Michael J. Murphy, writer and folklorist, was born in Eden Street, Liverpool , in June 1913 and died at Walterstown, Castlebellingham, Co. Louth, on May 18th 1996.
Michael J. was the last of the ‘uneducated intellectuals’ in the South Ulster area in that he, in Patrick Kavanagh’s phrase which he allegedly used to describe himself, ‘flew to knowledge without going to college’. In order to look at his work it is necessary to look at the background of the man and at the landscape which produced the writer.
Michael J. Murphy is not without a literary background within his own family. His paternal great grandfather, William Jordan of Tiffcrum, Forkhill, was a Gaelic scribe and minor Gaelic poet. He sent two one-thousand line poems to the Pope and these were acknowledged by the Pope’s secretary. He set up a soup kitchen during the famine years at what is now The Three Steps public house in Dromintee, South Armagh, in opposition to the proselytising soup kitchen of the Rev. Doctor Campbell, Rector of Forkhill, in Forkhill village. The brothers of William Jordan had a shop in Mill Street, Newry, and they helped with the supplying of the soup kitchen.
Jordan seems to have abandoned the Irish language and writing because of the condemnation of the Gaelic Bible (The Blue Book) by the Catholic Church. Always in poor health he died at the age of forty-nine. His papers were left to Owen McCann, Carrive, Mullaghbane, but they have now disappeared.
It was from William Jordan’s son, Pat Jordan, that the medieval tales were passed on to his nephew, Michael Murphy senior.