A NORTH Cork man has penned a book that aims to preserve the traditional music of the region for future generations.
In dong so, Gerry Murphy, of Churchtown, has realised the ambitions of his music-loving grandfather who was known as Boss Murphy.
Named Cork Person of the year in 2001 for his contribution to the revival of his local community in Churchtown, Gerry has travelled the world, returning to the town he loved so well in 1997 and setting himself up as a social entrepreneur.
His book is a gift to the musical community of the region.
“John Francis Murphy, The Boss, held an ambition over the last 30 years of his life that the traditional music of his local area would be preserved,” says Gerry.
“That is why he took on the task in the period 1933-1935 of committing to paper over 300 traditional tunes from his area.”
Boss Murphy The Music Collector preserves the memory of the man and his musical manuscripts, and it complements the 2003 publication, The Boss Murphy Music Legacy, and the 2019 album of the same name by the triple All-Ireland winning Shandrum Céili Band.
Why was John Francis Murphy known as ‘The Boss?
Gerry, who is familiar with terms of endearment in rural Ireland, laughs.
“Back then I always knew that the farmer, the landowner was always called ‘The Boss!”
Gerry worked in banking in Ireland, the UK, and Abu Dhabi before devoting a large part of his life to social entrepreneurship when he founded the Churchtown Village Renewal Trust in 1997. The Trust changed its name to the Churchtown Heritage Society in 2017.
He was far from home, working in Abu Dhabi three years ago when he tuned into RTÉ radio to get a taste of home.
“I heard the unmistakable strains of the tunes that my grandfather painstakingly preserved more than 80 years previously,” says Gerry. He felt nostalgic for his home-town.
“Kieran Hanrahan was broadcasting an edition of Céili House from Buttevant marking the launch of the Shandrum Céili Band’s debut CD. It was beautiful to hear the band play my grandfather’s tunes on the radio so far from home.”
The band, led by Alan Finn, had included The Dawn three quadrilles collected by Gerry’s grandfather, John ‘Boss’ Murphy. “I was delighted to hear the musical renditions on the radio,” says Gerry.
“My grandfather took on the task of committing over 300 tunes he knew to paper. His manuscripts were collated by Dr Colette Moloney and published by Churchtown Village Renewal Trust in 2003. They were recorded in an album by the world-class Shandrum Céili Band in 2019. My grandfather never knew that but I know the recordings by the band would have made him very happy.”
What was in the manuscripts?
“In his collection were not only jigs, reels and hornpipes that constitute today’s definition of Irish traditional music, but also schottisches, flings, mazurkas, marches and quadrilles; all the dance tunes fashionable across Europe in the 19th century that are not as popular today,” says Gerry.
The music manuscripts came from the Boss’s own hand.
“Back in 2002 when I first discussed the prospect of publication with Dr Moloney, she was able to assure me that his manuscripts were indeed original records of tunes that were being played in north Cork and the reason she was so sure was because there was multiple mistakes in what he had written!”
The Boss was self-taught.
“My grandfather had largely taught himself to read and write music,” says Gerry.
“He played regularly at house dances, stages and sessions.
And at the crossroads?
“There too I’m sure!
“His music was strongly influenced by tunes he learned at Buttevant’s now-demolished military barracks.”
As house dances and sessions waned with the advent of the ballrooms of romance, Boss Murphy began compiling his music manuscripts of tunes, many from memory.
“It was an amazing feat considering he had no formal musical training,” says Gerry.
Boss Murphy passed away in 1955, leaving a rich musical legacy. His beloved music manuscripts were stored with his fiddle.
“They were kept on top of a wardrobe in my family home in Churchtown,” says Gerry. “We always knew they were there growing up.”
They gathered dust until Dr Moloney, researching for her music degree, was lent the manuscripts by Jack, Boss Murphy’s son. Her work late formed the basis of the 2003 book The Boss Murphy Musical Legacy.
Gerry say of his book: “I did extensive research and interviews, it took the bones of nine months to write. Being in lockdown helped too!”
Is he musical himself, coming from a long line of musicians, composers, and fiddle-players? According to family tradition, William Murphy (1831-1911), made his own fiddle.
“I am not at all musical!” say Gerry, smiling. “But I do love music. My son-in-law is musical, he is the entertainer.”
There are many colourful characters in the Murphy family who have been in Churchtown at least since the 1700s.
“They rented first and then bought land at Egmont from the Earl of Egmont,” says Gerry, who has a keen interest in history and heritage.
Now that the Boss Murphy’s musical legacy is recorded both in song and in story, Gerry can rest assured he has done his heritage proud.
But he isn’t resting on his laurels.
“I’m in the process of writing a book being published next July about what I’ve done in my life since 1997 until 2020,” says Gerry.
“Coming from rural Ireland, getting a post in Baggot Street, Dublin, was an incredible experience for me. As was my involvement in the Churchtown heritage and in the Churchtown community.”
Boss Murphy The Music Collection is available in North Cork shops. €10 and can be downloaded.