Pat Murphy—Tributes

Pat Murphy died on 1st April.  His family, friends and comrades gathered to give him a good send-off on Saturday, 4th April.  Pat had been ill with cancer for some  years, but did not tell anyone until it became unavoidable late in 2008.  His friends knew he had heart problems and attributed his growing weakness to that.  This was on top of an orthopaedic problem resulting from TB contracted in early childhood.  His philosophy was that he would never be crippled in his mind, though crippled in body and he followed it through, right to his lucid end.  Below are some extracts from the Funeral Service, which was arranged in consultation with Pat and held in Glasnevin Crematorium.  Manus O’Riordan did Pat proud as Master of Ceremonies

Entrance processional music:  “Return to Fingal” played on uilleann pipes by Noel Pocock

Manus O’Riordan sings “Roll Away The Stone”  (“Homage to Jim  Larkin”)

Tony Rogers speaks on behalf of Pat’s family

Mick Murray speaks of Pat’s early political activities

Tony Monks speaks on behalf of the Larkin Unemployed Centre (see below)

Malachi Lawless speaks on behalf of the Irish Political Review Group (see below)

Annette O’Riordan sings “Pulling Hard Against The Stream”

Tom Crean and Jimmy Kelly sing “The Parting Glass”

Des Geraghty (flute) plays his composition “Caoineadh Mo Mhuintire” (“Lament for my People”)

Manus O’Riordan sings “The Foggy Dew” (Easter Rising)

Announcement that on May Day, Friday, May 1, Pat’s family will be holding a month’s mind Mass in his memory in Gardiner Street Church

All stand for a minute’s silence and private prayer or reflection

Committal music: Noel Pocock (pipes) plays the Jacobite air “Marbhna Luimnighe” (“Limerick’s Lamentation”)

Pat Murphy 1937-2009—An Appreciation

Pat Murphy’s  formative years were blighted by illness, which left him with permanent physical disabilities and an almost complete lack of formal education. Despite these handicaps, Pat carved out a niche for himself in Irish left wing politics and has a record of achievement as a Trade Unionist and grass roots political activist which is in many ways unparalleled.

When I asked him, shortly before he died, why he got involved in Politics, he said it was initially just sheer rage at the treatment he and others had received in Cappagh Hospital as children and later on finding that Socialism  provides a ready made intellectual context for the expression of that anger and a means to channel it. He was hugely impressed by the post-war British Labour Government and described those involved as one of two exceptional generations, the other one being the Irish generation which fought the War of Independence.

Pat went to England at the age of 22 in the late 1950s, at which time his politics were left republican, based on family history and admiration of those who fought the War of Independence, and he has speculated that if he wasn’t so physically disabled he might have been involved in the IRA’s 50s campaign. When Pat left Dublin for England his father, a Civic Guard in Dublin, advised him to “stay away from politics!”

Initially based in Oxford with relatives, he soon found that emigrant culture did not appeal to him and he moved to London, where he attended the Working Men’s College, which he described as “a little university for the workers” and took English literature classes run by an English Communist, who he said “kind of took me in hand”. He got his GCE 0 levels and a civil service job with the land registry. It was in the College in 1959 that he met Brendan Clifford and this meeting began a lifelong engagement with the politics associated with the British and Irish Communist Organisation and latterly the Irish Political Review Group. Pat said he decided to go politically with Clifford rather than his English communist teacher because“Clifford would react to your mind, which was what I needed”. He worked his way around his disability and not only became intellectually inspiring, but got himself around to meetings and up on to platforms.

The Irish Communist Group was formed in 1964 and included Liam Dalton and Noel Jenkinson. A Trotskyist section was formed by Gery Lawless and Eamon McCann. The others, including Pat, Brendan and Angela Clifford, Mick Murray and Denis Dennehy became the Irish Communist Organisation—later the British & Irish Communist Organisation. It took the Chinese side in the Sino-Soviet split and was regarded as “Stalinist”. This was because it regarded as a fundamental error the Trotskyist and Revisionist view that Stalin had destroyed Leninist democracy. The ICO maintained that there was never a Leninist democracy and that the state that Stalin ran was the one deliberately conceived of and constructed by Lenin.

Anti-revisionists and Maoists began to gravitate towards the ICO. It was decided to build a new Communist Party in Ireland, and Pat, Mick and Denis went back to Dublin with this purpose in 1966. The ICO involved itself in the Housing Action Committees in Dublin and Cork, where it formed an alliance with other Communists, left-Republicans and Socialists and found that you no longer risked being thrown into the Liffey or the Lee for being a public Communist. A lot of younger, mostly working-class, people were radicalised by these activities.

One of Pat’s favourite anecdotes from those days was when he and Mick Murray were invited to Albania in 1969, as representatives of the Irish anti-revisionists, where he fell foul of his hosts at an official function by only proposing a toast to the Irish and the Albanian Peoples and omitted to toast Enver Hoxha. This, he speculated, resulted in the Irish delegation not receiving a follow up invitation to China, which was extended to the other groups present. He had no regrets about this, because, as he said about toasting Hoxha, “I just couldn’t do it”.

By 1969 the ICO was involved in Belfast where members such as Len Callender, Tommy Dwyer, Jack Lane and others manned the barricades in West Belfast against the B-Specials and others. In the course of this activity the ICO, with the initial idea coming from Pat and developed by Brendan Clifford, came to the conclusion that the idea that there was a single nation in Ireland was a delusion which undermined other policies. Understanding that the Protestants in the North were a real and really different nationality, for whatever reason, was essential to the solving of sectarianism. Pat said he went with the two nations theory on the basis that “the Irish national revolution had never tried to engage the Ulster Protestant community and an attempt had to be made to do so”. Pat recalled the first public outing for the two nations position at a meeting in the Mansion House in Dublin, attended by Conor Cruise O’Brien, Eamon McCann and others. Pat asked O’Brien; did he agree that the Ulster Protestants had the right to integrate with the UK, bearing in mind that in Lenin’s definition of self determination, separation, federation, or integration were all legitimate options? O’Brien waffled but didn’t give a definitive answer. Pat repeated the question twice more until finally O’Brien simply said “yes”.

In Britain the ICO got involved in Trade Union politics—especially demands for Workers’ Control. This brought about the undermining of Leninism a bit in the group and along the way the undermining of Pat’s work of building a CP. In 1974 Pat split with the BICO and this split lasted for a good few years while Pat involved himself more and more in Trade Union and related matters. Denis and Mick also left the BICO at this time.

From the early 70s Pat was an Irish Transport and General Worker’s Union shop steward in a Dublin factory producing telecommunications equipment, mainly for the car industry. In the early 1980’s, following a bitter 14 week unofficial strike , the membership overwhelmingly voted to seek a transfer to another Union. However there was a hurdle to be overcome. The rules of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions at the time stipulated that such a transfer could only take place provided 100% of the members agreed to transfer. This allowed the transfer to be blocked. Pat initiated a legal challenge which proved ultimately successful and the ICTU’s rules were subsequently amended in 1982 to allow union members to transfer where 80% or more voted in favour. Pat never regretted taking this action, but he did regret that he had had to, as he always regarded the ITGWU as being part of the National Movement and disliked the influence which British-based unions brought to bear on left politics here and especially, later on, their opposition to Social Partnership.

Pat then began a long campaign, with input from Mick Murray, to achieve a worker shareholding in the Company, where he saw the possibilities of trading new working methods, of self-organised work groups, for a stake in the company. Pat based his vision of workers’ democracy on a study of the Mondragon Co-operative in the Basque country, where self-organized work groups were the basis for one of the largest and most successful industrial co-operatives in the world. The attempt to introduce worker shareholding and a level of shop floor democracy in the company ultimately failed, mainly because Pat was way ahead of his time in putting these proposals forward. Both the worker shareholding concept and the work organization methods he proposed have come into vogue in the intervening years.

Pat’s increasing concern at the level of mass unemployment and emigration prevalent at the time led to him being one of the founders, in 1986, of the Larkin Centre for the Unemployed, in Dublin’s North Strand. Looking back at those times, even in the context of the current recession, it is hard to credit the scale and depth of the unemployment crises then prevalent. It was not uncommon in inner city local authority housing complexes to have levels of unemployment of 75% or more, with second and third generation unemployment emerging as the problem became more intractable. This laid the seeds for the heroin problem which became the scourge of the area and others like it.

Having initially been involved in the setting up and the management of the Centre, Pat took voluntary redundancy and began work full time with the Centre shortly afterwards. Pat was very much swimming against the tide at this time by focusing on job creation as a solution to mass unemployment. Much of the conventional wisdom in circulation was that unemployment was there to stay; that Ireland was the standard-bearer of the post-industrial society, where the only realistic approach to the problem was a welfarist one. Economists, social commentators and even some community activists were pushing the line that full employment was an unattainable, utopian ideal and the real issue was how society was to be organised to accommodate the fact that large numbers of people would never have paid work again. Indeed I remember one respected Trades Union commentator at the time proclaiming that the unemployed were the vanguard of the new leisure society which was emerging in the capitalist world. Pat saw through this humbug for the counsel of despair it was and was regarded as a maverick for his troubles. However, in his own inimitable way he did not waste his time in engaging in sterile debates on the subject, instead he set about tackling the problem head-on—by creating jobs. The focus of Pat’s work with the Larkin Centre was initially in trying to develop co-operatives, which he believed had the potential to deliver jobs and progress his long-held goal of workers’ control. Having been involved in the founding of a number of co-operatives, some of which are still trading today, Pat came to believe that self employment held more potential for job creation among those people who were coming through the doors of the Larkin Centre. This insight resulted in the creation of the Larkin Centre’s Enterprise Unit, through which Pat helped many hundreds of people to create their own jobs during the 1990s and early 2000s. Pat developed systems of mentoring, training, business plan development, and links to grant-making bodies, which effectively made the Larkin a one stop shop for the unemployed who felt they had the possibility to create their own jobs.

Pat was a source of never-ending commitment and enthusiasm for the work of the Centre and acted as Secretary of the Management Committee until recently. His commitment was so great that at one stage, when the Centre could not afford to pay his extremely modest wage, he continued to work for nothing.

Pat was a vocal supporter of Social Partnership. At the local level he saw what could be achieved through working with the state agencies, such as FAS and the Department of Social Welfare, to support the people he was working with. At the national level he engaged with Social Partnership through the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU), where he represented the Larkin Centre on the INOU’s National Executive Committee for over ten years, from his cooption in 1996. Pat brought a unique perspective to the organization, being one of the few people who could bring a focus on job creation measures to its agenda and through that to the Community and Voluntary Sector Pillar of Social Partnership, after the admission of the sector to Social Partnership in 1999. Pat saw left opposition to Social Partnership as being little more than wrecking tactics and would give short shrift in debate with oppositionists, liking them to the British left of the 1970s, whose only legacy to the British working class had been Margaret Thatcher. Pat could more than hold his own in debates and it was a brave, or indeed foolish, individual who would take him on, for he could be cutting and remorselessly logical in destroying an opposing position. Yet what most defined him was that he was a leader, a man of action who, once he decided what needed to be done, went out and did it, an approach best exampled by his time with the Larkin Centre. He had a particular contempt for those who spent their time criticising from ivory towers and he respected those who did things in the world, such as Charlie Haughey.

Pat held that Fianna Fail (and particularly Charlie Haughey) is due a large measure of respect for its contribution to the creation of Social Partnership and the prosperity which followed and he saw the culture of the tribunals—attacking Fianna Fail politicians—as a deliberate, never ending attack on the State itself, orchestrated by, among others, the Irish Times.

Pat stood foursquare as an Irish Communist behind the State created by Éamon De Valera and Sean Lemass and continued by Haughey latterly. However on the national question he saw Fianna Fail as having been disorientated by the Arms Crisis of 1969-70. To Pat, if a united Ireland was to mean Ireland being united again with Britain, then our republic has reached an unacceptable level of disorientation indeed—led by Fianna Fail! In his latter years he railed against those who denigrated every achievement of the independent Irish state and took great pride in showing off the social housing unit which the State had provided him with in Blackrock. The 12th July last year found Pat, despite his obviously failing health, again doing what needed to be done. This time he was defending the separatist Irish State against the official humbug of a joint commemoration of the Irish Army and the British Legion at the Battle of the Somme Commemoration. As Pat himself said on the day—only a Fianna Fail Government could have gotten away with pretending we are now all one with what the British Legion stands for.

Pat’s life and politics were shaped by the poor quality of care which he received as a child suffering with a debilitating illness and it ended with him extolling the quality of state housing provision and the care he received in the Hospices in Raheny and latterly Blackrock during his final days. He lived his life through his politics, being a man for whom self interest never seemed to be on the agenda. He said just a few days before he died “I got a kick out of politics, a kick out of life, although at times, when I thought about the physical state I was in, I wondered why that was so”. He was remarkably content at the end of his days, and genuinely surprised at how people had rallied around him. This was typical of the intensely private and modest man he was, who perhaps only at the end realized the profound impact he had had on all who knew him.

Tony Monks

Murphy’s Wars

Welcome to old friends, comrades, and former wives.  Also two friends of Pat’s, Dermot McKenna, and John White, Chief Executive, Fatima Mansions Renewal Project and Seamus Murphy, a friend of the Larkin Unemployment centre since the mid 1980’s.

Pat Murphy recognised only three political parties in Ireland, Fianna fail;The Trade Unions,  and the Irish Times.  He could work easily with the first two but he reserved all his agitational genius for the third.  .  .  the organ of West Britain in Ireland.

Only last July[2008], on his stick because he said, of gout, Pat was protesting against the role of the National Army as full participants in the British Legions celebration of their  Battle of the Somme at Islandbridge, Kilmainham in Dublin. He insisted on spoiling the party and humbug that suddenly now we are all one.

The only piece of video I have of Pat is also from last year when he also insisted on making his point at John Martin’s booklaunch of “The Irish Times, Past and Present”. He wanted to put on record his view of the extent of that paper’s conspiracy against Fianna Fail and by implication, the Irish Government. It is intended to devote a page of the Athol Books website to memories / pix / stories about Pat for sharing between friends and family. Details will be in a forthcoming Irish Political Review magazine.

Pat said he was of the “hard left” :  the soft variety existing in the Labour Party and the media. He saw the Irish Left as lost, disorientated. Moscow had gone. Che Guevara was now a fashion accessory. Even Rome had fallen, yet again. The only clockwork colossus left standing and still chattering were Fintan O Toole and The Irish Times-led media, focussed loosely on London as its place to plug into for inspiration, God help us all. Pat saw this as meaning Wars unending all over the world, with good Irish boys and girls as cannon fodder in the crossfire of Ameranglia. He wasn’t going to have it

Politics, such as they are behind the public relations, he saw as a conspiracy. He himself was and still is on this day, a formidable combination of conspirator, political agitator, and hard-headed pragmatist: a holy trinity of political activism at war with the continued rampant anglicisation of Ireland, ironically facilitated enthusiastically now by Fianna Fail.

As such Pat always insisted on having his back well covered in what are in the first instance, cultural wars. That cover came from the pages of The Irish Political Review monthly magazine; the quarterly Church and State magazine, dealing with Irish culture, and last but not least, an occasional magazine coming out of Belfast, inspired and edited by Joe Keenan,The Heresiarch dealing with  numberless heresies and heretics of all hues and persuasions.

Like us all, Pat was full of seeming contradictions. He was a very private man. His nephew, Tony Rodgers, tells me his family knew only hazily of his political involvements. Equally, we his long-time comrades, were in the dark about the politics of the Ardee branch of his family background. We were amazed to hear from him only recently that his own father was a member of the Garda Siochana and that he had impressed upon Pat when he first went to England for work back in the 1950’s: “stay away from them oul politics or ye’ll come to no good “

The mind boggles—I mean ….what if Pat had followed his dads advice: . he could a been a contender, followed his dad even and been a Chief Super… maybe even an Asst. Commissioner Murphy. No, Pat was his own man, always. He kept the faith. Even to being contrary.

I told him about the pensioners’ recent “revolt” over the universal medical cards reform threat as a good sign of politics breaking out at last. He wasn’t impressed. They had no case. Blasphemers he even called them ,protesting in a church: should have been batoned out of it by the garda; they never had it so good, and he should know as one of them himself. He wasn’t having any of it.More media hysteria.

Anyway, the private barriers came down a bit in the past few months. He was overwhelmed by the love, care and attention he received from everybody. The boot was on the other foot and he loved it. For once in his life he was the centre of attention and in control of it all despite the stark reality. On the positive side he was in no pain and, as his date with destiny came nearer, it only seemed to sharpen his mind. There was definitely an aura of heightened sensitivity about him. Little things suddenly became big things. The detail of how to cook a potato in its jacket so as to maximise its eating value was a matter of much instruction to his daily carer over the period, Conor Lynch. Conor claims he is now a jacket potato connoisseur. Actually, culinary matters loomed large in the past few months as Pat fought to keep his strength up. The time, care and empathy  of Mick Murray, his friend, and a true connoisseur, and the same thoughtfulness of Annette and Manus O Riordan made Pat’s face light up with delight over and over again, whether it was bottles of beer or Chinese long-life exercise secrets they brought to him.

Apart from the privacy thing, Pat was also very sociable. He roamed all over high Germany and Northern Italy Five years ago, with Angela and Brendan Clifford in the back of their famous little red Mini Metro, .famous because of how much luggage they always managed to fit in the back. Pat humorously recalled the look of shock on the face of their German host when he, smilingly emerged from the darkness of the backseat mountain of luggage. “Mein Gott…!, those British cars are an engineering miracle”, his startled expression seemed to say.

A select band of comrades and Pat regularly went on trips around Ireland to places of interest to select select bands of comrades but Pat’s most regular trips were in his beloved own car with his sisters Maura and Joan. Many’s a match in Croke park I asked him to go along  with me but no, he always had Sunday set aside for Maura and Joan. After that it was holidays every year with all the sisters, including Nancy, again with Pat doing the driving.

One thing about Pat and his politics was how remarkably good-humoured he remained in the face of inevitable setbacks. He was disciplined, organized, responsible, never self indulgent. Not for him sitting around moaning or making excuses for not moving on. .Neither was he in the grip of a insufferable ego. He didn’t indulge personal whims. He was never brash. He knew who he was. Public issues were the focus not private expression.. he was a grand man to work with, magnetic, very attractive to women. Alas, none were lucky enough to catch him.

Despite the obvious end to the last few months I think they were very positive times for Pat. They certainly weren’t negative or a downer for those of us around him. One person in particular made a big difference to making it all so positive. Maria Tyrell, Pat’s colleague from the Larkin Unemployment Centre. Her intervention at a crucial stage last November meant all the necessary pieces fell into place to make things work out as well as they did. That and the help of Tony Rodgers, his nephew and Pat’s sister Nancy helped Pat to feel he was in control of his destiny and that his wishes would be carried out. He was unburdened with fears or worry, and of course he was in no pain until the very last week or so. The Raheny Hospice and The Blackrock Hospice rallied to Pat and he to them. I know its often said how much we owe such Institutions, but it’s not until it gets up close and personal does this hit home. You could say after seeing them in action, Oh Death, where is thy sting…?

And so this parting with Pat is such sweet sorrow. His body may have wasted away on him but his spirit never did. We both love him and miss him at the same time. You leave us Pat , on the wings of song: Manus O Riordan with the greatest song from the 1916 era. “The Foggy Dew”. Noel Pocock’s Uileann Pipes. Annette O Riordan’s fine voice, far better than Manus’—in range only, of course. The Parting Glass, sung by Jimmy Kelly, brother of Luke. Not forgetting the fine flute playing of Des Geraghty, another of Pat’s friends from his ITGWU days.

Ye have all done well by Pat and he in turn has done well by father in his chosen field of endeavour, politics, in the wider sense. The Larkin Centre and all who work in it and out of it remains Pat’s testament. It lives on, more relevant than ever.

As the song says, “Look around you, because you only miss them when they’re gone”—.friends, comrades, family, partners, even ex wives.

We will miss you, Pat Murphy, who  managed to radiate an inner grandeur, a poise beyond a time for tears. He insisted on doing things his way  and in his own way now he is free. His agitation is over .  .  .or is it ?

I mean , look at his picture there now, black and white, taken twenty years ago, a wicked look in his eye, if ye were meaning to small talk him. He was a wily old fox back then and no less now, lying there in his coffin, draped in the National Flag and he a red rip roaring Communist most of his adult life. I can think of one of his Dublin comrades who is still flummoxed that it’s the tricolour and not the red flag—or at least the Starry Plough. But Pat was always one for solid ground from which to fight politically. Communism fell in 1989. Everything afterwards has been in a state of flux. After all that commotion, we in a way came back to Pat’s solid ground. He sort of became our Taoiseach. As ye know with Taoisigh, loyalty is a big thing these days. Look at the Lenihan family in Fianna Fail. The Cowans in Offaly, the Coughlans in Donegal. Almost every County has its family tradition, its family loyalties. The Springs in Kerry, the Andrews family in Dunlaoghaire.

Of course a flag is only a symbol, if a powerful one. It can unite traditions, even different family traditions. There are many different ways of doing the right thing, serving the state. Just as Pat’s dad wore the Garda uniform of the state, the country’s interest can be well defended by those out of uniform also. It is not all about self serving. You do what you have to, where you find yourself useful to defend the interests of the state under the flag of the nation. That was how Pat saw it in the last few years with The Irish Political Review Group.

Adieu Pat, you go to where the sun shines brightly, in the morning rain, back to nature. Only last week, you still had notions of getting back into that car of yours and heading out the road from Ardee with Nancy, Maura and Joan, maybe with a Dermot O’Brien tape playing the Turfman From Ardee and the window rolled down of a Summer’s day. Don’t worry, Tony Rodgers will definitely find a buyer for it now that ye won’t be taking that particular trip for a while, but Nancy will still be going dancing with her friends, celebrating the music and all  those times and teems of happy places.

Malachi Lawless

MURPHY (North Strand and Russell Avenue, Drumcondra) April 1, 2009, (peacefully), at Blackrock Hospice, Patrick, (late of The Larkin Unemployed Centre), survived by his three sisters Maura, Joan (Dublin) and Nancy (Ardee), nephews David, Andrew, Tony and Paul, niece Siobhán, cousins, relatives and a large circle of friends and comrades. Removal from Stafford’s Funeral Home, North Strand, on Saturday afternoon at 1.30 o’c., to Glasnevin Crematorium, for 2 o’c. Service.

(2 April 2009, Irish Independent)

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: