Slieve Gullion Coucillor Was Champion Of The Handicapped
(Part 2)

The tradition in the region from Jonesboro to Lislea was that menfolk would emigrate for part of the year. They were never really content with rustic life. The land was of inferior quality, farms were small and could not facilitate more than one son.

When the crops had been set, the men would leave for Britain, coming home for the harvest. Their wealth of experience created many great stories, back home around the fireside. They would demonstrate the wit that could turn the balance between the sale of cloth and “Nothing to-day, thanks.”

Such door-to-door salesman, common before the advent of Littlewoods, etc., plied their trade throughout Britain, especially Scotland. They found conditions in the Highlands similar to the “good old days” in South Armagh.

Some emigrants from the Slieve Gullion region operated successful “rag-stores.” Fortunes were to be made, though it often entailed hard and unpleasant work. Another trade was known as “marine business” or “gallery rags,” – one operator later became Lord Provost of a Scottish city.

But back to the late Jim Murphy. He spent most of his youth in Manchester, to which the family emigrated, as his father found it difficult to make a living on the 14-acre farm. A recession had hit the USA, and the farming situation in South Armagh got worse. Jim won a scholarship to St Gregory’s College in Manchester, and got a job in an accountant’s office. A competent boxer, he received several awards.

Finally, after ten years, they decided to return home. Before he had emigrated, Jim had a “crush” on a fellow pupil at Dromintee school, named Elizabeth McNally. But during the decade of absence, they had never communicated. At a dance that first weekend home, he wondered: “Will she recognise me?” No problem. A few years later, they were married and raised a family of 13 children.

Mrs Murphy recalled a great community spirit in the locality, especially at harvest-time. The arrival of the threshing mill brought a carnival atmosphere, as neighbours came along to help, and barrels of beer would be drunk.

Jim’s involvement with the cause of the mentally-handicapped arose when he discovered that there were no educational or social facilities available for such people. A number of affected families came together in the Newry region, lobbied the authorities and organised fund-raising functions, including a five-band dance in the Town Hall. Finally came with the official opening of the first purpose-build Special Care School in these islands, situated on the Rathfriland Road.

But the most magnificent achievement was the Gateway Club at Kilmorey Street in Newry. This was the fruit of a long campaign by the Parents Association, of which Jim Murphy was chairman, succeeded by Willie McGivern. It was officially opened by the patron of the fund-raising campaign, International goalkeeper, Pat Jennings, along with the late Mrs Elizabeth McElroy.

When the National Society for the Mentally-handicapped celebrated their Golden Jubilee, in the early 90s, the Queen Mother hosted a special reception at her London residence, Clarence House. The late Cllr Murphy was among those invited; and he took the opportunity to relate to his fascinated royal hostess the positive aspects of life in South Armagh.

Politics was in Jim Murphy’s blood, having been secretary of the Anti-Partition League, whose chairman was Malachy Conlon, M.P.A supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, he helped to organise the Rent and Rates strike in the Slieve Gullion, as a protest against Internment. With the launch of the SDLP, he supported John Hume, Paddy O’Hanlon, Gerry Fitt and Austin Currie, whom he saw as giving the leadership to the nationalist community.

However, he disagreed with the SDLP decision to enter into negotiations with the British Government, while Internment still existed, and joined the Irish Independence Party. But with the entry of Sinn Fein to the election scene, the IIP found its brand of democratic republicanism redundant. So Jim left Newry and Mourne district council in 1985, though he remained on the Health and Social Services Board, as well as the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee for the Mentally-handicapped.

Finally, after many years on the road, this genial raconteur, with a vast fund of stories, started up a small industry, manufacturing car-seat covers. One achievement, of which he was proud, was in providing extra acres of land for farmers in his region, by having drains deepened and upgraded, allowing water-logged bogland to be brought into use.

At the funeral of this life-long Pioneer and dedicated public representative, his Dromintee football jersey was placed on the coffin, which was escorted by a guard-of-honour of club-members. A similar function was performed by members of the Handicapped and Senior Citizens Committees, as the remains were borne into St Patrick’s Church, with which the late Jim Murphy had long and close associations.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008