One of the less well-known men arrested at the Custom House was Dubliner Joseph Murphy from 6 Bessborough Avenue on the North Strand. He served in the National Army during the Civil War yet joined the Fianna Fáil party afterwards. His family’s former house later became the home of Vinny Byrne for some years.

On the arrest list, Joseph Murphy appears with the forename James. Whether that was what he told the British or the result of a clerical error is not known. But there is no doubt about his arrest and internment in Kilmainham.

Where Joseph was born and spent his early years (OSI Maps)


Joseph was born in the evening of 28 March 1902 at 16 Terrace Place to Patrick Murphy, a Van Driver for a Drug supply company, and Kate (née McCarthy). He was the elder of twin boys, arriving 10 minutes before Patrick junior who sadly died five weeks later. So Joe grew up as the youngest of the four Murphy children who survived from eight born. He had two sisters and one brother. The family continued living on Terrace Place (off Bella Street which runs west off Upper Buckingham Street) from 1901 to at least 1911. By 1915 they had moved to 6 Bessborough Place where their father died from a brain haemorrhage. Two years later Joe’s oldest sister Mary Ellen married a British soldier, William John Herbert.

Young Murphy joined E Coy, 2nd Battalion in his late teens. Several other older IRA men lived on his street, like Mick Love and Jimmy Shiels. There are no details of Joe’s service available online to date. But it is likely he would have taken part in several actions, as his Company was one of the most active on the northside of the city. It was of course led by Tom Ennis before he was promoted to 2nd Battalion O/C. Murphy may well have been involved in the Battalion’s sustained attack on the Auxiliaries’ base at the London and North Western Railway Hotel on 11 April 1921.

Some of the IRA bombs which failed in the attack on the Auxies at North Wall (NLI)

However he was definitely one of the 2nd Battalion men on the Custom House operation who prepared the building for destruction. Unhappily for him he was captured and spent 6 months in captivity. While in Kilmainham he had his photo taken for inclusion in Cyril Daly’s book of mementos and added his autograph and address to the page.

The only known photo of Joseph Murphy (Kilmainham Gaol Museum)

Civil War and Peacetime

After release Joseph rejoined his unit and on 23 February 1922 enlisted in the new Dublin Guards at Beggars Bush. He again served under Tom Ennis’ command in Co Cork and was with the 1st Southern Division, South Western Command based at Mallow when the Army Census was taken in November 1922. Private Murphy survived the conflict and returned to civilian life still a very young man. But he lost his mother Kate in late 1924 when she passed away at their home on Bessborough Avenue.

It seems the family house was sold around that time (Incidentally a later resident was Vinny Byrne, a fellow E Coy man who achieved far more fame than Joseph Murphy. Vinny’s first wife Frances died there in 1938).

Joseph’s sister Mary and brother-in-law William Herbert moved out to Pearse Street. During the 1930s Joseph lived at 19 Belvedere Place. He and his other sister Maggie remained unmarried and later settled at 3 Upper Gardiner Street where they lived for the rest of their days.

Joins Dev’s Party

As mentioned earlier, Joseph became involved in politics, somewhat ironically with Fianna Fáil, who emerged from the anti-Treatyites he’d fought against in the Civil War. Another way to look at that is in terms of republicanism. Simply because men supported the Treaty did not, of course, mean they were traitors or British lackeys as some uninformed people maintain. Pre-Truce IRA who joined the National Army were as much Republicans as those who opposed them. And Joseph was a Tom Ennis Battalion man who’d followed his leader – a republican from 1916 – in supporting the Treaty, a unique position among Dublin Brigade’s units.

But many things had changed since those times and in politics no doubt Dev’s party had come to represent the republican ideology Joseph had always followed. He was actively involved in the Dublin North-West constituency and in the mid-1950s became chairman of the local Cumann.

An Early Demise

Sadly Joseph Murphy passed way on 27 February 1960 at the early age of 57. The youngest in the family became the first to die. He was survived by his two sister, his only brother, other relatives and intriguingly, according to his death notice, “his loving friend Molly”. The family also recorded his E Coy allegiance and his Custom House experience. He was buried in Glasnevin (plot PD70, St Paul’s Section). Before five years had passed both his sisters were to join him in his grave – remarkably within 18 days of each other.

Marking the plot of Volunteer Joseph Murphy and his two sisters (Incidentally the dates of death for all three are off by a day or two).

The Irish Press ran an informative obituary for Custom House Fire Brigade man Joseph Murphy, sixty one years ago.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
The last post for Joseph

In this centenary year of the biggest military action he took part in, on 25 May 1921, we are pleased to remember his life and service to Ireland.

Des White