Murphy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Murphy Meaning
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
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.
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Select Murphy Ancestry

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
    Tyrone but then, finding resistance from the O’Neill clan, they settled
    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
      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.

Irish census listed 62,000 Murphys.  It
the Murphy name scattered throughout Ireland, but most prominent
number one) in Wexford and Carlow.

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.  But 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.
Father Michael was killed during the skirmishes,
Father John
, later commemorated in song, was hanged by the English.

There were also many Murphys in
Cork.  In 1825 James Murphy and his brothers founded the firm of
Murphy and Company, whiskey distillers.  After various mergers
over the
years, the company became Irish Distillers. 
Murphy’s Irish Stout,
founded in
1856, is still going strong under its original name.  

Today, because of emigration, there are more Murphys outside Ireland
than in Ireland.

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

Murphy, a laborer, and his wife Ann were early
arrivals in Liverpool.  Their sons
Richard and Andrew were baptized
1803 and
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 in 1833.

America.  Some of the early 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
    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.

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.

Among the Irish Murphys who arrived in the 18th century were:

  • Hugh
    Murphy who 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
    Governor of the state in 1864.
  • and Timothy Murphy who came in 1769 and settled in New
    Jersey.  His grandson Henry C. Murphy was at various times Mayor
    Brooklyn, owner of the Brooklyn Eagle
    newspaper, and early
    backer of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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
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, 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
Force base in Ohio in the 1950’s.

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

Murphy 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
three separate groups – the MacMurroughs (Murphys), the Kavanaghs and
Kinsellas.  Murchadha’s grandson was
Dermot MacMurrough, the man who is believed to have invited the
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
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
confiscations during Cromwell’s time.  The Murphys of
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
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
of the British forces against the local population, Father Murphy
courage and leadership by gathering “the pikemen” of the area and
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
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.

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
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
“craft” stout, and Guinness being the more mainstream.
The waters of the Lee river in Cork allegedly
gave Murphy’s its quality.

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

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
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
house in Sunnyvale.

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

brothers John and Daniel struck gold in the Sierras, then made a
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

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.

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.
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
They’re bound for Buenos Aires, the land of liberty.”

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.
  • William Martin Murphy founded
    the Irish Independent newspaper in 1905.
  • Eddie Murphy is the African
    American comedian and actor.

Select 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.


Select 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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