A conversation with Mick Murphy replenishes the soul

May 12th, 2015
by Weeshie Fogarty

It was one of those unforgettable special and unique Kerry sporting occasions which I am fortunate to experience now and again. The venue was The Red Fox Inn just outside the beautiful village of Glenbeigh and the occasion was organized by John Mulvihill the owner of the premises. John had contacted me some time ago asking my opinion as to the idea of honoring one of our counties most revered legendary and in my opinion forgotten sportsmen.

Of course I agreed that it was a wonderful and indeed highly praiseworthy idea and so it all came to fruition last Saturday week when Mick Murphy winner of the Ras Tailteann away back in 1958 was remembered and recognized for his career in cycling. Mick is now past his 80th year and the tremendously generous gesture by the Mulvihill family to this exemplary man is in my opinion worthy of the highest praise.

Mike Murphy took the cycling world by storm back in the fifties when he won that grueling Ras in 1958 and what is generally forgotten is that the South Kerry man finished third in 1960 behind second placed Dan Ahern from Ballymac another magnificent Kerry cyclist. Legends abound about Mike Murphy dubbed The Iron Man, of his feats on and off the bike and his eccentricities and rightly so following that historic win.   Indeed in this very paper which gave superb coverage to those golden days of Kerry cycling headlines were splashed across the very front pages as that Rás unfolded.

The superlatives headlines of The Kerryman remained forever etched in my memory because as a youth growing up in Killarney town I was completely captivated and enthralled by these savage men of the road.  Murphy was described in the paper as a 'sensation', 'mile-a-minute Murphy', 'the fabulous Murphy' and ' The Iron Man' It was wonderful stuff to read as the Rás unfolded. No TV back then, Radio Kerry unheard of, internet, the word was no even in the Oxford dictionary and mobile phones were fifty years down the proverbial line. So what one read back then in this paper remained ingrained in the subconscious?

 Down through the years I have been so fortunate to have befriended this extraordinary and amazing individual. I have visited him in his home, an unforgettable experience in it self, interviewed him many time for  my Radio Kerry sports program, drank with him, sat with him and exchanged stories about his favourite sports people and places he visited. He has brought me in the minds eye to far away places as he recounted his experiences working with circuses, farmers, on the bogs of Ireland on the motorways of Germany and of course his memorable exploits on the bike.

 Yes, he is eccentric, yes he is a loner, yes he is different, yes he dresses unlike others but he is one of the most charismatic, fascinating, enthralling, and strictly honest men I have ever been privileged to know.

Mick was born in the townland of Sugrena just outside Caherceiveen in 1934 into a small hill farm that supported seven cows, an acre of potatoes and an acre of oats. He grew up in an environment of frugality; his life was probably defined by the physical, economic and social environment of his youth. He worked at what he told me "on the mean and bad land" and left school at a very young age to help maintain the family income. At the age of twelve he was bringing home three pounds to the house hold income as he slaved on the bogs, cutting turf and drawing it home with a donkey and creel. This was re recalled "during the emergency of the second world war".

The story of Mick Murphy would necessitate thousands of written words in fact one Dublin journalists was visiting him at one stage a few years ago preparing to write his biography but for one reason or another it failed sadly to materialize. Mick has a multitude of astonishing stories. I love the one about the third stage of his '58 win. This was the 120 miles form Kilkenny to Clonakilty. Coming near Cork city his free wheel mechanism failed on the run into Glammire. The bunch passed by at great speed and he could se his chances disappearing, he was literally stranded, no back up for some reason, he was wearing the race leader's jersey and pure survival instinct tok over. 

>From a gap in front of him two cows emerged followed by a farmer casually rolling his bike. Mick sprinted, snatched the bike from the bewildered farmer, jumped on board and set out in pursuit of the main bunch. Of course he did not catch the group, the bike was "too big for me and had no gears but it brought me to the finishing line seven or eight miles away and I was still in contention".

The Red Fox Inn event was extra special. When Mick arrived   the red carpet had been rolled put and awaited him, a lone piper led him in to the bar where a huge crowed stood and applauded him, Christy Riordan of C/R videos had set up the big screen and some beautiful black and white film of Mick's career was on view. The legendary athlete and world hill running champion John Lenihan was in attendance as was John Mangan Ras winner in 1972 and later a top professional for years in France.

Photographers were in action, world renowned musician Liam o Connor was there specially to play for Mick, John Mulvihill spoke and I was privileged to do like wise. It was very evident Mick was greatly touched by the occasion. We sat and chatted over a superb meal and then John Mulvihill made a presentation of a beautiful silver Cup to the man from Sugrena. It was a touching moment to se him honored in this respect.

And then to bring a memorable evening to conclusion John revealed that every year from now on this beautiful silver cup will be presented to a personality, male or female to honour the name Mick Murphy. The cup will be known as The Mick Murphy Iron Man Special Achievement Award and the recipient will be some one who has achieved great fame in an event of extreme nature such as long distance swimming, mountain climbing, rowing, etc.

 And then we were told that the very first recipient of this unique award will be the one and only former World Hill Running champion John Lenihan. John will receive his award later this year and no better man deserves the recognition. Well done to the Mulvihill family for this wonderful initiative and rembering a man like Mick Murphy whose name is synonymous with bravery, honesty; will to win and the real spirit of Kerry. 

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