Family succeeds in securing posthumous medal for IRA Volunteer who died on same day as Terence MacSwiney

Family succeeds in securing posthumous medal for IRA Volunteer who died on same day as Terence MacSwiney
The unveiling of the memorial plaque in Pouladuff at the former home of Volunteer Joe Murphy.

A long-running campaign to get a posthumous medal for an IRA Volunteer has finally come to a successful conclusion.

Joe Murphy, whose story is little known outside of Cork, died on hunger strike in Cork Gaol on the same day, October 25, 1920, as Terence MacSwiney, then Lord Mayor of Cork, who also died from hunger strike, but in Brixton Prison.

The scene outside Cork County Jail during the Republican hunger strike in October 1920.
The scene outside Cork County Jail during the Republican hunger strike in October 1920.

His father, Timothy Murphy, requested a pension as recognition for Joe’s Volunteer service as early as May 1, 1923, but was denied this from the Department of Defence.

However, at some later point, Timothy was granted a gratuity payment of £75.

The requests for recognition of his Volunteer service continued from his wife, Nora Murphy, after the death of her husband. Further family requests were made up to 1954, but again proved unfruitful.

In recent times the family persisted again and eventually the Minister with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, announced that the family would receive a 1917-1921 Service Medal in recognition of Murphy's service to the State.

It was presented tonight to members of the extended Murphy family at a reception in City Hall hosted by Lord Mayor Cllr Mick Finn.

Murphy was born in Massachusetts to Irish parents who subsequently returned to their native Cork when he was a young child. He joined the Volunteers in 1917 and became a member of H Company, 2nd Battalion, Cork No.1 Brigade.

He was involved in several attacks on British military posts and a well-publicised attack on Farran RIC barracks. He was arrested by British forces on July 15, 1920, and was imprisoned.

Murphy was among a group of 60 prisoners who went on hunger strike when their political status was taken away from them and regular newspaper articles would cover the condition of the men.

On October 8, Joe Murphy and the others on hunger strike in Cork Gaol wrote a letter to MacSwiney in Brixton expressing solidarity with him and urging him to hold fast.

British prime minister Lloyd George was asked to show mercy to the prisoners. Instead, he said they were hastening their own deaths by refusing food.

A further appeal was made for Murphy to stand formal trial for the possession of a bomb, the charge on which he was imprisoned. However, it was denied by the British authorities on the basis that he wasn’t in a proper condition due to his hunger strike.

Murphy’s condition deteriorated sharply in the meantime and he couldn’t even drink water.

On October 17, Commandant Fitzgerald died and eight days later so did Murphy, in the presence of family and friends.

A plaque was erected to his memory at his family home in Pouladuff and some years later the then Cork Corporation named a road after him in Ballyphehane.

The commemorative plaque at the house of hunger striker Joe Murphy at Ballyphehane, Cork.
The commemorative plaque at the house of hunger striker Joe Murphy at Ballyphehane, Cork.

Fiona Hennessy, whose mother, Ann O'Sullivan, is a niece of Joe Murphy, said the entire family is delighted with the special reception in City Hall "and needless to say, very proud about the awarding of the medal".

"That he's finally being rewarded with an official service medal of honour is just and right and credit to his family for pursuing it for almost a century. It means his memory and place in history will live on even more," Cllr Finn said.

The ceremony was attended by senior military personnel, including Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett.


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