Murphy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Murphy Surname Ancestry

A Gaelic raider took the title of “sea raider” in 1070 for his maritime exploits while king of Leinster.  Sea raider in Gaelic is Murchadh, composed of muir meaning “sea” and cath meaning “battle.”  Grandchildren and subsequent generations took on the name O’Murchadha.  The spelling of the name eventually evolved to the more phonetic O’Murchu.

The hard “ch” sound could be pronounced in some dialects as an “h” or an “f.” These regional variations gave rise to the modern English-type McMorrough and Murphy surnames that arrived in the 17th century.  Today Murphy is the most common surname in Ireland.

Murphy Surname Resources on The Internet

Murphy Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland
  • to England, Scotland, America, Canada, Argentina, and Australia

Ireland.  Not all Murphys share the same ancestors, as there were several distinct Murphy septs that emerged in each of the four Irish provinces, Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht:

  • Ulster.  A MacMurchadhas clan held sway in Inishowen (Donegal) until they were displaced by the O’Donnells.  They moved first to south Tyrone but then, finding resistance from the O’Neill clan, they settled in south Armagh where large numbers of Murphys are still to be found.
  • Leinster.  Murchadh was the forebear in the 11th century of the Murphys in Leinster.  His grandson, known today as Dermot McMorrough, had the dubious distinction of inviting the Normans into Ireland. They did later, however, contend the English presence.  These Leinster McMorroughs were concentrated in Wexford but later lost their lands and scattered.  The majority chose to anglicize their name to Murphy (although their chief holds to the older O’Morchoe name today).
  • Munster.  The largest group of Munster Murphys traced their origins to the Muscraighe who inhabited a large area of western Cork.  There were other Murphys in Cork, Clare, and Limerick.
  • Connacht.  There was less of a Murphy presence in Connacht.  Even so, there were some Murphy clusters in Sligo.

The 1890 Irish census listed 62,000 Murphys.  It showed the Murphy name scattered throughout Ireland, but most prominent (ranking number one) in Wexford and Carlow.  Today, because of emigration, there are more Murphys outside Ireland than in Ireland.

Wexford.  The last leader of the Murphy clan in Wexford, Connall O’Murchoe, had died at Castle Ellis in Ballaghkeen barony in 1634.

There followed Murphy land confiscations during Cromwell’s time.  Only the branch at Oularteigh kept their lands.  But Wexford Murphys were granted some lease of lands at Ballymore and Cashel in Tipperary in 1689.  Succeeding generations lived there until the land was sold in 1848.

Murphys from Wexford rose in revolt in the Rebellion of 1798.  Fathers John and Michael Murphy, unrelated, were among the leaders of the United Irishmen.  Both were killed during the skirmishes,  Father John Murphy, later commemorated in song, was hanged by the English.  And many Murphys left Wexford in the 19th century.

Cork.  There were also many Murphys in Cork.  Daithe O’Murcu (or David Murphy) was a well-known blind harpist in the 1600’s and Sean O’Nurchadha (or John Murphy), born around 1700, the last of a line of Gaelic bards.

In 1825 James Murphy and his brothers founded the firm of James Murphy and Company, whiskey distillers.  They had some remarkable Murphy offspring.  After various mergers over the years, their company became Irish Distillers. 

However, Murphy’s Irish Stout, founded in 1856, is still going strong under its original name.  

England and Scotland.  There were Murphys in 18th century London, such as Arthur Murphy, the actor and writer from Roscommon, and John Murphy, the engraver from Cork.

But the main influx came later and more into the industrial towns in the north.  The 1881 census showed the largest numbers to be in Liverpool.

Robert Murphy, a laborer, and his wife Ann were early arrivals there.  Their sons Richard and Andrew were baptized in 1803 and 1809 at the newly-built Irish Catholic church of St. Anthony’s in Liverpool.  James Murphy, a bricklayer, and Mary Quirk were married in the same church.

America.  Some of the first Murphys in America appear to have been Scots Irish:

  • Alexander Murphey who came to Pennsylvania from Ulster in the 1730’s.  These Murphys later settled in North Carolina.  Archibald Murphy, known as the father of North Carolina’s public schools, was a prominent politician there in the early 19th century.  
  • and Murdoch Murphy, a Presbyterian minister from Scotland, who came to North Carolina sometime in the 1750’s.  His grandson John Murphy became Alabama’s fourth Governor in 1825.

Of uncertain origin was William Murphy who was in Spotsylvania, Virginia by 1730.  His two sons William and Joseph were famous Baptist preachers in their day.  William moved to Tennessee in 1780.  A later Murphy, Captain Dubart Murphy, was a contemporary of Sam Houston and an early settler in Texas.

Irish.  Hugh Murphy came from Dublin in the 1760’s and started a paper manufacturing operation in Pittsburgh.  His son Isaac migrated south to Arkansas and, having voted against secession in 1861, rather unexpectedly became the pro-Union Governor of the state in 1864.

In the New York area there were:

  • Henry C. Murphy, born in 1810, who was at various times Mayor of Brooklyn, owner of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, and an early backer of the Brooklyn Bridge.  He was the grandson of Timothy Murphy, a doctor who had arrived in 1769 and settled in New Jersey.   
  • Francis Murphy from Wexford who had come to New York in 1852 penniless at the age of sixteen.  For many years he had led a dissipated life until a term in prison brought him into contact with a reformer.  This led to him taking a pledge of total abstinence. He developed into a dynamic preacher in the cause of temperance in New York and then nationally.
  • and Charles or Boss Murphy who ran New York’s political powerhouse, Tammany Hall, for the longest time – from 1902 to 1924.  He was born in New York in 1858, the son of Irish immigrants.

Then there was Michael Murphy who had left Ireland in the 1780’s and became Diego Morphy in Spanish America.  He first made his home in Charleston and then, in 1808, was appointed the Spanish consul in New Orleans.  His grandson Paul Morphy was the great American chess champion.

Heading West.  Murphy Sr. was originally from county Wexford. In 1844 he took his Catholic family west, seeking freedom from the religious constraints of the Old World.  Together with nine other families, the Murphys set off on a crossing of the American continent to California. 

They were the first party ever to cross the Sierra Nevada in a covered wagon and the first to bring oxen across the plains.  Martin’s son Martin Murphy Jr. was the founder of what is now Sunnyvale, California and he became a very large landowner in the area.

Murphy’s Law.  This law, a term best described as having the meaning “anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” seems to have had its origin with a certain Edward Murphy who worked at the Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio in the 1950’s.

Canada.  Matthew Murphy and his family from Carlow arrived in Prince Edward Island in the 1820’s.  They were among the original founding families of the South Shore area of Cumberland.  The Murphy House there, built in 1871, is still the family home.

John and Matthew Murphy were two brothers from Kings county (now Offaly) who came with their parents to the Bytown area near Ottawa in 1828.  The family was Methodist and settled in Nepean township.  John, known as “john the penman” because of his writing skills, became a steamship captain; while Matthew in later life was a lighthouse keeper.

John and Bridget Murphy from county Armagh came to North Crosby, south of Ottawa in 1849 after a harrowing voyage on the Hannah in which all lives were nearly lost.

South America.  John Murphy joined other Irish emigrants from Wexford who embarked for Argentina in 1844.  He prospered and his two brothers William and Patrick followed him.  Murphy became the name of a railway junction and then a town in Santa Fe province.  The Murphy name has continued with Lopez Murphy, a prominent present-day economist and politician.

Australia.  Francis Murphy from Sligo was an Irish rebel of 1798 who was transported to Sydney two years later.  There he lived out his sentence, married, and lived with his family first at Parramatta and then in Sydney.  He died in 1855 at the good age of eighty-three.

John Murphy and his family from county Clare were early settlers in South Australia in 1840.  After working there for a decade they got gold fever and migrated to Victoria.  Timothy Murphy was murdered there.  The family story was told in Kieran Murphy’s 2019 book The Murphy Family of County Clare and in Australia.   

Murphy Surname Miscellany

The Murphys of Leinster.  The first of the Murphys of county Wexford in Leinster is said to have been Murchadha who had come from a sept that had separated into three separate groups – the MacMurroughs (Murphys), the Kavanaghs and the Kinsellas.  Murchadha’s grandson was Dermot MacMurrough, the man who is believed to have invited the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1170.

Subsequently, large amounts of territory in Wexford were under the control of the Murphys.  Their principal strongholds were at Morriscastle, Oularteigh, Toberlamina, Oulart and Ballaghkeen.  The final Murphy chief to be designated in the traditional Gaelic system of tanistry was Murtagh.  He upheld English law in 1461 and this enabled him to pass on his property and territory to his descendants.

One of these descendants, Donal Mor O’Morchoe, had his lands seized by the English towards the end of the 16th century.  The last leader of the Murphy clan, Connall O’Murchoe, died at Castle Ellis in Ballaghkeen in 1634.  There followed Murphy land confiscations during Cromwell’s time.  The Murphys of Oularteigh managed to hold their lands and did so up to recent times.

Other Murphys to lose their title and lands were those of the Tipperary clan who also suffered at the hands of Cromwell.  Murphys did hold onto some lands at Ballymore near Cashel until that land was sold in 1848.

Father John Murphy in 1798.  Father Murphy was a parish priest in the small village of Boolavogue in county Wexford when the 1798 Irish Rebellion erupted.

Originally he was against the revolt and even tried to persuade local people in the area to lay down their arms and to align themselves to British rule. However, having witnessed the brutal actions of the British forces against the local population, Father Murphy showed courage and leadership by gathering “the pikemen” of the area and commanding them in battle as part of the rebellion.

Victories followed at Oulart Hill and at Enniscorthy, but then reverses at Arklow and New Ross weakened his troops.  Following the United Irishmen’s defeat at Vinegar Hill, Father Murphy went on the run before being captured in Carlow. His capture ultimately culminated in his hanging, his head being impaled on a spike in public view to warn all locals against partaking in the rebellion.

A century after his death in 1898, the ballad Boolavogue was written to pay homage to his heroism.

The Remarkable Murphy Brothers from Cork.  John Murphy, born in 1796, came from the Cork distilling family.

His youth was spent chasing rainbows, as midshipman, traveller in China and financier in London. In North America his work with the Hudson Bay Company brought him close to the Indians who made him an Indian Chief and named him “Black Eagle of the North.”

During a severe illness he had a vision.  As a result he went to the Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood.  Back again in his native Cork, Father John Murphy commissioned the fashionable architect Pugin, with generous contributions from Murphy’s distilleries, to design the church of St Peter and St Paul of which he was made an Archdeacon.

His younger brother Francis, born in 1807, was a lawyer, a Member of Parliament for Cork and a scholar. His first cousin, Jeremiah, born in 1808 was a boy genius, mastered seven languages, wrote verse in various languages and contributed to intellectual magazines, but died very young.

Murphy’s Irish Stout.  The Murphy brothers who founded the Murphy Brewery in Cork in 1856 could trace their ancestry back to Nicholas O’Murphy who had come to Cork city from Carrigrohane sometime around 1710.

James J. Murphy drove the business forward and by the 1880’s Murphy’s Irish Stout was one of the premier beers of Ireland.  The Malthouse, built in 1889, became a Cork landmark.  The last direct descendant of James J. Murphy running the business was Colonel John FitzJames who held the reins from 1958 to 1981. Ownership now resides with the Dutch beer company Heineken.

Local Irish history pits the Guinness drinkers of Dublin squarely against the Murphy’s drinkers of Cork.  There has long been a lively rivalry between the two, with Murphy’s viewed as the more “craft” stout, and Guinness being the more mainstream.  The waters of the Lee river in Cork allegedly gave Murphy’s its quality.

Reader Feedback – John Seàn Murphy (born 1700) from Cork.  I am trying to find out about my 4th great grandfather Patrick Murphy.  Patrick was born in 1777 or 1784 and died in 1859.  His wife was Honara Nagle.  Patrick’s father was Daniel and his wife Joanna, but no record of birth for Daniel or Joanna.  They were from Cork.

My 5th great grandfather was John Seàn Murphy O’Murchadha na Raithineach.  He was born in 1700 and lived until 1762 or 1770.  Any info would be great.

Leisa-Maria Murphy (

Reader Feedback – Murphys in Westmeath.  My family is from Ballymore and is one of Daniel Murphy’s children. I am trying to find anyone who is researching this family.

Tom Raleigh (

Murphys Inside Ireland and Outside.  With the Irish emigration, there are today more than four times as many Murphys outside post-partition Ireland than within.

Murphys Numbers (000’s) Percent
Ireland    75   20
UK   106   28
America   100   27
   93   25
Total   374  100

(1) Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Murphys in England

Murphys in 1881 Numbers ((000’s) Percent
Liverpool and environs    3.5    15
Other Lancashire    3.2    14
London    2.8    12
Glasgow and environs    2.2    10
Elsewhere   11.3    49
Total   23.0   100

Martin Murphy of Sunnyvale.  The Martin Murphy family, founders of the city of Sunnyvale in California, constructed the Murphy family home there in the 1850’s.  Since there were no sawmills near Sunnyvale at that time, the Murphy family had the home milled to their specifications in Bangor, Maine.  It was then shipped in pieces around Cape Horn to Sunnyvale where it was later assembled.   It was the first wood frame house in Sunnyvale.

Martin Murphy also brought the railroad to Sunnyvale and helped to establish the Convent of Notre Dame and Santa Clara College, the first institution of higher learning in the area.

Martin’s brothers John and Daniel struck gold in the Sierras, then made a fortune selling dry goods to local miners and Native Americans.  The town they established in the Sierra foothills still bears the family name of Murphys.

Martin’s house in Sunnyvale was said to have been the site for the largest private party ever held in California.  It was held in July 1881 to mark the 50th wedding anniversary of Martin Murphy and his wife.  By that time he had become a huge landowner throughout the state of California. General invitations were sent out and it is estimated that over 10,000 people came.  Special trains ran from San Francisco and San Jose and the party lasted for three days.

The Murphy home was continuously lived in by the Murphys until it was given to the city of Sunnyvale in 1953.  In  1958 it was made a California State Historical Landmark.  However, three years later the house had to be demolished after a fire.  What stands today, the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum, is a recreation of what once was there.

A Harrowing Voyage on the Hannah.  In 1849, during the Famine, John and Bridget Murphy of Forkhill in county Armagh had already experienced one tragedy.  In January their house had burned down and one of their children had died in the blaze.

That April they boarded the Hannah at Newry bound for Quebec.  However, after being at sea fifteen days, the ship hit an iceberg in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.   Passengers, jolted from their sleep, were bruised and cut in the scramble off the ship. Others perished in the chilling waters, unable to gain the ice, or were lost in rescue attempts.   Some 120 Irish immigrants clung to a bit of frozen salvation, desperately cold in their nightclothes after almost 18 hours on the ice that April night.

Paddy Murphy, a descendant of the Murphys onboard that ship, recalled from family accounts:

“On the Hannah they had four of their children and the two eldest were lost.  The children went into the water and John went in after them. The story in our family is that his hands were so badly frozen he couldn’t handle the rope he’d taken to try to pull them to safety.  He held the rope in his mouth in the hope he’d find them and they could grab on.  But he couldn’t save them.  He lost all his teeth as a result.

Rose, who was approximately three years old, fell in the water and was rescued but did not speak for years because of the shock.  Bernard, aged two, also fell in the water but was pulled to safety by the wife of Henry Grant who thought he was one of her own children.”

Four ships eventually were able to bring survivors through the ice floes to Grosse Ile, the immigrant quarantine station on the St. Lawrence river.

This harrowing tale was recounted in Kevin Murphy and Una Walsh’s book Famine Link: The Hannah, South Armagh to Ontario.

Reader Feedback – Murphy in Minnesota.  My grandfather Thomas J. Murphy, Sr. immigrated to America from county Cork around 1910 and settled in St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota. His second wife Jane Geldert was from Sunderland in England but her family was originally from Ireland. They had eight children.

Thom Murphy died of pneumonia around 1947 and Jane died in 1950 of kidney failure.  After they both died, their son Michael L. Murphy, the seventh of eight children, moved at age 16 moved to California.

Deborah Murphy (

John Murphy in Argentina.  On April 13, 1844 John Murphy, aged 22, and his two cousins left their home in Kilrane on a cart to Wexford town which was some 20 kilometers away.  From there they embarked for Liverpool where they invested a small fortune to join 115 other Irish emigrants and buy tickets to South America on the brig William Peile. Each ticket cost £16 per head, which at that time could easily amount to more than an entire annual income.

Their departure inspired a local teacher, Walter MacCormack, to compose the song The Kilrane Boys, which contained the following refrain:

  • “There’s Billy Whitty and his bride, their names I will first sound,
  • John Connors and John Murphy from Ballygeary town.
  • Mick Kavenagh and Tom Saunders, two youths that none can blame,
  • James Pender, Patrick Howlin, and four from Ballygillane.
  • Larry Murphy from Kilrane joined them in unity,
  • They’re bound for Buenos Aires, the land of liberty.”

John Murphy landed with just £1 in his pocket. But he soon found work and toiled for eleven years as a sharecropper before he was able to buy land and start his own sheep ranching business.  He prospered. When he died in 1909 at the age of 87, he left a large family and a substantial fortune.

Murphy Names

  • Murchadh, the sea raider, was the forebear of the Murphy septs.
  • Dermot MacMorrough was the Irish leader who invited the Normans into Ireland in the 12th century.
  • Father John Murphy was one of the leaders of the 1798 Irish Rebellion.
  • Patrick Murphy, born in county Down in 1832, rose to be eight feet one inch tall and was the tallest man in Europe at that time.
  • Paul Morphy was the great American chess champion of the 1850’s.
  • Charles Murphy headed New York’s Tammany Hall from 1902 to 1924.
  • William Martin Murphy founded the Irish Independent newspaper in 1905.
  • Eddie Murphy is the African American comedian and actor.

Murphy Numbers Today

  • 106,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 120,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 168,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Murphy is the #1 ranked surname in Ireland.

Murphy and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Leinster in SE Ireland covers the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kilkenny, Offaly, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, West Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow.  Here are some of the Leinster surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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