“Some Treat of David”


Father Murphy excels David and Joshua. His victories are listed, and the loss at Vinegar Hill; "after all, alas, he was taken, And stripped quite naked in the open street; His flesh and bone were separated, And a crimson stream at his joints did meet"


"The end for Father John Murphy came on July 2, 1798 when he and fellow rebel leader James Gallagher were captured by military forces loyal to the British crown. Fr. John was brutally beaten for hours by the yeomen warders, finally stripped of his clothes, denied a trial by jury and hung from the town gallows.

For the perceived insult of being a Catholic priest and not cooperating with the local authorities Fr. John's body was subjected to further desecration when the yeoman, "unsatisfied by the lack of entertainment" dropped the dead body of Fr. John into a nearby barrel of pitch and lit it on fire until the corpse was consumed. His ashes were scattered in the town square as a warning to all those who dare to take up arms against the British crown." (source: _Father John Murphy of Boulavogue_ by Nicholas Furlong as summarized at site of Ancient Order of Hibernians Father John Murphy -- Division #9 Plymouth, MA 02360)

Zimmermann p. 46, fn. 57: In 1866 this song was still "dangerous" enough that a ballad-singer could be arrested in County Down for its sale. - BS

For a fuller history of Father Murphy, see the notes to "Father Murphy (I)."

The issue of Murphy's death is vexing. That he was captured and hung seems certain. Whether he was tortured is another question. Terry Golway, _For the Cause of Liberty_, p. 87, says he and his bodyguard were stripped, flogged, and Murphy hung on the spot, then his body burned. But Golway's citation system, which is very strange, does not appear to cite a source for this claim (might it have been this song)?

I eventually checked eight other Irish histories, some specific to the 1798 and some more general. Six do not mention Murphy's death. (One, specific to the last part of the eighteenth century, doesn't even mention Murphy!) The _Oxford Companion to Irish History_ mentions his hanging, but no torture or cremation. Robert Kee's _The Most Distressful Country_ (Volume I of _The Green Flag_), p. 124, mentions that he was hanged, his body burned, and his head set on a pike -- but he doesn't cite a source either!

The whole thing has strange parallels to the death of Jesus, too.

Murphy was not the only one to be listed as having his body burned; see the fate of Captain Swayne described in "The Song of Prosperous."

Examining the sources, it's clear that the pro-English sources don't mention his fate, the pro-Irish do. While most of the Irish leaders were eventually executed, few were executed without trial. Of course, junior officers didn't always follow policy. But I really wish someone could cite a source for these atrocities!

The mentions of David and Joshua are clearer. The two were the earliest members of the so-called Nine Worthies. They were also the Old Testament figures best known for conquest.

They also were, unlike Murphy, successful enough soldiers to die in their beds. - RBW

Historical references

  • May 26, 1798 - Beginning of the Wexford rebellion
  • May 27, 1798 - The Wexford rebels under Father John Murphy defeat the North Cork militia
  • June 5, 1798 - The Wexford rebels attack the small garrison (about 1400 men, many militia) at New Ross, but are repelled
  • June 21, 1798 - The rebel stronghold a Vinegar Hill is taken, and the Wexford rebellion effectively ended
  • July 2, 1798 - Father Murphy (1753-1798) captured, executed and cremated.

Cross references


  1. Zimmermann 11A, "Some Treat of David" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, Zimm011A


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1798 (Zimmermann)
Found in: Ireland