I never regarded Fr Spud as being of a particularly sympathetic disposition towards the prisoners, finding him somewhat aloof, relaxing only when an exchange would open up around questions of moral philosophy or spirituality in which he was very well versed. The official chaplaincy of which he was a part tended to restrict itself to the religious welfare of those behind bars. Neither he nor Tom Toner, both of whom I liked personally, were held in the esteem that Denis Faul was. John Murphy in later years would expend enormous energy in pressing the prison authorities for things like Irish language bibles but as former blanketman Raymond McCartney said, “he stayed out of the internal jail politics.” His role was always pastoral.
Perhaps it was John Murphy’s public silence on the IRA campaign that made it easier for a high profile representation by Sinn Fein ex-prisoners at his funeral. Denis Faul, on the other hand, drew only three former blanketmen to his graveside, none of them supporters of Sinn Fein. Yet Faul had highlighted the brutality of the prison regime in a way that the prison chaplaincy wholly failed to.
In a piece written by one of those who attended the funeral, Jim Gibney, the claim was made that “in the depths of the most difficult life-and-death struggle for political status, Fr Murphy was trusted by the protesting prisoners.” That is grossly inaccurate. The chaplaincy was most definitely not trusted, in large part because as Micky Culbert, another former blanketman, said “we could be very difficult people to deal with, at a difficult time.” Which when decoded, to some extent means we could not trust him to be malleable to the point that we could manipulate him to deliver the ends we wanted.
Other former blanketmen such as Sam Miller, Alex McCrory and Gerard Hodgins have given a much less wholesome view of the chaplaincy than featured in the Gibney piece written for the Bobby Sands Trust. Following the 2012 death of John Murphy's superior, Tom Toner, these erstwhile denizens of the H Blocks took to social media to express their critical view.
When John Murphy died I offered the following long held view to Mick Hall @ Organized Rage:
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 wellbeing.
John Murphy was an astute and adroit priest. Much to his credit, he spent enormous amounts of time in filthy prison cells engaging prisoners and, as pointed out by Raymond McCartney, "Fr John visited us every day when we were on hunger strike. It was a rare day he didn’t call in to see us.” He brought the word of god but no tobacco. "Clearly a saintly man devoted to his religious beliefs", for those who preferred to smoke the bible rather than read it, that was more of a vice than a virtue.