My Wexford: notes from an expat
Name: John O. Murphy
Lives in: Manhattan, New York, USA
Work: Director & Legal Counsel, UBS Investment Bank
The Wexford connection: Born and raised in Ramsgrange, New Ross; ninth of Paddy and Breda Murphy’s 11 children.
Family: Carly Keyes Murphy and our son, James Franklin Murphy (20 months)
Home is: Ramsgrange (we maintain a farmhouse called Rogula House in the townsland of Shielbaggan)
Schooldays: Ramsgrange Community School up until Inter Cert and then Good Counsel, New Ross for my last two years and Leaving Cert.
I have fond memories of: Life growing up ninth of 11 on a family farm was rich and full. I’d rise at 6am to milk cows before rushing to school – and I was always late even though the school was just across the field. Giant workmen would sit around the kitchen table during silage, corn or beet harvesting seasons, with steaming pots of spuds and great banter filling the air. I’d have to rush to get the farm chores done in the evening to run down for Gaelic football training – sometimes the cows had to be left to make their own way back to the field (but we had them well trained).
I’d come home for: My goal is to spend more time back in Wexford than the current one or two short trips a year. My family – parents, siblings, nieces and nephews – and friends are all there. It would brilliant for our son James to see more of his cousins and get to know a little about growing up in the countryside – as opposed to the Upper West-side of Manhattan! Right now it is definitely the quality of life – people are busy and indeed many struggling to make ends meet but people back home seem to keep their priorities in order and spend quality time with their family. If you’re not careful, Manhattan and the proverbial US corporate “rat race” can distort what is most important.
I visit home: Ideally twice but sometimes it’s only once a year.
I last visited Wexford: August 2011 to visit family and friends and before that it was Christmas 2010. We missed Christmas 2011 but are doing a big trip in August/September 2012. We are bringing a bunch of American friends to Wexford and they will be in Ireland for the Notre Dame v Navy College football game in the Aviva Stadium on 1 September. We’re bringing about 50 to Wexford for a few days – trying to do our bit for the Wexford economy.
I miss: My entire family of course, including my folks who are not getting any younger but please God, as my mother would say, they will be around for many more years to come! I definitely miss the passion of Wexford GAA – beginning at our local St. James’s club level but certainly with each new county championship season, where hope springs eternal for Wexford followers. I catch up with my dad on the phone after the championship matches but would dearly love to be able to attend games with him in person.
My must-visits include: Certainly the Hollow Bar & Restaurant in Ramsgrange, where proprietor Mary Murphy serves the freshest and best pub fare in the land – I am serious! There are always several stops in Flood’s Centra Foodmarket in Ramsgrange as well to stock up on grocery goodies – many of which are real treats since we can’t get them in NYC, including Wexford Cheddar and Denny’s sausages and rashers. My wife has also a huge fondness for Moro bars and there’s usually a couple of dozen in the suitcase on the way back.
Sightseeing tips: Wexford’s full of tourist gems – some advertised, some not so much. Hook Head is always a must. The beaches of Dollar and Boley Bay are some of Ireland’s finest – and that other little one that you almost have to climb down a cliff to, whose name I cannot think of, is also brilliant. Dunbrody Abbey is still a terrific specimen. I love taking folks by JFK’s homestead in Dunganstown just to marvel over where his ancestor’s emerged. The replica Dunbrody Famine Ship is now a wonderful complement to the Homestead and really a credit to all involved. Personally, I love driving the little ring of Arthurstown and Ballyhack and taking a walk on my brother’s land in Nuke, which sweeps down to the Three Sister’s (the Suir, Barrow and Nore rivers) as they flow out past Arthurstown.
Favourite beach? Probably Boley Bay as we spent many of what now seem like long summer days there when I was a kid – although I’m sure they were shorter and less frequent in reality!
Wexford’s great outdoors: It would be remiss of me not to give a plug to the Shielbaggan Outdoor Pursuit Centre, which has been providing wonderful adventures for years – everything from kayaking, hill walking, diving etc.
Hidden gems: If I have the name right, Lunascoota beach is one. It’s not hidden but Baginbun and that whole drive around Bannow Bay is tremendous in terms of sereneness but also in its historical significance. Tintern Abbey is wonderful but, in terms of ‘hidden’, the castles on the lands of the Codds of Clonmines are great – and it’s a shame the medieval festivals held there when I was a kid are no more.
Wexford sayings: Hmm, a tough one! There are a few Adamstown lads that live in New York and, whenever I see them, it’s always: “Well lad?” – meaning, I believe, “How are you and I hope all is well.” Then, from being a kid in Wexford Park on a Sunday and trying to get a Mars Bar at the crowded tuck-shop stand, floating over the air in that classic Wexford-town lilt would come: “Ya a’right there hon?”
Foodie Wexford: Wexford Cheddar. Again, the Hollow can’t be beaten for fresh fish and wonderful brown bread. If we’re talking a bit up-market, then Dunbrody House is excellent.
Wexford pride: I think Wexford folk have a quiet but fierce pride – our own sort of rugged individualism. I really think something of our own county’s history infuses the DNA of Wexfordians – going all the way back to the time of the McMurroughs and all the way up through and past the Rebellion of 1798. Our fierce pride is most often seen in the following of the county teams, but I see it in the many Wexford ex-pats I have met over the years. They constantly astonish me with the amazing things they have accomplished in their lives.
I had an amazing moment in March 2010 when I was able to display my own Wexford pride – I was being honored at New York’s City Hall for work in the Irish and Irish-American community. When I got up to speak, I was able to turn to JFK’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, a fellow honoree that night, and share that I reckoned there were a few Wexford folks looking down on us that night marvelling at how a kid from Ramsgrange and a woman whose roots were in Dunganstown could share the same stage in NY’s City Hall.
Why Wexford’s the business: The island of Ireland is full of smart and hard-working people but I do think Wexford is in the higher echelon of counties where a foreign company should want to do business. Our infrastructure is key – the roads and access to Dublin are great, but also they’re also great to Waterford and Cork. A key leg-up for Wexford over neighbouring counties is our port access through Rosslare. Yes, Dublin is a great gateway to Europe, but so too is Wexford and it is very talented and much more cost-effective than Dublin.
My Wexford hero? Seriously? Why it has to be Fr. John Murphy of Boolavogue of course. Father of the US Navy Commodore John Barry is a close second. Third? Liam Giffin – originally a Clare man of course, but the way he stirred the passions of that fierce Wexford pride I’ve talked about was pure poetry!
My social networks: Irish Network NYC (founding member, former chairman and current board member); the Irish American Bar Association of New York (director); John Murphy on LinkedIn.