Slieve Gullion Coucillor Was Champion Of The Handicapped

MANY can remember those ignorant and backward times, when mentally-handicapped and other disabled young people were kept hidden in their own homes, unable to play any role in the life of the community.

But thanks to dedicated pioneers like the late Councillor Jim Murphy and Mrs Elizabeth McElroy, Willie McGivern, Michael Cunningham, Mrs Lily McCaul and many others, they have been accepted as equal citizens.

And few have played a more important role in this respect, as well as the campaign for senior citizens, than the late Jim Murphy from Dromintee. This small farmer and “pahvee” devoted an immense amount of time and energy to alleviating the plight, and enhancing the life-style of those under-privileged.

A strong supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, he joined the SDLP on its formation, and was elected a member of Newry and Mourne District Council. Incidentally his son, Seamus, also became a councillor, carrying the banner of the Workers Party.

However, Jim resigned from the SDLP in protest over talks with the British government, while Internment was still in operation. He became a member of the Irish Independence Party, led by Frank McManus MP, Pat Fahey and Fergus McAteer, son of former Nationalist Party leader, Eddie McAteer, as well the late Cllr Eugene Markey.

Cllr Murphy became local chairman and long-time member of the Green Cross. Along with Mrs Norah McCoy, set up to alleviate distress among families of those interned or sentenced. Also, he was the only small farmer from South Armagh to dine with the Queen Mother at her London residence!

Playing Gaelic football for Jonesboro, Forkhill, Mullabawn and Dromintee, he was still a member of the St Patrick’s GFC squad until the 60’s. Later, he became club chairman, secretary, treasurer and unofficial taxi-driver, finally receiving the “Hall of Fame” Award.

So it was not surprising that some of his 13 children should have taken up careers associated with the handicapped. For example, a daughter, Mrs Rosaleen Moore, is a Director of Mental Health and Disability; Mrs Delia Van De Lendoo is with the Health and Social Services; Mrs Maureen Phillips, is a nurse at Daisyhill Hospital; while Mrs Patricia Flynn is employed with the Less Abled at Ardee.

Of his seven sons, Sean is Financial Controller with Granada; Seamus is a journalist; Aidan, Frank, Dermot and Kieran are involved in various aspects of industry, while Brendan is handicapped. A daughter, Mrs Eilish Brett is on the management of a textile company, while another, Mrs Josephine Flynn is a bank official.

For almost 50 years, the late Jim Murphy was on the road as a “pahvee, - a French name for a distinctive class of peddler or hawker, a door-to-door salesman, who specialised in clothing. He was following in the footsteps of his father, who would visit Canada each Spring, touring the lumber-camps and Indian reservations.

Then, around the winter fireside back home in Dromintee, he would regale his family, friends and neighbours with tales from the Canadian woods, trading and smoking the pipe with the Indians, riding the rapids, and sometimes losing packs in the fierce currents.

One of the best-known “pahvees” from that parish was Patrick Kearney, who crossed the Atlantic 30 times, twice visited Australia, and was once in Tasmania, the former convict colony known as Van Diemans Land. Having visited Newry patriot John Mitchel’s cottage, he brought home a piece of plaster from the wall.

Local historian. Michael J. Murphy described how Patrick had traded with the Eskimos in Northern Canada, supplying their favourite red check material. His reminiscences of life in the Arctic snows provided colourful stories of legends and folklore back home.

One ”pahvee” was doing business with a Canadian rancher, who asked him where he came from. Hoping to confuse the questioner, he responded: “Dromintee.” The rancher replied: “That sure must be some city. Every guy who comes here selling cloth, tells me that he comes from Dromintee!” And the story was told that a skeleton was found at the North Pole. It was known to be a Dromintee man, because they discovered a bag of clothes beside him.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008