Nicholas (Hilary) Murphy of Parklands, Wexford, who died recently at the age of 86 was a well-known journalist of exceptional talent, an editor, a genealogist and a historian but above all he was a dedicated husband and father whose family were his greatest priority in life.
Born on St. Hilary’s Day in 1936 in Tilladavins, Tomhaggard, Hilary was laid to rest in Kilmore Cemetery alongside his beloved wife Bernadette (nee Ryan) who died in 2018, following funeral Mass in Rowe Street Church, which was celebrated by Fr Michael O’ Shea.
Hilary began his journalistic career with the former Free Press in Wexford before joining People Newspapers and being posted to New Ross as a district reporter, later joining the Wicklow People, covering Arklow and South Wicklow before his promotion to Deputy Editor in Wexford in 1971. He resigned that position for personal reasons and reverted to the sub-editing team, serving in that post until taking early retirement in 1997.
He met Bernadette during his stint in New Ross and they were married on August 21, 1961, enjoying 56 years together before she sadly passed away four years ago.
Possessed of a keen intellect and a great mastery of the English language, Hilary left a legacy of achievement to be proud of.
When he started out in journalism, it was a time of grease paint and black ink under the finger nails as newspapers were set on Linotype machines. He ended his career in the digital age of computers and photo journalist. Being the consummate professional, he took it all in his stride.
He was the essence of what made a top class reporter, never compromising the integrity of a story, yet treating people with dignity and respect and always producing stories for the paper with a flair and style that engaged the reader.
Two of the biggest events Hilary covered for the Free Press were the visits to Wexford of the former American President General Dwight Eisenhower in 1962 and President John F Kennedy’s visit in 1963. His proudest work was a “Life in Our Village” series for the Free Press in 1963/64.
The seaport town of Arklow became a second home to Hilary after he began reporting for the Wicklow People from 1965 to 1972, covering the South Wicklow District which he extended into West Wicklow. His happiest years were spent in Arklow and he always valued the friendships he made there.
He loved discovering the county and establishing contacts. Above all, he enjoyed being away from head office and free to work on his own initiative.
Hilary moved back to Wexford in 1972 at a time of momentous change in the People Newspapers following its purchase by Independent Newspapers Gerry Breen, who died in January of this year, was appointed editor and Hilary was seconded from Arklow to become the Deputy Editor with responsibility for the Wicklow People.
Hilary’s interest in Arklow never waned. In 1975, he published Kynock Era in Arklow (1895 -1918), an account of the Kynoch munitions and explosives factory which was the greatest ever industrial enterprise in the town, eclipsing the giant NET fertiliser factory which was built 50 years later.
The cordite munitions factory was located on north beach on the site of the present caravan park but little evidence of its existence survives today.
It flourished during World War 1, supplying munitions for Britain and employment soared from 260 to a peak of 5,000. In 1917 27 people were killed in a massive explosion and a monument to their memory was erected in Arklow cemetery.
A keen historian, Hilary was editor of the Kilmore Parish Journal from its foundation in 1972 up to 2012, also writing articles for every edition and following his retirement from journalism in 1997, he was in demand to edit other local journals.
He was editor of the Journal of Wexford Historical Society from 2000-2010 and was made an honorary life member; editor of the Journal of Taghmon History Journal from 2003 – 2008 and editor of Our Lady’s Island Millennium Memories in 2000.
His other main interest was family research, tracing ancestors for descendants of Wexford immigrants, mainly in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, UK and Wexford.
When descendants came to Wexford, he would take them to where their ancestors had lived and endeavour to connect them with current relatives.
He contributed many articles to family history publications such as the Irish Roots Magazine, Journal of the Irish Family History Society and Gateway to the Past (published by the Ballinteer Family History Society).
From 1977, he contributed a column to the popular Ireland’s Own magazine (part of the People Newspaper Group), responding to readers’ requests for information on the origin of their surnames.
In 1986, he published Families of County Wexford, profiling 105 names historically associated with the county.
In his early years, Hilary was a keen handball player and frequently cycled before or after work to play games in Barntown, Kilmannon, Trinity and Castlebridge with Gerry Breen, Eddie Nolan, Paddy Redmond and Johnny Hore. He was on the committee that built the first ball alley in the GAA grounds in Arklow.
During his funeral Mass, Hilary’s daughter Breifini thanked everyone who supported him over the past number of years, particularly after Bernadette’s death and said many people would have liked to see him more but were prevented from doing so by Covid. She extended a special thanks to Knockeen Nursing home where he was looked after with “kindness and compassion”.
In a eulogy written in the form of a poem, Breifini recalled Hilary’s life, thanking God for the day he and Bernadette met “As it sealed his fate as our Dad; The best a child could have; He gave us piggy backs up the stairs; Brought our cornflakes up to bed; He was concerned for all our cares; And was patient when we wrecked his head; He was always a good laugh; But stayed loyal to his craft; He woke us up early with his loud typing; He constantly seemed to be writing; researching in libraries, churches and graveyards; Unlocking family histories and working hard; Often leaving his glasses behind; Which it took the whole family to find; But he still found time to show us kindness; Picking us up late in his pyjamas; He visited the old, the sick and the lonely; And constantly endeavoured to be holy; His values throughout his life remained; After the saint, Dad, you were aptly named.”
Hilary is survived by his sons Declan, Brendan and Kilian; his daughters Anne and Breifini; his grandchildren Patrick, Peter, Matthew, Aidan, Owen, Tiarnan, Fintan, Madison and Eliza and his great-granddaughter Éala. He is also survived by his brothers Willie and Jack and his sister Betty (Roche); by his sons-in-law Pat and Dom and his daughters-in-law Jody, Jackie and Aisha. He was predeceased by his brothers Paudie and Mattie.