Gerald Dunne, a great grandson of William Martin Murphy, was speaking after a plaque was unveiled at his ancestor’s birthplace in West Cork.
Murphy, whose family came from Bere Island, was born in Derrymihin West, Castletownbere, on Dec 31, 1844.
Widely regarded as Ireland’s first press baron, he founded the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent newspapers, was a journalist, businessman, transport pioneer, and politician representing Dublin as an MP from 1885 to 1892.
But he became a figure of hate when he sacked and replaced more than 300 Dublin tram staff suspected of being members of James Larkin’s Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.
In response, drivers and conductors left their trams on Aug 26, 1913.
Murphy then helped organise employers who faced down the workers.
The lockouts and strikes which followed would eventually involve more than 20,000 workers — the largest industrial conflict the country has ever seen.
Murphy’s role in the lockout earned him the nickname “William Murder Murphy”.
Speaking after the unveiling of the plaque by one of Murphy’s great granddaughters, Ann Young, Mr Dunne said his ancestor has suffered from a lot of bad press over the years, and that the lockout should be seen in the context of other social upheaval across Europe at the time.
“I think it is important to remember the achievements of this self-made man. He achieved great things in business, politics and Irish life in general,” he said. “I think it is unfair to judge him solely in the context of what happened in 1913. He certainly wasn’t responsible for the appalling conditions that were prevalent for Dublin workers at the time.”
The plaque ceremony was organised by Beara Historical Society as part of its range of events for Heritage Week.
“Like Murphy or loathe him, he is a significant figure in Irish history,” society secretary Fachtna O’Donovan said.
He pointed out that Murphy fought against partition, appointed Castletownbere man Timothy R Harrington, a great-grand-uncle of golfer Padraig Harrington, as editor of the Irish Independent, and, when he bought Cleary’s department store, appointed Bantry man John O’Connor its first managing director.
Murphy played a key role in the 1907 International Exhibition in Dublin and turned down a knighthood. He also helped establish the St Vincent de Paul in Cork and after his death in 1919, left a lot of money to charity.
Some of his descendants visited the grave of Murphy’s grandparents, Denis Murphy and his wife, Mary, on Bere Island yesterday.