Select Murphy Surname Genealogy

A Gaelic raider took the title of "sea raider" in 1070 for his maritime explioits 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.    

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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. 

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.  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 Murphy, 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 James Murphy and Company, whiskey distillers.  After various mergers over the years, the company became Irish Distillers.  However, 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.

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 in Liverpool.  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 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 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. 

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 pro-Union 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 of 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 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, 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.

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.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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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 Murphys 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.

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Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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