Iron Man who drank cow's blood, joined the circus and became a cycling legend
Published 12/09/2015 | 02:30
The Iron Man. Mile-a-minute Murphy. Iron Mike. Nobody could agree on Mick Murphy's best nickname, but many agree that he was Ireland's greatest ever cyclist.
The winner of the Rás in 1958 passed away this week but the stories of his achievements will live on. It was said he drank cow's blood and lifted giant rocks as part of his training.
I heard he had crashed his bike on one of the stages and had to steal a farmer's bike to continue.
After another crash he was left concussed, and ended up riding 10 miles in the wrong direction before turning around.
After each stage he would ride up to 50 miles to cool down. And with a broken collar bone after a crash, he jumped out the window to be able to start the race again the next day.
Surely these stories couldn't be true, could they? Earlier this year I had the chance to find out.
Entering his small ramshackle house, I was expecting to find an old eccentric, hiding away from the modern world.
Instead I found a bright, witty man who was full of stories, and was more than willing to share them.
Mick was born in 1934 in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, into a farming family. He was captivated by stories of strong men, circus acts and athletic achievements.
He used his confirmation money to order a book on bodybuilding and befriended a local circus performer. Pretty soon he was training intensively.
He lifted weights fashioned out of rocks, and could walk on his hands for a mile uphill.
In his teens he began to enter running events, usually winning at ease. His retirement from running came when he was forced to concede a one-mile handicap in a four-mile race (he had to run five miles) and he came second. At this point his attention switched to cycling.
He was said to have trained by riding the Ring of Kerry daily and was selected for the Kerry team in the 1958 Rás. A relative unknown, Murphy took the race by storm. At the finish line he disappeared, leaving the crowds confused.
He told me that he went looking for a gym to train in. Failing to find one, he rode out of town until he found a field with a stone wall. There he spent an hour lifting weights, before taking blood from a cow and drinking it, a training tip he had received from Russian weight lifters.
I had heard the cow's blood stories before, always assuming them to be myths. But he assured me that he would often go to the butcher, buy a fillet steak, and eat it raw on his way home. On the fourth stage he crashed on his way to Tralee. Even with a broken collar bone, he managed to finish in the Yellow Jersey.
From the finish line, he was brought straight to hospital but Murphy hopped out the window, over the hospital walls and escaped.
Instead of going to his hotel bed, he decided to go to a dance, as he didn't want to stiffen up and so arrived at the start line the next morning 'fit for the grave'.
He still held onto the race lead and eventually went on to win the 1958 Rás Tailteann by just under five minutes, an incredible achievement.
For the next 30 years he continued to compete in various sports, winning amateur competitions in boxing, wrestling and even darts.
He worked on building sites, and even had a few stints in the circus. After a bad accident on a building site in England, Murphy settled back in Kerry.
While he described it as 'a simple country house', it was more like a derelict ruin. While it was sad to see such a legend living in these conditions, he was perfectly happy and resisted any offers to help clean or tidy up.
He was a true hard man, a real character, and an Irish sporting legend. In an era of bland, media-trained sports stars we may never see his like again.