Saturday, 23 September 2017

Murphy’s Law and Murphy’s
City: have you been there
and bought the T-shirt?

Cathair Uí Murchú, or Cashel Murphy, is an Iron Age early Celtic settlement overlooking Dingle Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On the bus out along the coast of the Dingle Peninsula earlier this week, we stopped briefly at Cathair Uí Murchú, or Cashel Murphy, a national monument on the south slopes of Mount Eagle overlooking Dingle Bay.

Cathair Uí Murchú? Murphy’s City? Was it once ruled by Murphy’s Law?

My mother’s family name was Murphy. It is the most numerous surname in Ireland, and so it is difficult to imagine that all Murphys are descended from the one eponymous ancestor, the legendary Murchú.

Indeed, there are so many Murphys in Ireland, it is hard to imagine that were all originally part of one family, still more difficult that they could all fit into one city, and impossible to imagine that Cathair Uí Murchú would have been big enough to meet all their needs and demands.

The entrance to the underground souterrain passage at Cathair Uí Murchú (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

But if the Murphy families are to have a city called after them, then there could be no more dramatic a setting than the location of Cathair Uí Murchú at the edge of the western world, or at least at the western end of the Dingle Peninsula.

This oval cashel is a collection of Early Celtic settlements dating from the Iron Age (National Monument No. 156/1-5).

Much of its interior is occupied by a group of five roughly circular, conjoined clochans, where five families would have lived.

A sixth irregularly-shaped structure seems to have been a courtyard where daily chores were carried out, and where animals were kept at night to protect them from wolves and other dangers.

An underground souterrain passage extends from one of these huts to a chamber beneath the cashel wall. This was used to store food and to hide from enemies.

The entrance to the chamber is marked by two upright slabs and is roofed by a single lintel. The passage extends 4.65 metres in a west-south-west direction, and a wedge-shaped chamber opens off the west end of its south wall. The passage is up to 0.95 metres wide and 1.2 metres high and is roofed by a series of large, flat slabs. The walls are made of upright slabs overlain by drystone walling.

The site has been considerably restored by the Office of Public Works. An elaborate cross-slab was discovered during restoration work in the 19th century is now housed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. A fragment of the upper stone of a rotary quern was also found lying loose within the cashel.

‘Murphy’s Law’ means that there are many Murphy shopfronts throughout Dingle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The surname Murphy is a variant of two Irish surnames, Ó Murchadha or Ó Murchadh, descendant of Murchadh, and Mac Murchaidh or Mac Murchadh, son of Murchadh. The personal name Murchadh meant sea-warrior – Muir meaning sea and cath meaning battle.

From Cathair Uí Murchú or Murphy’s City, we continued to battle our way out along the stormy sea coast of the Dingle Peninsula.

We had passed Ventry Harbour, and now found ourselves looking out first at the Blasket Islands on the distant horizon to the south, and then to the west the Blasket islands, before turning east into Ballyferriter and back into Dingle.

‘Murphy’s Law’ meant that inevitably we would come across more Murphys in Dingle.

Murphy’s stout … signalled by the Co Cork coat-of-arms (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Murphy’s Bed and Breakfast managed to display two Murphy coats-of-arms: one for the Murphy Brewery in Cork, showing one line of descent for Murphys throughout the Province of Munster; the other, presumably for the proprietors of the guest house, but showing a separate line of descent from the Murphy family of Co Wexford. Major General David Nial Creagh O Morchoe is The O Morchoe or hereditary chief of the Murphy family in Co Wexford.

Murphy’s Bed and Breakfast … signalled by the Co Wexford coat-of-arms (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In one shop, a coaster among the souvenirs offered its own rendition of ‘Murphy’s Law’:

Murphy’s Law:

Definition: Anything that go wrong, will go wrong.
Celibacy is not hereditary.
Beauty is only skin deep, ugly goes to the bone.
Never argue with a fool, people might not know the difference.
Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.
The other queue always moves faster.
Anything you try to fix will take longer and cost more than you thought.
The chance of slice of bread falling butter side down.
is directly proportionate to the cost of the carpet.
Never sleep with anyone crazier than yourself.
The repairman will never have seen a model quite like yours before.
A short cut is the longest distance between two points.
Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening.
The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train.
Murphy’s golden rule: whoever has the gold makes the rules.
In order to get a loan, you must first prove you don’t need it.


Murphy’s ice-cream … on sale throughout Dingle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Throughout Dingle, there are branches of Murphy’s ice cream parlours. Murphy’s ice cream is hand-made in Dingle, and this year (2017) the Condé Naste Traveler described them as ‘one of the best ice cream shops in the world.’

The shops sell T-shirts that wittingly invited customers to Póg mo Cone. But if you are an unwitting traveller who does not understood this pun, I shall spare your blushes and avoid explaining the humour. Wit is always about brevity, and I have rambled on at length through the Dingle Peninsula.

Instead of buying the T-shirt, I ended up with the certificate: lifetime membership (No 16967) of the Murphy Clan, my other’s own family.

Life-time membership of the Murphy clan

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