Some Treat of David
DESCRIPTION: Father Murphy excels David and Joshua. His victories are listed, and the loss at Vinegar Hill; "after all, alas, he was taken, And stripped quite naked in the open street; His flesh and bone were separated, And a crimson stream at his joints did meet"
EARLIEST DATE: 1798 (Zimmermann)
KEYWORDS: battle execution rebellion Ireland clergy patriotic
May 26, 1798 - Beginning of the Wexford rebellion
May 27, 1798 - The Wexford rebels under Father John Murphy defeat the North Cork militia
June 5, 1798 - The Wexford rebels attack the small garrison (about 1400 men, many militia) at New Ross, but are repelled
June 21, 1798 - The rebel stronghold a Vinegar Hill is taken, and the Wexford rebellion effectively ended
July 2, 1798 - Father Murphy (1753-1798) captured, executed and cremated.
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Zimmermann 11A, "Some Treat of David" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Father Murphy (I)" (subject of Father Murphy) and references there
NOTES: "The end for Father John Murphy came on July 2, 1798 when he and fellow rebel leader James Gallagher were captured by military forces loyal to the British crown. Fr. John was brutally beaten for hours by the yeomen warders, finally stripped of his clothes, denied a trial by jury and hung from the town gallows.
For the perceived insult of being a Catholic priest and not cooperating with the local authorities Fr. John's body was subjected to further desecration when the yeoman, "unsatisfied by the lack of entertainment" dropped the dead body of Fr. John into a nearby barrel of pitch and lit it on fire until the corpse was consumed. His ashes were scattered in the town square as a warning to all those who dare to take up arms against the British crown." (source: Father John Murphy of Boulavogue by Nicholas Furlong as summarized at site of Ancient Order of Hibernians Father John Murphy -- Division #9 Plymouth, MA 02360)
Zimmermann p. 46, fn. 57: In 1866 this song was still "dangerous" enough that a ballad-singer could be arrested in County Down for its sale. - BS
For a fuller history of Father Murphy, see the notes to "Father Murphy (I)."
The issue of Murphy's death is vexing. That he was captured and hung seems certain. Whether he was tortured is another question. Golway,p. 87, says he and his bodyguard were stripped, flogged, and Murphy hung on the spot, then his body burned. Similarly Bartlett/Dawson/Keough, p. 135: "He was stripped, mercilessly flogged, hanged and decapitated and his corpse burnt in a barrel." But Golway's citation system, which is very strange, does not appear to cite a source for this claim (might it have been this song?), and Bartlett/Dawson/Keough has no footnotes at all
I eventually checked eight other Irish histories, some specific to the 1798 and some more general. Six do not mention Murphy's death. (One, specific to the last part of the eighteenth century, doesn't even mention Murphy!) Kee, p. 124, mentions that he was hanged, his body burned, and his head set on a pike -- but he doesn't cite a source either! OxfordCompanion, p. 373, mentions his hanging, but no torture or cremation.
The whole thing has strange parallels to the death of Jesus, too.
Murphy was not the only one to be listed as having his body burned; see the fate of Captain Swayne described in "The Song of Prosperous."
Examining the sources, it's clear that the pro-English sources don't mention his fate, the pro-Irish do. While most of the Irish leaders were eventually executed, few were executed without trial. Of course, junior officers didn't always follow policy. But I really wish someone could cite a source for this atrocity!
The mentions of David and Joshua are clearer. The two were the earliest members of the so-called Nine Worthies. They were also the Old Testament figures best known for conquest.
They also were, unlike Murphy, successful enough soldiers to die in their beds. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Bartlett/Dawson/Keough: Thomas Bartlett, Kevin Dawson, Daire Keogh, The 1798 Rebellion: An Illustrated History, Roberts Rinehart, 1998
- Golway: Terry Golway, For the Cause of Liberty, Simon & Schuster, 2000
- Kee: Robert Kee, The Most Distressful Country, being volume I of The Green Flag (covering the period prior to 1848), Penguin, 1972
- OxfordCompanion: S. J. Connolly, editor, The Oxford Companion to Irish History, Oxford, 1998.
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.