Denis Murphy (1912-1974)

24 November 2006, 9:11 PM GMT

Denis Murphy (1912-1974)

Denis Murphy was born in Lisheen (Sliabh Luachra area) in 1912 to Bill and Mainie Murphy, one of a family of nine. There were so many Murphy families in that Knocknagree/Gneevgullia area that Bill was always known as “Bill the Waiver” because his people had been weavers of flex in olden times, but Bill himself had gone over to small scale mixed farming in 1890, just like lots of other families. Bill played in the local fife and drum band and all his children were taught the fiddle in turn. The eldest child Bridgie stayed at home while the next five went to the United States, Dan & Mary becoming the best known musicians. One child died very young and then came Denis and Julia (who later married John Clifford). Music was the big preoccupation in the area with all the house dances, ‘pattern’ days and even the small country halls which had begun to take over - plenty of opportunities for playing and teaching music.

Musicians of note at that time included Din Tarrant, Tom Billy Murphy (who in fact taught Denis’s brother Dan) and the Clifford’s, who had a gramophone. The Clifford’s with Denis and Julia listened enthusiastically to the 78’s of Coleman, Morrison, Killoran etc - just like what was happening in other areas at the time. John and Denis formed a partnership on the box and fiddle and played almost continually in the various halls and house dances. Julia showed promise when winning at a local bazaar and her parents invited Padraig Ó Caoimh to teach both Denis and Julia. Denis and John did some broadcasts on Radio Éireann and when the Clifford’s had emigrated to London, Denis did some recordings. Denis married Mary Sheehan during the war years and they emigrated to New York, where Denis worked in various jobs and was active in the music scene. They returned home in 1952, went back again but finally settled in Lisheen in 1959. Denis gave the appearance of affluence and had a motor car, a rare enough item at that time. After the death of Padraig Ó Caoimh in 1963, Denis was “the exponent of Sliabh Luachra music” making numerous radio and television appearances while his home at Lisheen was a hive of activity. He formed a great friendship with Johnny Leary but died suddenly on the 7th of April 1974.

His Music

He had a vast repertoire of slides, polkas, reels, jigs and hornpipes which he played superbly in an exciting Sliabh Luachra fashion. He could sing a song, recite and tell yarns with the best, full of humour and gaiety.

Useful References

Treoir Vol. 6 No. 3 Treoir Vol. 7 No. 3 Treoir Vol. 12 No. 1, 2 Treoir Vol. 27 No. 1 Music from Sliabh Luachra - Volume 1 Topic LP / RTE CD “Na Cearníní 78” Gael Linn LP Bowing Styles in Irish Fiddle Playing by David Lyth Vol. 2 CCÉ Star Above the Gartar - Claddagh LP

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