After the Catholic priest John Murphy died recently, I asked a friend who had spent four long years on the Blanket no-wash/no work protests in the Maze prison in the north of Ireland, what he thought of him. Fr Murphy who was deputy prison Chaplain to the late Father Toner and ministered to the prisoners from the earliest days of the prison protest for political status in 1976 until it ended in the deaths of ten republicans on hunger strike in 1981.
He had this to say:
I liked him – he was a metaphysician, very versed in theology, philosophy and metaphysics. I remember a very long philosophical discussion with him in 1979 about the soul and materialism. He told me about his cat and he said the morning he gets up and the cat says to him “hello John” he will call it Adam! Making the point about the reality of evolution.
Others will have a different view of him, seeing him as someone merely concerned with their spiritual welfare rather than their physical well being.
Yeah – he was a regular to the blanket. Him and Tom Toner were the regulars whereas the rest of the priests like Denis Faul only got to say mass but did not get to the cells. John and Tom were chaplains.
The very thought of this conversation is almost surreal, a Roman Catholic priest having a discussion with an almost naked Blanketman,whose only clothing was a blanket or towel, in a small cell with excreta up the walls.
It display the character of both men and their ability to move beyond the harsh prison walls. All civilised life does not have to end with the slam of the cell door. That Fr Murphy understood this is to his credit.
The full story of how the Blanketmen debated almost any subject under the sun, learnt the Irish language and entertained themselves while locked in a cell for approximately 24 hours a day is yet to be told.
Linked is a piece about Fr Murphy,(Death of Father John Murphy) which was posted on the Bobby Sands Trust's web site
Another obituary of Fr Murphy can be read here.