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Murphy of Kill House, near Tullow, County Carlow

Captain William Murphy, courtesy of the Tullow Museum, County Carlow.

Once home to the Bunbury family – see Thomas Bunbury of Kill – Kill House (Kilmagarvogue) later passed to Edward Murphy, an Irish nationalist. His son Bill died fighting alongside Tom Kettle at the Somme – the Captain Murphy Memorial Hall in Tullow is named for him.


Edward Murphy


Edward was one of eleven children (eight sons) of William Murphy (1819-1882), the founder of William Murphy and Son, a butcher, grocer, ironmonger and wine merchant on the town square in Tullow, who was married in 1846 to Marian or Mary Anne Lacy, of Dublin Street, Carlow. The Murphy family owned considerable property from the Square in Tullow to outlying farms such as the Conway farm by Motabower, which L.V. Conway’s father purchased in 1933. L.V. told me this prior to his death in 2023.

Edward, a nationalist, was elected to the first Carlow County Council in 1899 but died of pneumonia soon afterwards


William Patrick Joseph Murphy (1872-1928)


Edward’s brother William Patrick Joseph Murphy was born in Tullow, Carlow, on 17 March, 1872, to William Murphy and Mary Anne Lacey. In 1911, he married Annie Josephine Houlihan, daughter of John Joseph Houlihan and Johanna Madden of Roscrea. Annie’s sister, Kathleen Mary, had married Hon. Veterinary Surgeon W.T.M. Browne in 1908. William and Annie had 3 children. William’s collegiate career, first at Clongowes Wood, and subsequently at Trinity College, Dublin, whence he graduated, was marked by the highest academic distinctions. He was beloved by all sections of the community. In dealing with the poor he stripped his duties of every outward semblance of officialdom, and the poor regarded his as their best friend. He was the “people’s” doctor, and ever ready to assist in any emergency, and many a destitute home owes a debt of eternal gratitude to his memory. His was of a gentle disposition, and his unassuming manner was a noted characteristic of his arduous professional career.

In private life, William, was of a retiring nature. Outside his official duties he seldom, If ever, appeared in the public eye, except to press forward some local reform or sanitary measure in the interest of the town of Naas. He was Hon. Surgeon at the inaugural meeting at Naas Racecourse in 1924.

Amongst his colleagues he was held in the highest esteem.  During an active and well-spent career, he upheld the best traditions of a noble profession.  He gained the respect of intelligent men, and the love of little children. To the people whom he served, he gave of the best within him. He filled the niche and accomplished his task. William died at his home in Popular Square, Naas, on 18 June 1928, and he left behind that most enduring of all monuments, the precious heritage of a good name.


Captain Bill Murphy (killed 1916)


Edward Murphy and his wife Mary were the parents of William Joseph (Captain Bill Murphy) and his sister Tess (later Mrs Bernard O’Connor). Bill emigrated to Australia sometime later but was back visiting his family in Carlow when the war broke out. He initially joined the Leinster Regiment, later transferring to the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Bill died alongside Tom Kettle at the battle of Ginchy on 9 September 1916; his body was last seen crumpled in a trench.

The spirit of Bill Murphy evidently remains strong in Tullow where his owned numerous buildings on the Square, including, I think, the building in which my office was situated at the time I was writing about Bill and Tom Kettle and Emmet Dalton for The Glorious Madness. Laz Murphy the butcher is convinced Bill was a kinsman and tells me there’s a story that after the war a battle-weary British Army troop limped into Tullow and paid their respects to Bill Murphy’s hometown, rather lovely if it is so An oil portrait of Bill Murphy’s hangs in Tullow Museum; they kindly permitted me to publish it as a full page image in my book, ‘The Glorious Madness.’

I emailed Sebastian Barry this development; he had been gallant enough to launch my book and the title of his own ‘Secret Scripture’ was based on a Tom Kettle poem. ‘Very curious how these webs stretch across time,’ he replied. ‘Did He who made the lamb make these?’

In 1926 Captain Murphy’s devastated mother Mary gifted a house and garden to the people of the parish in his memory, now known as the Captain Murphy Memorial Hall. The Catholic Church are believed to be the trustees. On 9 September 2016 I attended a charming centenary commemoration of Captain Murphy’s life in this very building, at which John O’Donovan spoke of Bill Murphy’s life, Robin Harvey read a poem and joint prayers were held by Archdeacon Andrew Orr of the Church of Ireland and the Very Rev. Andy Leahy of the Roman Catholic Church. The event was organised by William Paton.

Six months before that, on 14 June 2016, I gave a talk in Christ Church Cathedral in which I spoke briefly of the Somme and Ginchy and concluded by saying how my office turned out to be in a building formerly owned by the Murphy family. The very next day, I had a letter from a man by name of Martin Murphy, Bill Murphy’s descendant, with further details on the Murphy family.

He confirmed what was then a growing awareness in me that the Murphy family – Bill’s family – lived at Kill House. As it happens, we pass Kill House often because it is on a series of dangerous bends on the main road between my family home and Carlow town. I drive it regularly as my daughters are at school in Carlow. I had never been there and nor had I ever seen any activity at the house until one lazy Sunday afternoon when I was driving home from Carlow with time to spare. I espied a white-haired man in a gateway with a quad bike. I waved at him. He waved back. I negotiated the next three bends and yanked up onto a spot of safe ground where they used to stash sugar beet in bygone days. I then exited the car and began running back around those three bends – in part because that is a perilous stretch of road to be a pedestrian, so I wished to reduce my time upon it; and in part because I did not wish to miss the white haired old man.

[As it happened, a friendly car espied me running, slowed down and said: ‘Are yaz alright Turtle? Would you like a lift?!’ I’m still not entirely sure who it was but I thanked him and said no and luckily his slowness slowed all other traffic down.]

I reached the gateway and there stood the old man with a face one could happily put on the cover of a new edition of ‘Vanishing Ireland’. We introduced ourselves with a handshake; we’d both heard of one another. His name is Tom Bolger and he owns Kill House today. He was aware of the Bunbury connection, so I told him about the diary. And then our conversation turned to the Murphys because Tom Bolger’s grandfather and namesake – a Cumann na nGaedheal TD in the 4th Irish Dáil (1925-27) – bought it with circa 300 acres from them in the 1920s. Tom had heard the tale of Captain Murphy’s death but, even as we were talking, that rumbly feeling was in my blood because it was September 9th, and that, almost needles to say, that was the day Captain Murphy and Tom Kettle went over the top and returned to their makers.

Later that afternoon I went to collect my daughter from my brother William’s house.
‘You know Kill House?’ I said, by way of an opener.
‘Well it’s funny you should mention that,’ he replied, ‘because I was coming back from Carlow this morning and I very nearly pulled in there.’
‘Really?’ I said, no longer surprised.
‘Yes,’ he continued. ‘I was thinking I’ve never been there and I’ve passed the place a million times. I had some time to spare and I very nearly just turned into the driveway to see what I could find. Why do you ask?’

The rumble blood feeling was no longer in me alone.

And guess who I was going to see giving a talk that very night? Sebastian Barry.

What does this all mean? Am I Captain Murphy? Is Sebastian Tom Kettle? Who is Emmet Dalton … and stand well clear of him because standing by him wasn’t great for the health of Michael Collins or Tom Kettle!




[Tom and Rita Bolger’s daughter Celia married John Dawson, the Tullow auctioneer. John advised me that, while the farm residence is to the good but, and it is of a period style, the house ‘does not take on the full Georgian features’.]