Martin Murphy

In Brief

William "Martin Murphy, the Bantry jobber," was a businessman from County Cork who became perhaps the most important capitalist in all of Ireland and wielded great influence in the "national press." He was elected to the House of Commons in 1885 and became a member of "the Bantry band," a group of MPs who all came from the vicinity of Bantry Bay. He published the newspaper that the Citizen mocks, "The Irish Independent, if you please, founded by Parnell to be the workingman's friend."

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In the early 1900s Murphy acquired the Irish Daily Independent, which soon challenged The Freeman's Journal for the claim of being Ireland's leading nationalist newspaper. The Citizen, reading a succession of English names and addresses from the births, deaths, and marriages lists in the Independent, implies that it, like the Freeman's Journal, is insufficiently nationalistic and excessively cozy with the Anglo-Irish elite.

Joyce told his brother Stanislaus that the United Irishman, a more vigorously nationalistic paper than either the Freeman or the Independent, was the only Irish newspaper worth reading. And given the fact that Murphy turned against Parnell in the struggles after the O'Shea divorce trial, it seems possible that the author shared some of the Citizen's dislike for Murphy. But the Citizen's words amount to little more than ethnophobia.

Murphy is best known to historians for his steadfast opposition to labor unions, which earned him the nickname "William Murder Murphy" after his opposition to unionizing Dublin's tram business led to the greatest labor clash in Irish history, the Dublin Lockout of 1913. His newspaper attacks on union leaders James Larkin and James Connolly during this episode had a further murderous spillover in 1916, when the Independent urged the execution of Connolly and other leaders of the Easter uprising. It got what it asked for.

It would have been anachronistic for Joyce to allude to this series of events in a book set in 1904, and he does not do so. But he was almost certainly aware that Murphy, in addition to being a titan of Irish journalism, was the man who organized the Dublin United Tramways Company, and the Citizen characterizes him as no friend to "the workingman."

For more on the insufficiently studied topic of Murphy's career in journalism, see "Entrepreneurship, Power, and Public Opinion in Ireland; the Career of William Martin Murphy," by Andy Bielenberg, at http://www.ucc.ie/chronicon/bielfra.htm.

JH 2013
Photograph of William Martin Murphy, taken in 1911. Source: Wikipedia.
Ernest Kavanagh's The Demon of Death, a satirical cartoon depicting Murphy as a murderous vulture who has attacked James Larkin, published on 6 September 1913 in The Irish Worker. Source: Wikimedia Commons.