Irish surnames are all based on the Gaelic language native to Ireland. The original Gaelic form of the name Murphy is O Murchadha or Mac Murchadha, which are both derived from the word murchadh, meaning sea warrior. The history of the distinguished Irish name Murphy belongs to the green valleys and mountains of the Emerald Isle.
Books by notable historians such as O'Hart, MacLysaght and O'Brien, and documents such as baptismals, parish records, and ancient land grants, were researched by historians who found that the family name Murphy was first recorded in county Wexford where they had been seated from very early times.
Variations in the spelling of the name often occurred. The surname was from time to time spelled Murphy, Morchoe, O'Murphy, Murfie, Murfree, Morfie, Morfey, Murphey, and could even change between father and son. Also, translations from the Gaelic varied, and sometimes there were preferences for different spellings because of a division in the family, or for religious or patriotic reasons. Church officials and clerks also contributed by spelling the name phonetically, sometimes several different ways in the lifetime of the same person.
Although not much is definite about early Irish history, there is an abundance of legends involving ancient Celtic Kings, Queens and heros. The Celts did not commit their knowledge to writing and instead they relied on a strong oral tradition to remember and pass on events in their history. Another purpose of this oral tradition was to celebrate past warriors at feasts and celebrations, and to prepare new ones for battle with tales of glory. As a result the stories became more fantastic the more they evolved, and how strongly they are based on fact is uncertain. There are many different viewpoints on the issue though, and some historians still have faith in the old legends.
The last invasion of Ireland occurred about 1000 B.C. by a Celtic race from the South, likely from the area of Spain. The books by O'Hart state that these people, the Milesians, were descended from King Milesius of Spain. He turned his attention northward to Ireland to fulfill an ancient Druidic prophecy during a 26 year famine, that he believed was his punishment for not attempting to fulfill it earlier. He sent an army to explore the fertile island and when he found that his uncle had been murdered by three resident Irish Kings, Milesius gathered another army to take revenge. He died, though, before he embarked on the trip, leaving his remaining eight sons to conquer Ireland.
The great Gaelic family of Murphy emerged in later years in county Wexford. They were descended from the younger son of Enna Cincealagh, King of Leinster and formerly possessed a large territory in county Carlaw known as the High Feliny. By 1127 they had also moved to Kerry and to Cork. In the former county they settled in Muskerry. They were descended through the brother of Dermot McMorrough, King of Leinster in 1172, and held the Murrows in county Wexford. Mortogh O'Morchoe was Chief of the Sept. They made important contributions to the middle age Irish patriots in many different counties mostly to the south of Dublin. Notable among the family at this time was Reverends John and Michael Murphy who lost their lives in the "Rising."
In about 1167 Dermott MacMurrough, King of Leinster, was defeated in a feud and requested aid from King Henry II of England, who opportunistically allowed him to enlist the help of his subjects. Richard de Clare, or Strongbow, became Dermott's greatest ally. He landed in Ireland in 1170 and solidified the earlier victories of other Norman Lords with the presence of his great force. The success of the Normans in Ireland prompted the King of England to arrive with his own army in 1172, and reaffirm the allegiance of his subjects, as well as establish himself as the overlord of the other kings and chiefs in Ireland. He succeeded, and in so doing, permanently linked England to the affairs of Ireland.
In 1845, the potato crops failed. Do to a number of social and political factors, a high percentage of Ireland's population at that time, were subsistence farmers with large families, that depended on the annual potato crop for food and income to pay the rent on their farms. The famine, that resulted from repeated crop failures, lasted from 1846-1851, during which hundreds of thousands of people starved, and even more were forced to emigrate to the colonies.
Many Irish joined the armada of ships that sailed from Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Holyhead, Liverpool, and Glasgow, bound for the New World. Some called these ships the "White Sails;" others, more realistically, called them "Coffin Ships." Often holding more than four times the capacity they were designed for, up to 40% of the passengers died of disease and the elements.
In North America some of the first immigrants who could be considered kinsmen of the Murphy sept were Alexander, Andrew, Antony, Bernard, Cornelius, Daniel, David, Denis, Edward, Elizabeth, Ellen, Francis, George, Henry, Hugh, James, Jeremiah, John, Joseph, Margaret, Mary, Michael, Patrick, Owen, Peter, Robert, Thomas, Timothy and William Murphy, all arrived in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1860. This distinguished Irish family also settled in Newfoundland between 1730 and 1870. Many prominent people have been members of the Murphy family, such as Arthur Murphy (1727-1805) Irish actor and playwright; Graeme Murphy (1951-) Australian choreographer and ballet director; William Parry Murphy (1892-) American physician who shared the Nobel prise for physiology or medicine in 1934; Rhoads Murphey, Professor of Geography; Mary Noailles Murfree (1850-1922) American author; Alfred Murphy, Chief Metallurgist; Charles Murphy, Naval Officer; Franklin Murphy, American Physician; Gordon Murphy, Engineer; Rosemary Murphy, American Actress; Walter Murphy, American Politician; William Murphy, Physician.