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 mother’s own family.

Life-time membership of the Murphy clan

Re-reading poems,
plays and novels
on the beach at Inch

Inch Beach, with its breath-taking panoramic views and three miles of long sandy beach (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

As we drove from Killarney out onto the Dingle Peninsula earlier this week, our first stop was at Inch Beach, with its breath-taking panoramic views and three miles of long sandy beach.

This world-class blue-flag beach is ideal for swimming and surfing, even on wet days like those we had for part of this week – particularly on days when the tide is out, the beach is flat, and the reflections sparkle on the water.

The beach is also known as the film location for The Playboy of the Western World (1962), which was shot entirely at Inch, and Ryan’s Daughter (1970).

A poem painted on the gable wall of Sammy’s Restaurant in the sand dunes above Inch beach and the hiring huts for surfboarding reads:

Dear Inch must I leave you
I have promises to keep
perhaps miles to go
to my last sleep

Adapting lines from Robert Frost on Inch Beach (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The words are a playful interpretation of lines in the final verse of Robert Frost’s 1922 poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

What are the promises the poem must keep? Perhaps they are promises to return home before dark. But they are the promises we all make about living our life to its fulfilment before we die. We all have promises to keep and much to do before life inches away and we reach that final sleep.

Early on 23 November 1963, Sid Davis of Westinghouse Broadcasting reported the arrival of President John F Kennedy’s coffin at the White House. As Frost was one of Kennedy’s favourite poets, Davis concluded his report with a passage from this poem, but was overcome with emotion as he signed off.

At the funeral of the former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, on 3 October 2000, his eldest son Justin Trudeau – the present Prime Minister of Canada – rephrased the last stanza of this poem in his eulogy:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
He has kept his promises
and earned his sleep.

But if the painting on the gable wall at Sammy’s reads like a poor imitation of Robert Frost’s verse, Inch has always been renown at adapting works of literature, from Irish plays to French novels, turning them into movies.

The Playboy of the Western World is a 1962 film version of the 1907 play written by John Millington Synge, who spent the summer of 1905 nearby in Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, perfecting his Irish. The movie version was directed and co-written by Brian Desmond Hurst and stars Gary Raymond and Siobhán McKenna. It was filmed in Inch and starred many actors from the Abbey Players and the Abbey Theatre. The film was produced by the Four Provinces company created ten years earlier by Hurst and Michael Morris, 3rd Baron Killanin.

The Playboy of the Western World, starring Gary Raymond and Siobhan McKenna, tells of Christy Mahon who finds shelter from Pegeen Mike, an innkeeper, when he arrives unexpectedly in a small Mayo village. Pegeen Mike takes a shine to Christy and when his tale of self-defence against his violent father spreads throughout the community, hero status is conferred on the man.

However, Ryan’s Daughter is the film that brought world-wide attention to Inch and the Dingle Peninsula.

Ryan’s Daughter is a 1970 epic romantic drama film directed by David Lean. The film, set between August 1917 and January 1918, tells the story of a married Irish woman who has an affair with a British officer during World War I, despite moral and political opposition from her nationalist neighbours. It stars Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, John Mills, Christopher Jones, Trevor Howard and Leo McKern.

The film is a re-telling of the plot in Madame Bovary (1856), the debut novel by Gustave Flaubert’s novel that tells the story of Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life in a town near Rouen.

Ryan’s Daughter is a loose adaptation of the story, relocating it to Ireland in the aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916. The script began as a straight adaptation of Madame Bovary, but David Lean convinced writer Robert Bolt to re-work it into another setting.

The film, set between August 1917 and January 1918, tells the story of a married Irish woman who has an affair with a British officer during World War I, despite moral and political opposition from her nationalist neighbours. It stars Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, John Mills, Christopher Jones, Trevor Howard and Leo McKern.

In the scene before Major Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones) completes suicide, there is a cut from a sunset to Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum) striking a match, which is a sly allusion to Lawrence of Arabia with its famous cut from Peter O’Toole blowing out a match to a sunrise in the desert.

After its initial release, Ryan’s Daughter was harshly received by critics but it was a box office success, grossing nearly $31 million on a budget of $13.3 million, making the film the eighth highest-grossing picture of 1970. It received two Academy Awards, but was not nominated for best picture.

The village in the film was built by the production company from local stone so it could withstand the storms on the Dingle Peninsula. But disputes over land meant the entire village was razed after filming. People from Dunquin were hired as extras. The amount of money spent in the area – almost £1 million – revived the local economy in the Dingle Peninsula, and the tourists have been coming back ever since.

Walking on the long stretch of sand on Inch Beach earlier this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)