No 5 Beech Park Drive in Foxrock is the house bought with the proceeds of outlandish tales of witches, giants and talking trees.
Because a zillion light years before Zig and Zag zipped in from Zog, long before they unboxed Bosco and two years before Wanderly Wagon wheeled into a back lot at Montrose, there was Murphy Agus A Chairde (Murphy and Friends), Ireland’s first mainstream tv show for young kids.
From 1965 to 1968, those Irish children whose parents could afford a TV set were enthralled (and sometimes terrified) by the weekly adventures of an Irish giant named Murphy (he was also an Ard Rí) and his magical buddies. These included a somewhat despondent talking tree.
Leanaí na hÉireann turned on to watch Murphy’s strung out crew (all marionettes) foil the schemes cooked up by a dastardly duo of witches named Feemy and Babóg. It helped that there was a dual wit that adults could also pick up on.
The set for Murphy Agus A Chairde was a large open sided box above which groups of up to six puppeteers would hover out of camera.
The show introduced young audiences to the talents of Eugene Lambert, called in to create the show. Hitherto best known for his ventriloquist stage act with “Finnegan”, he had also hit headlines in 1963 after successfully acquiring a full driver’s licence for Finnegan as a road safety protest (any dummy could get a licence in Ireland).
The bilingual Murphy Agus A Chairde was so popular that RTE even had its protagonist puppet present mainstream programming on Christmas Day.
The brain that dreamt up Murphy’s knockabout magical tales belonged to RTE producer Pádraic O’Neill’, then better known to the masses under his pseudonym Paddy O’Brien, the station’s anchor sports commentator for greyhound racing.
The Skibbereen man had trained as a teacher and joined the Radio Éireann players as an actor in 1951.
He went full-time in RTE to work for the Variety and Drama Department on programmes such as radio’s Take the Floor (yes dancing on the radio!) and the ever popular The School Around the Corner.
He became a current affairs producer and was later appointed Deputy Head of RTÉ Radio’s Features and Current Affairs. At one point he ran Radio Na Gaeltachta.
As a young RTE executive, he married Maureen, a glamorous teacher then working a school in Ballyfermot. As their then Chapelizod-based family grew, O’Neill needed to come up with a way of financing a move to a bigger house.
And it was through his ‘nixer’ earnings, composing tales of giants and witches for Murphy Agus A Chairde, that O’Neill managed to gather together that cash.
He put down the deposit on a brand new, detached McInerney-built four-bed at 5 Beech Park in Foxrock, Dublin 18 and the family moved there in 1965 while Murphy Agus A Chairde was at its peak.
Looking at how to expand on the popularity of the Lambert performed show, RTE asked the puppeteer to develop a bigger production. The legendary Wanderly Wagon launched in late 1967. Murphy and his craggy crew were quietly retired the following year. They’d done their job.
The O’Neill children recall numerous parties at No5 through the 1970s and 1980s with many well known media personalities in attendance, especially for the Sunday drinks parties for which their parents were renowned.
Pádraic retired in 1990 due to waning health and he passed on in 1995 at 67. Following Maureen’s more recent death the house has just been placed on the market for the first time since it was built.
It’s still the perfect party house. The ground floor lends itself to opening out into a very large continuous space (the house spans 1,615 sq ft) with a very wide and bright hall, off which are three substantial and interlinking main receptions as well as a good sized kitchen with open access to a big garden with patio.
The living room comes with an elegant cream coloured feature marble chimney piece and a folding door links it into the dining room. This has a polished timber floor and French doors to the rear garden.
There’s a breakfast room, also with a polished timber floor, also with doors to the garden.
There’s also a private study overlooking the front garden as well as a guest WC on the ground floor.
The house has three double bedrooms and one large single and there’s a family bathroom with a bath tub as well as step-in shower cubicle.
Maureen’s pride and joy was her garden. South west facing and screened by mature colourful borders and neat lawn, it looks like it could have been landscaped yesterday. And there’s a big brick cobbled sun patio for summer barbeques.
Within reach of Cornelscourt, Deansgrange, Cabinteely and the sea at Dun Laoghaire and Blackrock, the house is on offer through Sherry FitzGerald asking €925,000.
As with the Wanderly Wagon tapes, Murphy’s were also tragically recorded over by the budgetary skinflints at RTE. The big man’s screen antics are no more.
But in clearing the attic, the O’Neill family discovered big piles of original Murphy scripts which they have now offered to RTE. Might the giant at the birth of Irish children’s tv arise again?