On the 5th anniversary of Pat Murphy’s death, we carry this appreciation by M.J. Murray, which appeared in the April 2014 issue of Irish Political Review
In memory of a great friend and comrade….
PATRICK HENRY MURPHY (1937-2009)
I have been asked to contribute some thoughts on and memories of my friendship with Pat, which spans over 40 years. I’m happy to do so, though I can think of others more fitting for the job. How I intend to approach it is to present some fragments of Pat’s life when I was closest to him: from the early days as an emigrant in London to the last months spent in and out of the Raheny and Blackrock Hospices. There will be some mention of the years in between, in Dublin. In the commemorative booklet published by the Howth Free Press, key articles and statements by Pat, together with numerous assessments of his life’s work are to be found. This contribution is more personal, less analytical. (But the personal is political, I can almost hear Pat prompt.) I want to write this for the benefit of his family especially, and also for former colleagues from the different spheres in which Pat operated, and who may not have known these other sides to his long and busy life.
I was a 20 year old serving member of the British forces when we first met, radicalised by an almost 6 year stint in the Navy which took me to the then hotspots of the Far East for two of those years: including the British North Borneo-Indonesian confrontation and to Vietnam. It exposed me also to the awful corruption of the Far East in such places as Thailand and the Phillipines by the US as a corollary to the Vietnam war. The social and moral cesspits that were created there still anger me, having known what was there before. After my return to the UK and after a brief experience of the immigrant Irish political scene in London I was ready to “jump ship”, as naval desertion is called. I could say Pat Murphy was mainly responsible for that. Amongst the disillusioned Republicans, in London since the collapse of the ’50’s militarist campaign, the anti-clerical “spoiled priests”, the hard line individuals moving back and forth across the spectrum of left politics, Pat stood out as the one you could talk to, get to answer your questions—however uninformed and naive. And he was someone with whom you could discuss the intimate doubts and fears of your personal life. He was the human, accessible face of politics. He was a godsend to the likes of me, struggling like many others to get a handle on this new way of looking at things politically, and this new vocabulary. He was well grounded, widely read, endlessly patient in explaining things—and good company.
After my decision to desert, having been turned down for a discharge, we rented a flat together. Thus began a life-long friendship which ended last April. Indeed Pat was to be my Best Man when I married Georgia Hutchinson in the late ’60s. And, axiomatically, it ended on a high in that, by coincidence, I had also been diagnosed with the same aggressive cancer from which that Pat was dying. It brought us even closer together. We concluded that only two dialectical materialists like us could marvel at this life form with its highly evolved adaptivity, such as the amazing processes of angiogenesis and apoptosis, and whose very adaptivity keeps it, tantalisingly, always that bit ahead of medical science. Appreciating dialectical materialism’s importance in understanding cancer, was one of the topics we had great fun with. There’s gallows humour and the black humour grown out of social conflict, as in the North; then there’s hospital humour: Pat was a master of that after a lifetime spent in and out of hospital .
Going back to the London flat share: that didn’t last too long. One morning the naval police came knocking in the early hours and I had to do a runner, one of three in that period. But that forced “separation” didn’t happen before I drifted into the role of the one who did the shopping and the cooking. And, I’m sure, it was Murphy’s fulsome praise for the fare offered that set me off on a lifetime interest in cooking. I returned to that role when Pat was in the Raheny hospice, with me bringing in ready cooked meals in response to the poor man’s constantly changing dietary whims, often resulting from the effects on his taste buds of whatever medication he happened to be on. It continued in his house, where friends and relations joined in lively meals, which Pat had always enjoyed.
The response to the food on offer was not always polite acceptance: visitors were often shocked at the occasional negative “customer feedback” to my efforts. But that was nothing compared to the criticism Conor Lynch, (his good friend who minded him so selflessly in his last days) had to accept in return for his culinary offerings! On one level, Pat’s pitting one “chef” competitively against another was taken as nothing more than a bit of craic. But there was more than that going on: this was viatecum; food for a journey, and we were the acolytes. I’m glad to have had the privilege of making a small contribution to easing his last days and showing my love and respect; of paying him back for a lifelong comradeship. Another thing I’m happy to claim credit for is arranging his last birthday party which was held in the Round Room of the Mansion House and, which happened to be on the 90th anniversary of the first meeting of Dail Eireann in the same premises. And what a joyous occasion it was! At the shortest of notice, many of his close friends and relations made a point of being there. (Can I say here that, though the idea was mine, and I made the arrangements, the invitations were made by the “military wing”: readers of the Irish Political Review will know who to contact!)
The London Years
Backtracking for a moment: London, where we met, was a mad place to be in the 1960s: Monty Python would have been hard put to capture the shifting panorama of leftist groups and parties, not excluding Irish socialists, socialist republicans, republican socialists, communists, trotskyists, revisionists, anti-revisionists. To misquote Yeats: too much ideology maimed us at the start; but it wasn’t the whole story. In the old Cathecism style parody of the time: Ireland was a place “where some souls suffered for a time before going to England”. And in England there was more room and more encouragement to be radical than in the Ireland of those days. Having decided to move there, Pat and a few other key players kept their heads in the madness and worked away at trying to make sense of things. He benefitted enormously from his sojourn there and, to the end, retained fond memories of his years in London.
Within the leftist Irish emigre scene, Pat’s main contribution was in making sense of Irish economic history, and breaking it down small for people without formal training in it, though he didn’t have any himself either—except for some classes in the Workingmen’s College in Camden Town . Pat put flesh on the abstract concepts of economics and politics for many. He was good at it; his recorded contribution is noted elsewhere in this publication. it was mainly concerned with tracking the shift from protectionism to free trade and the politics of that. It led to his fascination with the rise of an Irish bourgeoisie, which he labelled “The Greening of Ireland”, a comprehensive account of which he was working on before he took seriously ill. ,
He told me a lovely story in Raheny Hospice of having seen a very well known, and popular, Irish entrepreneur place a wreath on Charlie Haughey’s grave. Only Pat would have read so much symbolism into that act—and not in an anti-Haughey muckraking way: quite the opposite. Pat was not one to work out ideas on paper through drafting and redrafting. He mostly started with throwing out an idea in a thought provoking, often intellectually aggressive, way. Knowing that , you could always tell at what stage his thinking on a subject was; also, how to pitch your own response. He would generalise from observations, like the one in the graveyard, and thus go on to formulate his thoughts which, when fully gestated, had that sense of being well worked and well grounded.
Another area of Pat’s intellectual pursuits was tenant rights. It always made him angry that a state primarily born out of the agitation for (land) tenant rights should have become so pro-property and pro-landlord. It led to his involvement in the Dublin Housing Action Committee which is, of course, in the public domain. What needs to be recorded here is the unselfish and unstinting support he gave to individuals I could name who fell foul of their landlords. I would also like to mention here the many other people he helped, unstintingly, with a variety of personal problems; how did he find the time, and muster the emotional energy, one could ask?
Pat had a huge interest in the role of the cooperative movement in modern Irish history, particularly its impact on rural Ireland. (In parenthesis, this may be said to have lead directly to his specialist role in developing coops in the Larkin Centre.) And long, long before it was put into practice in a number of private sector and state companies as ESOPs and other profit sharing arrangements, Pat argued for worker ownership to underpin worker control, as exercised through self managed teams and other forms of Partnership.
Pat used his time in London to develop a perspective that was to serve him well in his later involvements in Ireland. But then London pre “New Labour” and “New New Labour” was a different country. There was a vigorous international anti-imperialist movement based there. Locally, there was the Workingmen’s College, already mentioned, and there was the Unity Theatre, George Bernard Shaw’s bequest to socialist theatre, also in Camden Town. Pat and I had active connections with both of the latter. It has been described as tragic the fact that Pat missed out on so much of formal education, including university. I’m not so sure. Was he not the grounded, eclectic thinker that we respect, perhaps, most of all because he was a self-taught man ? The London of those days fostered a high level of auto-dictactism and provided the highest level of supportive facilities from the aforementioned institutions to the British Museum Reading Room, and lots more. I suggest the real tragedy in Pat’s life, if that’s not too strong a word, was the serious illness he contracted in childhood that resulted in him having a much diminished stamina and physical robustness for the rest of his life.
His Return to Dublin
Back in Dublin we both got involved in the rank and file Trade Union-based organisation: Sceim na gCeardchumann, of which I was Secretary for a time. The Sceim, as it was known, attempted to fill the gap in the then almost non-existent education, training and research function of the official Trade Union movement. It involved such future labour and trade union activists leaders as the Geraghty brothers and Jack Gannon and many other individuals too numerous to mention. And, in the leftwing vacuum of the time, it had an agitational role in support of industrial disputes and other forms of social protest. Of course, as the name suggests, it was a strong champion of the Irish language.
Dublin had its share of factionalism too: was it not one of the Behans who said that the first item on left wing and republican agendas was the split? Add to that the Special Branch making work for itself sometimes inventing, then rooting out subversives and you have a sense of the time. One episode in Pat’s experience illustrates this well. One night, making his way home northside after a Sceim meeting, he became aware he was being followed, and guessed correctly it must be a Branchman. So he stopped under a canal bank light, took out a book and waited to see what the Branchman would do. This went on for hours. Finally, the Branchman relented, came up to Pat and said “Could you not just feck off home and let me get to my bed?” Pat said: “I’m only halfway through this book, I may be some time.” It was the Branchman who gave up and went home first. Typical Pat. And innocent times compared to what was to come in the late 60’s.
Pat and Trade Unionism
Dublin, being smaller scale and less cosmopolitan than London , was also more focused. Soon Pat was heavily immersed in movements of national import such as the Dublin Housing Action Committee and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Pat’s DHAC and the ITGWU activity (including his High Court case) is discussed elsewhere; here I want to record Pat’s last thoughts on Irish Trade Unionism. The first thing to be said is that Pat regretted leaving the old ITGWU (fore-runner of SIPTU). That was the Social Republican talking; the influence of the Connollyite OBU (One big Union); it did not in any way constitute a criticism of people he worked with after his break with the IT, as he would have referred to it. I want to include here, in particular, Charlie Mooney of AGEMOU , whom I never met at a Shelbourne game without the inquiry: “How’s me ould pal, Pat?” Pat had told me years ago, and reiterated it in the Hospice, that he also regretted the hard time he gave ITGWU Full Time Officials in the course of the internal organisational conflicts that were endemic in the 60’s and 70’s. He came to see it as very negative, however justified it seemed to be at the time, and despite making lifelong, loyal, friends in the course of his leadership of various disputes.
He had always been strong on the the recognition of the Trade Union movement’s standing in Irish Civil society, and that some Partnership arrangement was the only way of expressing that. He would not have been surprised at Ray McSharry’s recent chiding of his Fianna Fail colleagues in Government for walking roughshod over this central tenet in Irish life in their response to the current economic crisis. (MacSharry was one of the architects of the 80’s recovery strategy that included Social—and workplace—Partnership.) Pat’s main criticisms of Trade Unions—more accurately, perhaps, regrets—were the following.
He was always critical of the structural limitations of the movement; how it replicated the capitalist division of labour at the point of production, pitting general against craft workers—and both against clerical, professional and managerial resulting in a multiplicity of competing Unions. To Pat, management was always a function of the production process; it was not a class of person and not a “moral” issue. And, of course, he believed workers could and should aspire to exercising the managerial function. Trade Unions’ representation of their workers as “aggrieved wage slaves”, rather than the positive image of producers of goods and services compounded the problem of sectionalism and keeps them fastened to the dying animal of capitalism.
In the Hospice we kicked around the old George Woodcock quote about the inherent structural weakness of British Trade Unions, which applies equally to ours for good historical reasons: “structure is a function of purpose”. If the Union leadership had a clear vision of transforming society and replacing the capitalist system of production, distribution and exchange, then it would create an appropriate structure.
Those were some of Pat’s last thoughts on the role of Trade Unions in Irish society. They derive, as everything else did, from Pat’s view of the centrality of politics. His view of himself as a shop floor activist and not a Full Time Official, was, for him, a very important personal political statement, though he did not underestimate the importance of the officer cadre.
Pat and the Hospice movement
Pat’s big regret was that he was not going to be around long enough to enjoy the assisted living accommodation which he acquired just before the onset of the last stage of his illness. He made a sufficient comeback in Raheny to be moved to his Blackrock dwelling, every moment of which he enjoyed. Then he went downhill again and the second hospice sojourn was in Blackrock. Most people who visited him at this time did so in the Raheny or Blackrock hospices. It was an education in itself; how to live in such circumstances, and how to die.
An abiding memory was going into the Raheny Hospice to visit Pat one night to find the incoming night nursing team very upset because Pat had taken a bad turn earlier that day. Pat was so well loved and liked there.
Another, is seeing him in his hospice bed, already more bone and skin than skin and bone, leaning back with that thoughtful look on his face, one leg (the good one) tucked under the other, one hand behind his head, the other clutching a fragment of a newspaper. A quintessential Murphy posture, at any time of his life: an invite to debate or discussion. The article was by Paul Gillespie of the Irish Times. “Listen to this, ” he said: “the human being is, in the most literal sense, a political animal, not merely a gregarious animal but an animal which can indivuate itself only in the midst of society.” Paul had written this, quoting Marx’s Grundrisse,. in the context of commenting on the collapse of the neo-conservative economic model and, in particular, Alan Greenspan’s admission that he had underestimated the downside of the working-out of indivuated “economic self-interest” in an unregulated market. And Pat was savouring the words; and savouring the thought that his lifetime interest in Marx’s political perspective was not misplaced..
As has been said: the unlived life is not worth reflecting on; and the unreflected life not worth living. Pat was the embodiment of how to get that balance right. The hospice environment was conducive to it too, and I know Pat would want me to pay tribute to it here, because he was full of praise for it, and those who worked in it.
A Hospice publication says: “choosing a hospice doesn’t mean choosing death, it means choosing to live life to the fullest … choosing a hospice is not giving up hope, is is in fact redefining it: mending and restoring relationships, spending time with loved ones, finding peace and comfort.” Pat would endorse that wholeheartedly. He died grateful for the “extra-time” between his expected demise in November 2008 and his actual death in April 2009. He used the opportunity to sort out his affairs, with the help of his good friend, Marie Tyrrell of the Larkin Centre, and others, and to say goodbye to his family, friends, present and past colleagues and those who cared for him in his last months. And I hope it is not seen as a breach of confidentiality when I disclose that Pat at one point in his illness did contemplate, literally, giving up the ghost, just letting go. It happened when the bodily functions began to pack up, leaving Pat frustrated and, even, angry a lot of the time. But his friends helped him through that difficult patch and Pat himself concluded that as long as he could follow what was going on in the world and hold a meaningful conversation life was worth living.
I should now mention another memory of Pat at the end, which puts those remarks in perspective. Living in Waterford we had an arrangement that the days when I couldn’t visit him in Dublin I would ring him on his bedside phone; long conversations usually followed. At times the phone wasn’t answered and I had to ring reception for news of him—to be told he had just walked by the reception desk on his zimmer frame! To the end the spirit was willing even as the flesh was pitiably weak.
Pat’s reflections on life were always inspiring; insightful; thought provoking; they were not always easy, and he maintained that intellectual involvement to the end. In the course of his long illness I heard much praise for Pat and his life’s work, from family, friends and, significantly, from those who wouldn’t necessarily align themselves with his political or Trade Union views :
– “A gentleman”
– “He oozed integrity and commitment”
– “Always constructive”
– “A patriot”
– “A class warrior”
I say “problematic” because Pat was always capable of building working relationships with owners and managers: his role in the Larkin Centre required it. And it was Pat who chose to have the Tricolour over his coffin, and not the Red Flag. That he wanted his going to be as inclusive of “his people” as possible was typical of him. But there was another reason: he believed the very concept of the nation was under attack and needed to be defended. His inclusiveness was also expressed in another way. Though not religious himself, for the religious amongst family and friends, he arranged the traditional “Month’s Mind” to be conducted by a long time Jesuit friend of his in Gardiner Street. But who that ever had dealings with him in union, community or politics, doubted his class commitment? Likewise, Pat may have been an advocate of the “two nations” theory, but, who, then or now, had any doubt with which “nation” he identified? For that matter, who would question his internationalism?
Apart from politics, community and trade unionism Pat always had a lively interest in a range of activities from theatre to music and sport. Not many may know that he was for a number of years a manager in the factories soccer league (he was supposed to be the secretary, I learned at his funeral , from the actual manager and his life long friend, Gerry O’Brien; but, as has been noted, he was no great respecter of demarcation). He was also a member of the travelling Irish national team’s supporters. From childhood he had been a Drumcondra supporter and later, of Shelbourne. When Pat Dolan launched his attempt to develop a community based football club in Inchicore, Pat moved allegiances southside in support. The Dolan effort was short-lived, but that’s another story. Pat had a great sense of soccer in Dublin working class life. Another memory is going with him to the Abbey to see O’Casey’s “The Silver Tassie”, a celebration of inner city soccer culture and, arguably, for that reason the most authentic of O’Casey’s depictions of Dublin working class life. (The Silver Tassie of the play’s title is a soccer trophy.)
He enthused constantly about the role of the GAA in Irish society and was a regular visitor to hurling and football at Croke Park, beside which he lived for many years. When market-driven neo-conservatism reared its ugly head, Pat saw the GAA as a bulwark against those ideas in Ireland with its central tenet of the parish and county identity as its foundation, not the chequebook. But he also delighted in the triumphs of Irish national and club rugby, though now a paid sport. On one Hospice visit I found him on fire with admiration for the Irish comeback in the final 2009 Six Nations competition, going as far as to say that if Ireland could produce men of such flair and determination there was no fear of it not overcoming the often seemingly hopeless economic and political challenges facing us. Sport as a metaphor for life? For Pat sport was a vital part of the rich tapestry of human endeavour; and everything about that was, in turn, political: Man is a social and political animal.
Man is a social animal, hence we are diminished by any man’s passing, especially one who has given so much to us, and, we know, had even more to give. Owning our grief, celebrating his life and work is a healthy and necessary thing. And then we move on. Of Dennis Dennehy, Pat’s friend and comrade, it was said, by Brendan Clifford, I think, that he was intellectually a communist but by instinct an anarchist. Patrick Henry Murphy died an unrepentant Socialist Republican in the Connolly mode: “Ireland without her people means nothing to me.” And he died full of optimism for this country’s future, despite his acute awareness of the gravity of its current problems. He didn’t die disillusioned or cynical. Just how his mind was working was typified by something he said to me quite late on in his illness. He recalled a statement of another Socialist Republican –Peadar O’Donnell—that emigration had always been the safety valve for Irish economic-political failures in the past; but now that that was not as attractive an option anymore and people would be confronted with the necessity of finding a better way to run our country. He was particularly heartened by the emergence of a newer generation of thinkers and doers around “The Irish Political Review” and confident in their ability to make a difference. He was intrigued by the impact of the current crisis on the upcoming intellegensia; their intellectual constructs and presumptions now in tatters as a result of the havoc wreaked by unfettered financial capitalism, summed up by one book title, “Too big to Fail”, He couldn’t accept that out of this intellectual crisis and the raised expectations of two or three decades of social, economic and educational achievement would not come a radical departure in Irish politics.
To comrades and friends of Pat, and most of all his family, can I hope I’ve done some little justice to your feelings for him, and filled in some aspects of his life and thoughts of which you may not have been aware.
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