|Christy Murphy is my great-uncle whose existence I had
never heard of until my brother in Cork started delving into WWI records.
One hundred years since the Great War and this anniversary has seeded a
strange momentum. People all over the world are urgently tracing fallen
relatives. Where did they fight? How did they die? Where are they buried?
The nations of beloved dead are being resurrected and brought back to the
|Christy Murphy is our unknown soldier but came as quite a surprise,
given that my family is Irish and republican. It was a shock to learn that
one of our own fought in the war as an officer in the British army. And
the date of that photo, taken in the spring of 1916, jumped out at me.
Christy Murphy was going to fight for the British at about the time of
the Easter Rising at the Dublin Post Office: the famous, failed action
which led to Ireland`s eventual independence.
But when we dig up our ancestors we dig up their times which is a world
away from ours. In 1916, Ireland was still a part of the United Kingdom.
Most of the population had little to do with the Irish Citizen Army and
the armed struggle to free their country. All that would change later,
we know, with the making of martyrs at Kilmainham Goal, the "Terrible Beauty"
that would turn public sympathy towards the cause. But that was yet to
From the point of view of my ancestors in Tralee in the early 1900s,
it seemed right that the eldest boy would sign up to fight for King and
country against the Kaiser, along with tens of thousands of other Irish
2nd Lt. Christy Murphy
Royal Munster Fusileers
Photo courtesy of Oona
From scant bits of information, we can piece together the basic facts
of Christy`s short life. In the 1911 Irish census he was 17 and living
with his widowed mother, Marie, described as "Station Mistress at Tralee"
in Co. Kerry. There were three siblings: Bridget, Josephine and Leo.
Christy was listed as an engineer. When the war came, he enlisted with
the Munster Fusileers. In 1915, aged 21, he was doing his officer`s training
in Kinsale. An army death notification details that he "entered the theatre
of war" on 30th May 1916 and died on 20th July that year. There is some
mention of "Stars" and of "Victory" which may be medals they awarded. His
body is in a French war cemetery.
Hatless and high-browed, the young 2nd Lt. Murphy stares back from his
photograph. A final formal image snapped at embarkation to send back to
his mother at home. He seems composed. His uniform neat, his buttons and
buckle shining. There is the ghost of a smile. It is late May, 1916. Some
seven or eight weeks later, he will be killed in action. No one knows how
or where he died. The army records refer to his battalion being engaged
in "heavy skirmishes" throughout those weeks.
We can only imagine how his end came and how mercifully quick or otherwise
it might have been. We can assume he had the courage to face it. A newspaper
cutting from the Cork Examiner reports that in the previous summer,
1915, whilst engaged in his officer training in Kinsale, Christopher Murphy
dived from the pier into the deepwater of Summercove to save a drowning
They gave him a civic award for this instinctive act of bravery, risking
his life for another. A training, perhaps, for what was to come.
|The following are more details about Lt. Christy Murphy from newspaper
accounts and his burial notice.
MURPHY, CHRISTOPHER JOHN, 2nd LIEUTENANT, 1st BATTALION
- MURPHY- (CORK EXAMINER 14/8/1916) - Killed in action on 20th July,
Christopher John Murphy, 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Munster Fusiliers, aged
22, dearly-beloved son of Mrs. Murphy, Spa Station, Tralee, Co. Kerry,
(CORK CONSTITUTION 23/8/1915) - REWARDS FOR BRAVERY
- Testimonial on vellum to 2nd Lieutenant C.J. Murphy, 3rd Battalion, Royal
Munster Fusiliers, for his gallantry in saving a boy who had fallen from
the pier into deep water at Summercove, Kinsale, May 29.
(CORK EXAMINER 14/8/1916) - 2nd LIEUT. CHRISTOPHER
J. MURPHY, Royal Munster Fusiliers, killed in action July 20th. Last year,
while training at Kinsale, he rescued a boy from drowning at great risk
to his own life, and was awarded the Royal Humane Society's certificate
on vellum for his bravery. He was a son of Mrs. Murphy, Spa Station, Tralee,
and was only twenty-two years old.
MURPHY, CHRISTOPHER J., 2ND LIEUTENANT - (August 1916)
- 2nd Lieutenant Christopher J. Murphy, RMF, was killed in action on July
20th. Last year while training at Kinsale he rescued a boy from drowning,
at great risk to his own life, and was awarded the Royal Humane Society's
Certificate on Vellum for his bravery. Lieutenant Murphy was the son of
a Nenagh Lady, and nephew of Messrs John and Patrick Bourke, of Dublin
road, and his father, (the late Mr. Denis Murphy), was universally known
and respected as guard of the Limerick and Waterford Railway before its
amalgamation with the Great Southern and Western system. - In Freedom's
Cause - Pádraig Ó hAicéad (Nenagh & District WWI)
MURPHY, CHRISTOPHER JOHN, 2/LT, , 9TH BATTALION, , KIA,
Initials: C J
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Regiment/Service: Royal Munster Fusiliers
Unit Text: 1st Bn.
Date of Death: 20/07/1916
Additional information: Son of Denis and Marie Murphy,
of The Spa, Tralee, Co. Kerry.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: I. J. 31.
Cemetery: Philosophe British Cemetery,
|Oona Chantrell is an Irish woman now living in London. She writes poetry
and memoir as an interest. Coming from an Irish family with strong republican
leanings, she was intrigued to learn that they had a relative who fought
and died for the British in the First World War." Her previous piece for
The Irish American Post, "Irish to English - Creating Translation,"
was published in the winter, 2013, issue. click