Since he was a boy growing up in Cashel, Johnie Murphy, who passed away last week, was known to all and sundry as Merryman. It was an apt name for a man who brought a huge sense of fun and devilment to the serious occupation of journalism with the Irish Examiner and Dungarvan Observer.
A colleague of forty years plus, Johnnie’s reputation extended far beyond the Cork, Waterford or Tipperary borders. His arrival at the press box for a game was “an event” in itself, kick-starting a round of witty comments on whatever was the topic of the day, with the “wind-ups” flowing thick and fast, before Johnnie would bring things to a halt with the announcement that he was going to join ”his Tipperary brethren” – representatives of the Premier County newspapers – much to the amusement of his Waterford and Cork colleagues in particular.
Though he lived the bulk of his seventy years in Waterford, where he was so highly regarded, Johnnie was first and last a Cashel man, and Tipperary through and through. At his Dungarvan home, when Tipperary and Waterford met in the Munster championship, he flew the Blue and Gold flag, as if everybody in the locality was not aware of his roots, but Johnnie was never slow to remind them, just in case.
Outside of GAA matters, politics was also very close to his heart. Never one to do things by half measures, he was unflinching in his loyalty to Fianna Fail, and relished the cut and thrust debates his deliberately provocative comments on the subject generated among less committed observers. Fianna Fail first and last was his credo and to hell with the begrudgers.
A generous and unfailingingly courteous colleague, he was an outstanding raconteur with a seemingly endless flow of yarns delivered with impeccable style and timing. His escapades are legendary among his media friends, and in the past days so many stories have been recounted with great affection and in heart-felt tribute to a character who was most assuredly larger than life.
The Press Boxes in Thurles, Cork, and Croke Park will be quieter places from now. We will miss his banter and good-natured ribbing but our lives were enriched and our days brightened by having known him as a colleague, mentor, and a friend.
Our sincere sympathy goes to his wife, Eileen, family, grandchildren and long-time Cashel cara and regular companion, Sean O Duibhir. Knowing how we will miss him gives us an appreciation of their sense of loss but they will be sustained by a life-time of happy memories of an outstanding Cashel man.
Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam - M.D.
At Johnie’s Funeral Mass on Saturday morning in St Mary’s Church, Dungarvan, his daughter Jackie spoke fondly of the many happy memories they shared, and regaled the congregation with the many colourful yarns and stories associated with her father, ‘The Merryman’.
Johnie helped younger Journalists starting out in their careers, and spent most of his career working on typewriters long before the age of computers. He could often be found on the phone to the Examiner, relaying his copy over the phone to copy takers. In those days, Reporters might expect to have to wait for up to 20 minutes to get through to the news desk. Jackie told how, on one occasion, a German man working with the Examiner answered the call.
“Johnie was stating that Tipp were well on top, and on the way to winning, which of course, being half a Tipp Man was a big bonus. He used the phrase: ‘By now, Tipp were stretching their advantage’, when he suddenly realised there was no sound at the other end of the phone.
“The German guy had taken ‘Bye Now’ to mean just that! and hung up the phone.” It was a story which Johnie would retell many times to his friends in the press box.
On the GAA front, Johnie was a proud Tipp/Waterford man, and never forgot his roots, giving many years to Dungarvan GAA.
On the political front, there were few who knew Johnie who didn’t know his allegiance. On one occasion, while he was unwell, and told he might need a chairlift until he recovered, he was told that the very least he could do was pick up the phone and thank Enda Kenny.
Jackie joked: “Dad’s reply was ‘I’ll stay all day on the stairs and survive without it!”
Johnie’s 70th Birthday Celebrations were a particularly happy occasion for family and friends, recalling a long and fruitful life and career in sport, politics, and journalism.
Jackie wrote a poem recalling her legendary father. “As I stand here thinking of all the things I wan to say/ I wonder how to relay them, but I don’t have all day.
So I put this tribute together for a wonderful man/ I don’t have your talents Dad, but I’ll do the best that I can.
We grew up in a house of five to one/ you were outvoted on everything under the sun.
We had happy times, sad times, and much in between/ My childhood passed by like a lovely dream.
Your talent with the pen was well renowned/ I don’t think a replacement will ever be found.
As a senior scribe, you were one of a kind/ a man of integrity with a brilliant mind.
Throughout your career, you have been like my light/ working through the day and into the night.
News, Sport and Politics, it didn’t matter which one. The stories you wrote were second to none.
You met many a character along the way/ Pope John Paul II - a part of the job, you did say.
You had a photo taken with him which acknowledged this day, and the champ with long years, whose yer’ man with John A?
Born in Cashel, always close to your heart, you often showed us you didn’t get a great start. But through to your home town/ You were a great Tipp fan, known fondly to them all as ‘The Merryman’.
You broke many a story, to which you devoted your life. But as you said it yourself/ You couldn’t do it without your wife.
Long was your strength, was happy to see/ You achieved so much, to be the best you could be.
It’s never goodbye Dad, we’ll all meet again/ We miss you so much, our genius with a pen. For now we will see you, perish the day/ We all grew up knowing, the truly majestic, John A. “