Wexford People

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Part two of 'Famous Wexford People in History' now on sale


The old abandoned Murphy homestead in Haysland near Kilrane.

The old abandoned Murphy homestead in Haysland near Kilrane.

John J. Murphy

John J. Murphy

Ellen Murphy (nee Roche), wife of John J. Murphy who died in 1921 aged 75.

Ellen Murphy (nee Roche), wife of John J. Murphy who died in 1921 aged 75.


The old abandoned Murphy homestead in Haysland near Kilrane.


Graphic designer Des Kiely has quickly followed up his successful first book 'Famous Wexford People in History' with a second volume which has just been published.

Des's career as an author began with a Facebook page featuring stories about famous Wexford natives and readers suggested he write a book. Volume 1 was published in November and became a local bestseller. The following is an excerpt from Volume 2, about Kilrane man John Murphy who achieved wealth and fame in South America.

Young John J. Murphy left Kilrane for Argentina in 1844, arriving in Buenos Aires with £1 in his pocket. When he died in 1909 he was one of the wealthiest sheep ranchers in Argentina and with a town called Murphy later named after him.

Born in Haysland, between Tagoat and Kilrane, in 1822 to middle-class farmer Nicholas Murphy and Katherine (née Sinnott). John was the eldest son but saw little prospects for himself and so when local merchant James Pettit organised an emigration to Argentina in 1844, John, aged 22, decided to go and seek his fortune. Before leaving, he promised his mother that when he had £100 he would be back to see her. With Pettit and a group, which included a number of his cousins and friends, John left Kilrane and sailed to Liverpool. On arrival, they each paid £16 (the equivalent of a year's income) for their passage on the William Peile to Argentina. With 115 other Irish emigrants, John embarked on a long voyage, via the Cape Verde Islands, arriving two months later in the bustling port of Buenos Aires.

Argentina was emerging from the civil war that followed centuries of colonial rule by Spain and the independence that it won in 1816. John soon left the city and headed south to Chascomús. There he worked on a sheep farm, digging trenches to keep sheep apart from neighbouring ones; fences were not used in the area in those days. He spent several years as a tenant on the farm, eventually acquiring his own land in 1854 in the Salto area, west of Buenos Aires.

The youthful nation of Argentina was keen to develop a wool industry and land was guaranteed at low prices to those willing to raise sheep on the huge swathes of undeveloped plains known as the Pampas. Sheep were imported from Europe to be cross-bred with the native stock.

John was able to purchase over 4,000 acres of grassland and ten years later he bought a further 10,000 acres in nearby Rojas, which bordered on indigenous Indian lands. His younger brother Martin, who remained at home in Wexford, arranged emigration from the Kilrane area to his brother's estates in Argentina. These emigrants were advanced the cost of their passage but had to work for him for a year without pay in return. Men worked as ranch hands and women as cooks or domestics. His other brothers William and Patrick also joined him in Argentina to work on his huge sheep ranches.

When their mother Katherine died in 1861, John returned to Wexford to visit the family. On his return journey to Argentina in 1863, he travelled first class, paying £55 for his ticket and enjoyed the luxuries and entertainment not available to steerage passengers.

In 1864 his brother William married Elizabeth Roche in Argentina and three years later, aged 45, John married her sister, 20 year old Ellen. John and Ellen had five daughters and four sons.

John Murphy was the first landowner in the area to fence his land and by 1872 had doubled the size of his holding in Rojas. In 1878 he rented out his lands and returned to Ireland with his family, intending to take care of the family farm in Haysland, where his sister and invalid brother lived. He planned on staying indefinitely.

The family resided at 'Juliamount', a house on Belvedere Road in Wexford town. But their 10 year old daughter Catalina (Kitty) contracted scarlet fever, which was highly contagious and for which there was then no cure. The other children were moved to the family farmhouse in Haysland. Kitty died in May 1879. Two years later their three yearold son Martin also died, from a lung infection. These sad events convinced John and Ellen, after nearly four years back in Wexford, to return to Argentina in 1882.

The 'Conquest of the Desert' was an Argentinian military campaign to clear the southern lands (Patagonia) of the Mapuche Indians in an attempted genocide. The resulting defeat of the indigenous natives meant more land was available. And so in 1883 John bought 46,000 acres of some of the best land in southern Santa Fe province and quickly settled the area.

Murphy was by now a very wealthy man. But the sheep business was declining in favour of cattle and grain and John began letting his land to Italian settlers, who planted mainly corn and pasta wheat. John James Murphy died from broncho-pneumonia in 1909 at his house in Buenos Aires. He was 87 years old and was buried in La Recoleta Cemetery, in the heart of Buenos Aires city. He left behind a large family as well as a substantial fortune. Most of the land was sold out to tenants but some were controversially evicted. In 1911 the railway arrived through Murphy's land near Rosario, about 300km from Buenos Aires. Under a compulsory purchase order, the railway company acquired 200 acres from his heirs and built Estación Murphy. A town developed around the station, having various names over the years. Finally in 1966 it was officially named Murphy.

To celebrate the centenary of the departure of the emigrants from County Wexford to Argentina, a procession took place in Kilrane in April 1944. The actual cart that was used to take some of them to Wexford Harbour in 1844 formed part of the ceremony.