herald

Monday 23 October 2017

my great-gran dfather WAS a figure of HATE, BUT HE STILL DID A LOT FOR CITY

A great-grandson of William Martin Murphy, the 'hate figure' of the 1913 Lockout, has spoken in defence of the controversial businessman's reputation.

Gerry Murphy (66) expects further attacks on his great-grandfather's reputation as the State prepares to commemorate the centenary of the labour dispute that gripped Dublin for almost six months.

William Martin Murphy's dramatic reaction to a strike in his tramway company has been blamed for turning the dispute into a citywide crisis.

The businessman and his opponent, Jim Larkin, the celebrated union leader, were the two towering figures in the dispute that resulted in almost a third of Dubliners suffering severe hardship.

Defending his ancestor, Mr Murphy said: "There were very strong feelings against him and he became a hate figure... But he did what he felt was right at the time."

DEBATES

Gerry Murphy, who lives in Naas, worked as an advertising executive for Independent Newspapers until his retirement three years ago.

The newspaper company was one of a number of businesses owned or controlled by William Martin Murphy until his death in 1919.

"I have always refused to get into debates about the 1913 Lockout. It was never talked about in our family when I was growing up," he said. But he wished to point out positive aspects of his great-grandfather, given that further condemnations of his actions are likely.

The Lockout lasted from August 1913 to January 1914 and involved 300 businesses and up to 20,000 workers, who were either on strike or locked out by their employers.

The cause of the dispute was the refusal of a consortium of businessmen, led by William Martin Murphy, to recognise the right of individuals to join the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.

The union's leader, Jim Larkin, called a strike at Murphy's United Tramway Company and Murphy reacted by getting nearly all of Dublin's major employers not only to sack all ITGWU members, but also to insist that all the companies force their employees to sign a pledge never to join the union. Those workers who refused were sacked or locked out.

Hundreds were injured when police baton-charged union supporters on O'Connell Street, then known as Sackville Street, in August.

The previous night, two men died from blows from police batons in riots on Burgh Quay and Eden Quay.

A third man died after being batoned in his home in Foley Street during police raids that weekend.

Six months later, hunger and hardship forced the workers to surrender and sign the employers' pledge. Many never got their jobs back.

REFUSAL

Seeking to promote a balanced view of his great-grandfather, Gerry Murphy said William Martin Murphy was on record declaring at a Dublin Chamber of Commerce meeting that some businessmen treated their employees 'so badly' that it made Larkin's union necessary.

He said that Murphy was also a nationalist who turned down the offer of a knighthood for his work in making the Great Exhibition in Herbert Park in Dublin 1907 an international success.

His refusal irked the Edward VII during a royal visit to Dublin, because the king had not been given much notice that Murphy had refused the honour.

Murphy was a successful builder of tramways and railways in Britain, Africa and South America.

Unlike other individuals who made fortunes in Ireland and invested abroad, Murphy made fortunes abroad and invested in Ireland – "the best kind of patriotism", said his descendant.

"He provided employment for thousands of people in Ireland. He believed he treated his own employees very well and could not understand why they would feel the need for a trade union," he said.

Murphy was an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for a Dublin district for seven years until 1892 and took the anti-Parnell side in the split in the party. Part of the reason for him buying newspapers was to gain influence in the political world.

AFTERMATH

"After the Lockout, he stepped down from public life. It took a lot out of him," he said.

He believes Murphy had no prior knowledge of an editorial written in the Irish Independent calling for the death sentence for James Connolly in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Rising, when there was widespread anger against the insurgents.

Gerry Murphy also claimed his ancestor criticised the suppression of the rebellion as 'ruthless' and went on to call for the release of Sinn Fein prisoners.

Murphy took part in the 1917 National Convention and expressed strongly anti-partitionist views, he said.

He actively supported the Belvedere Newsboys charity, which sought to ensure that poor boys maintained their education while retaining part-time jobs selling newspapers.

Gerry Murphy recalls being consulted by actor Tom Hickey about his great-grandfather as he prepared to portray him in the 1913 Lockout play The Risen People at the Gaiety theatre.

"I believe he was shy, disliked publicity and was not a social animal. Yeats made him out to be a Philistine who 'fumbled in the greasy till'. But I feel affection for the man and I'm proud of his achievements."

Gerry Murphy continued a family tradition in working for Independent Newspapers.

He started as an advertising salesman in 1971, when his father Edward Martin Murphy was managing director, and continued to work for the company for decades after Tony O'Reilly bought out the Murphy family shareholdings.

He retired in October 2009.

aokeeffe@herald.ie

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