hometown or county. He was a staunch Tipperary man and avidly supported the Premier County’s GAA teams throughout his life.
His career in journalism began with the Dungarvan Observer and in 1969 he joined The Cork Examiner (now the Irish Examiner) as a news reporter for West Waterford and East Cork.
During his long career, he also wrote and reported extensively for the Examiner’s sister papers the Waterford News & Star and Evening Echo and was a regular contributor to radio programmes, especially on Waterford Local Radio (WLR).
Major news stories he covered ranged from the kidnapping of Lord and Lady Donoughmore in Clonmel in the 1970s and the arrest of the Claudia gun running ship off the Waterford coast to the Dungarvan Aids scare in the early 1990s.
His former Irish Examiner colleague and great friend Ray Ryan described Johnny in his grave side oration at his funeral as an “editor’s dream” because of his versatility.
“He could cover a district court in the morning, a local authority meeting in the afternoon, write a lively column that night cover
juvenile games at the week end and look after anything else that happened in between,” Mr Ryan recalled.
He said little of importance happened in Johnny’s news gathering region of West Waterford and East Cork without he knowing it.
“He was regarded as an institution and his columns were widely read. To local people he was never Mr. Murphy, he was always Johnny or John A.
“Indeed Johnny gave as much attention to recording the life and times of close communities as he did to reporting national and sometimes
international stories that carried his name.
“As a sports writer he was up there with the best, a fact recognised by the Gaelic Writers Association, who presented him with a Life Achievement Award. He loved hurling and wrote about it with knowledge and passion and had strong opinions about players and teams past and present that played the game.”
Johnny retired from the Irish Examiner in 2006 but continued reporting and writing about GAA for that and other publications.
He recently acted as editorial assistant for the autobiography of his life long friend Séan Ó Duibhir called “My Life and Times in Cashel”.
The book, which was launched last November, features a chapter dedicated to Johnny, who was known in his young days in Cashel as “The Merryman”.
Indeed, Johnny continued working up until the end. His last column was published in last Tuesday’s edition of the Waterford News & Star, the day before he passed away.
Outside of journalism, Johnny was deeply involved in the administrative side of the GAA and served as Chairman of Waterford GAA County Board. He also served a term as a Fianna Fail councillor on Dungarvan Urban District Council. Ray Ryan, however, recalled in his tribute that Johnny always put party political allegiances to the side in his work as a journalist and reported with fairness and balance in his local authority reports, something that was underlined some years ago when Waterford Co. Council and Dungarvan UDC jointly accorded him a civic reception.
The civic reception was a testament to the great esteem Johnny was held in his adopted county of Waterford. In recent years, he was also presented with a Service to the Community Award in West Waterford and was accorded a surprise “This is Your Life” celebration in Dungarvan.
Johnny Murphy is survived by his beloved wife Eileen, daughters Jackie, Sharon, Deirdre, Claire, sons-in-law Martin Kiersey, Paul Duggan, Larry Murphy, JP Fitzpatrick, grandchildren, sisters Pat (New York), Deirdre (Cork), brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces, relatives and friends.
His remains were removed from Kiely’s Funeral Home in Dungarvan last Friday evening to St Mary’s Parish Church, Dungarvan and he was laid to rest last Saturday morning following Requiem Mass at that church, which was packed to capacity with mourners.
The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Rev. Fr William Ryan, PP of St Mary’s Church in Dungarvan and concelebrated by the V. Rev Fr Brendan Crowley PP, V. Rev. Michael Enright PE (Pastoral Emeritus), V. Rev. C Kelleher OSA, Rev. Fr J. Harris CC, Rev Fr. P Moran OSA, Rev. Fr. M Cooney OSA and V. Rev. Fr S Lucey PE.
At the start of the ceremony, grandson Sean brought a family photo to the altar representing Johnny’s love for his family; his son-in-law, Larry Murphy presented a hurley and sliotar representing his passion for sport, his skills as a player and his lifelong passion for the GAA. The hurley was signed by the 2010 Tipperary All-Ireland winning team. A notebook and pen was presented by his son-in-law Martin Kiersey representing his career as a journalist. A copy of the Irish Examiner was presented by Jim O’Sullivan of the Irish Examiner representing his career as a journalist for that newspaper and his laptop was presented by his son-in-law James Fitzpatrick.
The Red Book used at the surprise “This Is Your Life” celebration to mark his 70th birthday in ‘August 2011 was presented by Paul Duggan his son-in-law. Séan Ó Duibhir ‘s book “My Life and Times in Cashel” was presented by the author.
Also during the ceremony, Johnny’s daughters Sharon and Deirdre sang Amazing Grace and Sharon sang Dungarvan My Home Town and Finbar Furey’s “The Old Man”.
In a moving and humorous tribute at the end of the Funeral Mass, Johnny’s daughter Jackie recalled that one of her dad’s great sayings was “you are my personal friend” and the church was today full with his own personal friends from the four corners of Ireland.
She spoke of how her dad helped many journalists starting off in their careers to fulfil their talents and make the best of themselves.
Jackie also stressed that her dad never forgot his Tipperary roots and he was never more proud when last October Dungarvan won the county final for the first time in many years.
She also recalled how Sundays were the busiest day in her dad’s working week and shared with the congregation a funny story from those hectic days when he was writing up copy after returning from matches.
Her mother, who usually called in her dad’s reports to The Examiner was away one particular Sunday and Johnny had to call in the copy himself but the copy taker he got was German.
“He called out the story...”Tipp were on the way to winning” and for a proud Tipp man this was a bonus and he used the words “by now Tipp pressed home the advantage” when he suddenly realised there was no sound at the other end of the phone. The German took “By now” to mean just that,” Jackie recalled to laughter from the congregation.
It was of many fondly remembered anecdotes shared at the funeral about Johnny.
On behalf of the family, Jackie thanked the oncology team at Waterford Regional Hospital and her father’s great friend Dr Tom Higgins, neighbours, friends and relations and who had phoned and called to expressed their condolences.
As the coffin was carried shoulder high from the church, it was draped in the Tipperary and Waterford colours.
In his grave side tribute to his friend, Ray Ryan said the huge turnout at the funeral showed Johnny had a special place in the hearts of the people he met.
He described his friend as a “wonderful character”, “ a larger than life person” who made people laugh and was an “absolute treasure of a man”.
Ray also recalled that Johnny was also a true friend of people who were sick or going through difficult times and it was said that a phone call from him often lifted their sagging spirits. And he remembered how Johnny often mentioned over the years how lucky he was to have such a wonderful
wife and family.
Mr Ryan said with his passing a “bright light went out in Irish journalism, in the GAA, across communities in Waterford and East Cork but above all in his family”.