John Murphy on his first day as a an instructor for ANCO (now FÁS). (Pic courtesy of John Murphy)

There has been many a man and woman proud to called Fermoy their home and John Murphy is certainly one of them.

A former town councillor who was also chairman and Mayor of Fermoy on three occasions and also a lifelong member of Fermoy rowing club. John has lived a varied and fulfilling life on the banks of the Blackwater in Fermoy.

However, Fermoy may never have become John’s hometown if it weren’t for the sad circumstances of his early childhood which led him to be brought up here.

John was born in Wilsden General Hospital in London to Mary Shinnick from Fermoy and James Murphy from Cobh. In 1939, when John was an infant, his mother was diagnosed with TB. As there was no cure at the time, she decided to return to her home-place of Fermoy with John.

His brother Michael followed later and Mary’s parents took care of the two young boys. Their mother Mary passed away shortly afterwards, aged 23.

At this time John’s father, James Murphy, had joined the British Army and fought in World War 2 from 1942 until 1947 with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

John and Michael were raised by their grandparents at 7 Quarry Lane, Chapel Hill, Fermoy. John’s grandmother Etha (O’Keeffe) was from Glanworth and her father was the well-known blacksmith Timothy (Thady) O’Keeffe. John’s grandfather, Micheal Shinnick was a native of Bartlemy and was a steam engine driver.

“Times were tough. My uncles were still living in the house at the time so there were 6 of us in the one bedroom but my grandparents were wonderful people and I got a great upbringing. My uncles; John (Johnster), Billy, Tadhg and Michael Shinnick were just a few years older than me so I grew up with them and they were like brothers to me,” he recalls.

John still lives in the very same house on Quarry Lane with his wife Clare where they raised their own children – Therese, Sean and Etha. They also have seven grandchildren – Niall, Kate, Andrea, Eimear, Aoife, Ellen and Sarah.


Despite hard times, John was sent to school first in Presentation Convent until 1st class and then moved down to the Christian Brothers School (now Bishop Murphy Memorial School) until 6th class. John then attended the Technical School and very quickly he discovered a love for carpentry and mechanical drawing.

On receiving his Group Cert at the age of 16, John was ready for work and started off with his uncle John Shinnick, repairing roofs and plastering. Following that, John was employed by various local builders doing similar work including Pyne Brothers, J.J. O’Leary’s, Pa O’Neill in Glanworth and Cork Corporation.

“I really enjoyed my time working out in Glanworth and I still have many friends out there since those times. One of my most memoriable jobs in Glanworth was repairing the roof of the Catholic Church with local Glanworth man Bill Lawton. To complete that job all that was available was roof ladders and ropes – no scaffolding. The church bell was out of order, so myself and Bill decided to ring the bell using a hammer each day at 12 noon for The Angelus. The people of Glanworth were delighted to hear the bell once again,” said John.


Having worked for many years as a plasterer, John got the opportunity of a lifetime to become an instructer with ANCO which is now known as FÁS/ Solus.

“I had never done an interview in my life and I still remember the help Fr Donal Coakley from St Colman’s College gave me. He sat me down and put me through a mock interview and as sure as God, many of the questions he had asked me came up in the real interview,” said John.  Following two interviews and a practical exam, John got the job and never looked back.

He started as an instructor in Building Construction and then began to move up the ladder, holding positions as Community Youth Training Officer and Senior Development Officer during his 31 years in the public service.

Shortly after being appointed, John suggested that a set curriculum should be made out for each course so that instructors would have a plan to follow. His superiors agreed with the idea and asked him to design the course with the Curriculum Officer. John agreed and to this day, very little changes have been made to the course design that was introduced.

John loved his job as an educator and still remembers the mixed emotions he felt on the day of his retirement. He is now the National Chairperson of the FÁS/SIPTU Retired Staff Association of Ireland as well as being chairperson of the Cork branch. These groups meet regularly to support each other and to keep in contact.


John Murphy is now known as a very influential trainer and member of Fermoy Rowing Club and was influential in the development of the new clubhouse which is a wonderful facility for all club members.

The love for rowing started for John in his teenage years when he went down to the river one day with his neighbour, Florrie Bourke. Around 1956, John joined the club and started training under Dr Walter McGuire, better known as ‘The Doc’, and from that day on, he was hooked on the sport of rowing.

“I won a lot of races at novice, junior and senior level and I got the chance to row for Munster in the Interprovincial championships. Later in life, I was honoured to be Vice President of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union, now known as Rowing Ireland,” said John, who is now an honorary life vice president of Fermoy Rowing Club and on the Board of Trustees.

“All my own children were very involved and rowed for Fermoy. My grandson Niall and grandaughters Eimear and Kate, are carrying on the tradition, with Niall and Kate rowing for Shannon Rowing Club in Limerick and Eimear with Fermoy. Our own son Sean is with the Shannon Masters and is also a coach and the vice captain of Shannon Rowing Club.”


Despite growing up in a strong Fianna Fail household, John had never considered political life until one night, the late Matt Flood, a well known Fianna Fail man, knocked on the door of John’s house and asked him to run for local election in 1979.

John agreed and next thing he knew, he had been elected to the town council where he served for the next 30 years.

He served three times as the chairperson of the town council and was elected as Mayor of Fermoy on one occasion.

During his time in office he set the ball rolling on a lot of projects including ‘Fermoy Becoming A Tidier Town’ – now known as Fermoy Tidy Towns Committee. He was also a founding member of the Joint Policing Committee in the area to keep crime to a minimum and was also involved in the twinning of Fermoy with Ploemeur in France.

For many years John was witness to the devastating aftermath of the floods in Fermoy where houses, businesses and organisations, including Fermoy Rowing Club, were badly damaged by the flood waters. As a result, John and some of his fellow councillors made strong representations to various Ministers to secure a flood relief scheme in Fermoy.

After many years of campaigning, John is proud to see the successful outcome of the scheme and how Fermoy has been positively enhanced by it.


Although John has been a busy man all his life, he always made time for fun and recreation. A keen ballroom dancer, John spent many a night in the local dancehalls and has especially fond memories of the local Palace Ballroom.

“Whenever I visit the Fermoy Community Youth Centre now, I have a look into the ballroom and memories of the wonderful fun times we had come flooding back. Happy days!”

John also recalls great ‘scamping’ in the Royal/Ormonde cinema “and the late Sean Hull with the flashlamp keeping law and order”.


Although now retired, John feels that it is essential to keep an active mind and body for overall wellbeing. John is a supporter of many sporting organisations in Fermoy as well as being a loyal follower of the Cork GAA teams and travels to all of their matches. He especially enjoys the pre-match craic in the Red Parrott near Croke Park with other supporters from Fermoy.

“I love walking and I go to all the Cork GAA matches and rowing regattas. I even travelled to the World Rowing Championships in Windsor recently as well as the Rhein Marathon in Dusseldorf,” said John.

One of John’s favourite walks is the wonderful amenity at St Colman’s College pitch on Cork Road in Fermoy.

As a founding member of Fermoy Mens Club he enjoys the outings and discussions and he also loves to visit Glencairn Abbey where he goes to midday prayer to switch off from the world.

He also takes a monthly trip to the English Market in Cork for a feed of tripe and drisheen in the Farmgate restaurant.

“I’ve made some wonderful friends throughout the years and overall my family and I are all doing well. Long may it last,” concluded John.