He was very much a County Wexford man, born in the tiny village of Tincurry just to the north of the town of Enniscorthy.
Father John Murphy was one of the few Irish rebel leaders to have any significant success in the 1798 Rebellion yet he was initially opposed to taking action and had tried to avoid bloodshed.
Most of the places he became associated with such as Boolavogue, The Harrow, Camolin, Shelmalier were within a few miles of where he was born and where he lived most of his life.
Main focus was his work as a priest
John Murphy was born in 1753 and decided early in life that he wanted to become a priest. When he was 19, he went to Seville in Spain to study for the priesthood.
This was a well worn path for many Irishmen at that time as the Penal Laws imposed by the British made it difficult for Catholics to receive an education in Ireland. He was ordained in 1779 and became curate at Boolavogue in 1785.
Father Murphy supported the cause of Irish nationalism but he believed reform should come through peaceful means.
He was opposed to the rebellion at first, fearing it had little chance of success and would lead to pointless loss of life. He even urged his parishioners to surrender their arms and sign an allegiance to the Crown for their own safety.
Church burning turned Father Murphy into a rebel
Father Murphy’s opinion changed when some British militiamen entered the area searching for rebels and looking for ways to intimidate the local people. They burnt the parish church and several cottages belonging to local people.
Father Murphy was furious at the injustice and he was further influenced by stories of British atrocities elsewhere in Ireland as the 1798 Rebellion got underway. He began to believe that rebellion may be the only option left.
From priest to rebel leader
Local people were looking for a leader and Father Murphy reluctantly accepted the challenge. Once the decision was made, however, he took to the task wholeheartedly and turned into one of the most successful leaders of the whole 1798 Rebellion.
He had victories at The Harrow, Camolin, Oulart Hill, Ferns and Enniscorthy before he was finally defeated by the British at the Battle of Vinegar Hill.
Father Murphy – tortured, executed, decapitated
British retaliation against Father Murphy was swift and brutal. Following the defeat at Vinegar Hill he had managed to escape to a friend’s house at Tullow in County Carlow.
However, he was captured by the yeomen and brought before a military tribunal which found him guilty of treason against the British Crown.
He was tortured in an attempt to make him reveal information about the rebels. He was then hanged and decapitated. His head was impaled on a spike and put on display as a warning to others.
Boolavogue and Father Murphy – symbols of rebellion
Hardly anyone outside of Wexford had heard of Boolavogue when Father Murphy started working there as a humble curate.
Due to his efforts years later as a reluctant rebel leader, this otherwise obscure village was to become an important symbol in Irish nationalism.
The spirit of Father Murphy and his rebels inspired generations of rebels, including those who took part in the 1916 Easter Rising, which finally paved the way for Irish independence.
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