William Joseph Murphy

Co. Carlow

one of many untold stories.

William Joseph Murphy {1880-1916}

Family background and early life. 

William Joseph Murphy was born in Tullow, Co. Carlow circa the 16th of April 1880. He was born into a wealthy family who owned many businesses and a lot of property in Tullow some of which included: grocery stores, hardware stores/ ironmongers, seed merchants, wine merchants, auctioneers and public houses. 

 His father Edward Murphy was from Tullow. He married a woman called Mary Farrelly from Dublin Street Carlow. They lived in a large house and farm just outside Tullow at a place known as Kill {Killmagarvogue}. 

He was born into a Roman Catholic family of four: His father Edward, his mother Mary, His sister Teresa (Tess) {later Mrs Bernard O’ Connor, Perth, Western Australia} who emigrated to Australia and himself. 

William Joseph would have attended school locally but went to Clongowes Wood College, Clane, Co. Kildare at the age of 16. He attended from 1896 to 1898 and finished his schooling there.

Snippet of the family tree I have put together

Some photographs of Tullow circa W.J. Murphy's lifetime. 

Main Street Tullow 

Bridge street Tullow circa 1900 

Market square Tullow circa 1910 

These streets are just a few of the streets on which The Murphys owned businesses or property.

Adult Life.

The 1901 census states that he was a grocery manager, presumably in one of the family businesses. However, in his enlistment papers he put his occupation down as being a ‘Rancher’ this can be explained by the fact that he emigrated to Australia some years after leaving school where he purchased a large tract of land.

 He lived, presumably between houses owned by The Murphy Family in Tullow and his home/farm in Kill. At the time of the census they were staying in Barrack Street, Tullow. 

He never married or had children. This would have been extremely strange for the time in question as, being a Catholic he would have been expected to marry young and to have a family. Secondly having no children meant that had he returned from 'The Great War' he would have had no one to pass the family business on to.

His father died sometime between 1880 and 1901 as the census shows his mother to be widowed.

Transcript from 1901 census.

Military Experience. 

 While he was home on a short holiday at the outbreak of the war, aged 34 he enlisted at Fermoy in November 1914.Initially he joined the training company of the 7th Leinsters but the following month was gazetted to the 9th battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, being promoted to Lieutenant in December 1914 and Captain in March 1915. 

The 9th Dublin's were in the trenches at Loos in France by the end of April 1916. They suffered a severe gas attack and Capt. Murphy was briefly admitted to the military hospital at St. Omer. Known admiringly as the ‘Dubs’ the 9th battalion were part of the 16th {Irish} division. During the summer of 1916 a huge allied force gathered on the River Somme. Few had any idea how fierce the fighting would be. Thousands of lives were lost over a few acres of land. 

The 9th battalion of Capt. Murphy were positioned just west of the village of Guillemont, south of Arras throughout July and August 1916.They made several unsuccessful attacks on the Germans. An all-out attack occurred on the 3rd September 1916.The success of this attack was largely due to the Irish division. An eyewitness described how, " Accompanied  by a wild burst of cheering and the shrill of wailing war pipes, waves of Irishmen burst over the northern section of Guillemont".Two Irishmen were later awarded the Victoria cross for their part in this action :Lieutenant John Vincent Holland {Leinster Regiment}  of Athy and Private Thomas Hughes{Connaught Rangers} of Monaghan.

 Six days later the 9th battalion went on to storm the German line at Ginchy, a mile north east of Guillemont. It was in this battle that William Joseph Murphy lost his life aged 36. Approximately 4,310 men were injured or killed between the 3rd and 9th of September 1916.   

map showing position of the 16th Irish division

His mother and sister were absent in Australia when the news of his death reached Tullow by telegram from the War Office, the news was wired to her by Mr Somers the manager of the family’s business in Tullow. 

His uncle John{jack} Murphy and sister Teresa both married into the O' Connor family of Perth, Western Australia.  Jack married a woman called Angela and Teresa married Bernard O' Connor.

Records of the soldier. 

Capt. William Joseph Murphy did not receive any medals, he was posthumously mentioned in dispatches. From my research, I gather this is one of the lowest forms of recognition that could have been given to a soldier.

There is only one living relative of Capt. Murphy’s known to be alive he/she is a grandchild of a cousin of Cpt Murphy’s. I have been unable to contact them.

It is not known exactly where he is buried. He is believed to be buried in Guillemont road cemetery {plot reference Sp.Mem 4}

The community hall in Tullow is dedicated to the memory of Capt Murphy. It was donated to the people of Tullow by Williams’s mother Mary who donated the building for the use of the young men of Tullow circa 1920. there is a painting of Captain Murphy in uniform hanging in Tullow museum.

Exterior of the William Joseph Murphy memorial hall.

His name is recorded on Leighlinbridge War Memorial in the Memorial Garden beside the River  Barrow

" Murphy, William Joseph Cpt. Royal Dublin Fusiliers 9-9-1916 age 36"

Records from the C.W.G.C stating place of burial for Capt. Murphy. 

Letter shown alongside his obituary in the 1917 Clongownian.

Letter dated the 3rd October from  General W.B Hickie who was in command of the 16th Irish division to William's uncle  Rev. Arthur F. Murphy C.C , who was the priest of the family, he spent his latter years as P.P in Emo, Co. Laois ( see snippet  of family tree above)

"Many thanks for your letter, and especially so for enclosing me the copy of your nephew's letter, written March last. With your permission, I would like to keep the copy among my private papers. Wellington said that the next saddest thing in the world to losing a battle was winning one. We have lost many great and valiant soldiers, but among them none who leaves a name more honoured than your nephew's . After Colonel Thackeray was wounded on the 6th  September he took command of the Battalion in the hallow of the road east of Guillemont, and he remained in command until he was killed while going forward with the third wave of the attack on the 9th September. He was hit in the head by a rifle bullet. Father Burke  the chaplain of the 9th Dublin Fusiliers, saw him in the reserve trench on the 8th Sept., the eve of the  attack. To the regiment in particular, to me personally, and to the whole division he is a great loss. It was to him and men like him who trained and led our gallant soldiers we owe the victories of Guillemont and Ginchy. I beg that you will convey to his family my deep sympathy with them. I am glad that I knew your nephew, and that I had the honour of  serving with him. I hope I may meet you in more peaceful times.

Yours very truly,

W.B. Hickie "

The men of Carlow and Ireland who were spared from the atrocities of the war and returned home, returned to a changed Ireland . Their story went untold for so many years its great to see their stories come alive 100 years on. Captain William Joseph Murphy is just one of many who suffered, in his memorial his comrades live on too. 

‘ Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.’ 

Capt. W.J. Murphy in uniform.


My name is Kieran O' Mara, I'm 16 years old and a 5th year student at Presentation De La Salle College, Bagenalstown. History is one one of my favourite subjects at school along with Irish and Chemistry. I have a curious and inquisitively driven passion for history and discovering the past. I first heard about the 'Adopt a WWI soldier' project through Ms Maher, a teacher at my school. She encouraged everyone in our history class to enter the competition. I did so and was absolutely delighted when I found out I was representing Co. Carlow. 

I feel that not enough is known about the people of Ireland who gave their lives so willingly for a cause that didn’t necessarily affect them. I am of the opinion that they are not acknowledged as they should be. Up until the centenary celebrations I have rarely seen much documented about the Irish war dead of World War One. I especially admire the fact that many of them went on the promise and hope of home rule when they returned among other reasons such as the German attack on 'little Belgium' - Catholic Belguim, others perhaps went to discover or in search of adventure and  as an escape from  the poverty in Ireland at  the time . However while many never returned, those who did weren't treated in the way they were promised and the way they deserved with many of them ending up evicted from their family homes to be left with nothing.

 Personally I always wanted to visit the place where these people are buried as two of my great grandfathers fought in the war. They did return but one was left extremely mentally challenged and was never the same after his experiences. It could easily have been them that were buried there perhaps they knew or fought beside the some of the people buried there. In a way they were lucky to come home alive but when they got home their quality of life wasn’t any better than it was before they left. After researching  I found that approximately four hundred and eighty Carlovians were killed in the war. I really wanted to research into the topic more. I am proud to be representing Co Carlow on this historic trip.

my research

As soon as I received  the name of my soldier I immediately set to work. The first thing  I researched was the 1901 Census Returns. These proved to be very helpful in providing a basis for my research. It did raise a few questions too. At first I wasn't entirely sure if the Census had shown me the right family, but I clarified this as my research went further.

 I then searched the Commonwealth War Graves Commission {C.W.G.C} from here I managed to download documents indicating where Captain Murphy is believed to be buried, the date of his death and his rank in the British army . I also searched other websites for information.

Records from the C.W.G.C stating place of burial for Capt. Murphy. 

After this I contacted a local man from Tullow, Billy Wright, he is involved with the Captain Murphy Memorial Hall and Tullow Museum. He was very helpful in my search and provided me with loads of information as well as telling me about the painting of Captain Murphy in the Museum.  

Tullow Museum, Bridge Street, Tullow

Once a Methodist Church, The museum features a splendid collection of artefacts reflecting local history, including what are alleged to be Fr John Murphy's last vestments

Opening times: Closed on Sat and Mon

Sun + Bank Holidays : 2p.m.-5p.m.

Other days: 2p.m.-4p.m.

Admission Free, Voluntary contributions welcome

For more information contact - 086-3416919 During opening hours OR 087-2383515 Anytime

Billy then put me in contact with another man, John O' Donovan, who happened to be writing an article for the Carloviana about William Joseph Murphy. The Carloviana is a historical journal published annually by the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society . He was very helpful to me and always willing to answer any question he could that arose through my research. 

I then contacted the archivist at Clongowes Wood College, unfortunatly they didn't keep the acedemic records of students but she did forward me  his obituary from the 1917 Clongownian.

My experience

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of researching my soldier William Joseph Murphy. It made me think deeper into the poignant period in history that is World War I. I found it really hard to believe that such devastation and destruction could stem from one man's actions. Such a waste of so many young lives, when you think about it: What was solved by the war? Absolutely nothing, all it brought was heartache to so many families. While thinking about the war and all those innocent young lives that were lost one song came into my mind constantly- It is 'The Green Fields of France' by Eric Bogle, I think that this truly is a fantastic song. Not only is it a nice song but when you listen to the words you cannot help be but moved. I love the song but the verse I particularly like is this one

"Young Willie McBride I can't help wonder why?  

Do those that lie here know why did they die?

And did they believe when they answered the call?

 Did they really believe that this war would end wars?"

 I think that this verse show  the innocence of the Irish soldiers and the fact that no matter what purpose they were fighting for, which most of them didn't actually know anyway, couldn't prevent any future conflicts.

 The line "Or are you a stranger without even a name?" has particular significance to this project as many of the soldiers being researched for this project were forgotten soldiers whose stories have been brought to life again 100 years on.

The Green Fields of France- Eric Bogle

I urge anyone who hasn't listened to this song to have a listen. Don't just listen but take in the meanings of the words and think of all the Irish people who gave their lives so willingly in this war never to return to their home again

Another thing that came into my head while thinking about the project was the poem 'Base Details' by Seigfreid Sassoon {1886–1967}. Sassoon was a Jewish soldier and  war poet. 'Base Details'   deals with the unfairness of the way the army was organised and how the young innocent lives of soldiers were sent to the trenches while the majors and officers of higher rank  sat back and gorged themselves on food, drink and comforts, not  experiencing the horrors of trench life as did the young innocent soldiers.

 "Base Details"

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,

 I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,

 And speed glum heroes up the line to death. 

You'd see me with my puffy petulant face,

 Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel, 

Reading the Roll of Honour. 'Poor young chap,'

 I'd say - 'I used to know his father well; 

Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap.'

 And when the war is done and youth stone dead,

 I'd toddle safely home and die - in bed.

By Seigfreid Sassoon

I cant help but wonder  if these Majors and higher ranking officers who shot and punished  soldiers  because they were traumatised by the effects the war on them, often accusing the soldiers of being cowards, were they the real cowards? If Sassoon's description is anything to go by I would be of the opinion that they were

The Launch in Collins Barracks 

The launch of the project was held in Collins Barracks Dublin on the 7th  of March. It was really interesting to hear all the other stories and to meet all of the other students going on the trip

Waterford seminar

On the 20th of April the four students representing the south east counties Waterford,Wexford,Kilkenny and Carlow were invited by Niamh Crowly of the Waterford branch of the  H.T.A.I. to present their presentations in Waterfords Medieval Museum. It too was a very interesting evening.

From Left to right:  Eamonn McEneaney, Curator Waterford Museum, Niamh Crowley [HTAI Sec Waterford], Amy Mackey [Waterford], Kieran O'Mara [Carlow}, Béibhinn Breathnach [Kilkenny], Emily Boyne [Wexford], Donnchadh Ó Ceallacháin [Waterford Museum], Gerard [HTAI Chair Waterford] | Photograph courtesy of Noel Browne |


I would like to thank everyone who helped me during  my research for this project . Especially Billy Wright, John O' Donavan, Ms. Maher, Mr.Cummins and my family who have been very helpful through out the project.

I would also like  to thank Gerry Moore and Niamh Crowley for the very interesting meetings  in Collins Barracks and in Waterford's Medieval Museum.

'Go raibh míle maith agaibh'