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Wednesday 22 October 2014

How a Kerry woman created the 'Ashes'

Stephen Fernane

Published 10/07/2013 | 15:02

Florence Morphy

AS the tension and excitement of the age old rivalry between England and Australia gets set to take hold of the British sporting psyche. One might be forgiven in Kerry for failing to make the slightest connection with the Ashes and the county's sporting history. An important link with Kerry however dates back to the very first Ashes series in 1882.

Kerry's connection with the Ashes begins in Ballynamaunagh, Kilcummin, and the birth of John Stephen Morphy in 1811. Born to Killarney parents, Morphy later emigrated to Australia where he married Elizabeth Styles in 1836. Twenty-four years later in 1860 a daughter named Florence Rose Morphy (pictured) was born in Beechworth, Victoria, to a family of seven siblings. Florence would later become synonymous with one of the world's greatest sporting rivalries when marrying England cricket sensation, Ivo Bligh, who captained the famous test side that defeated Australia in 1882-83.

Initially the name 'ashes' was a metaphorical one following on from England's humiliation in the test series of 1882 at the Oval when the Sporting Press issued a humorous and sarcastic obituary on the death of English cricket: "the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia."

A year later during the 1882-83 series in Australia, an 'ashes' urn was created when Florence Rose Morphy and Lady Janet Clarke are said to have burned a cricket ball and stump placing the ashes in a small terracotta urn. Captain Ivo Bligh was later presented with the urn and a famous sporting expression was born as the team "reclaimed the ashes" of English cricket.

Florence Rose Morphy later married Ivo Bligh in 1884 and resided in Rochester, Kent.

From the outset Bligh had considered the Ashes trophy a personal gift and it rested on the mantelpiece of his home for over forty-three years. While there remains much conjecture surrounding the origin and presentation of the urn itself. There is no doubting that two years following her husband's death in 1929, Florence Rose Morphy presented it to Marylebone Cricket Club (based at Lords). The Canberra Times in Australia reported: "Lady Darnley (granted title in 1900) said that it was her husband's wish that the Ashes should eventually go to Lords."

The Morphy connection is by no means Kerry's sole association with the game of cricket however; a game that continues to thrive today under the auspices of County Kerry Cricket Club. The first recorded reference to a game of cricket in the Kingdom dates to July, 1872 (12 years before the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association) when the County Kerry Cricket Club played Valentia Cricket Club on the grounds of Ballymullen barracks, Tralee. In fact, Cricket clubs were at one point recorded in such modern-day Gaa strongholds as Waterville, Cahersiveen, Listowel, Tarbert, Causeway, Ballylongford, Ardfert and Ballyheigue (many of which continue to retain a strong preference for the small ball!).

Florence Rose Morphy died in August 1944 leaving a truly historic link between Kerry and the celebrated Ashes series. So whether cricket fans in Kerry this summer will be hoping the Ashes head south to Australia or stay closer to home in London. It might be worth remembering Kerry's very own place in the history of a famous sporting trophy as it is lofted high this summer.

Kerryman

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