Séamus Mór Mac Mhurchaidh

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Séamus Mór Mac Mhurchaidh, (alias Mac Murphy), Irish poet and outlaw, 1720-1750.


Mac Mhurchaidh was a tóraidhe or rapparee, and in 1740 the leader of a strong band of raparees.


He was born at Carnally, Creggan parish, near Crossmaglen, in County Armagh, about 1720. The Mac Murchadha clan were the original kings of the Fews, until the Clan Aodh Buidhe (Clandeboye) Ó Néill invaded in the 13th and 14th century, displaceing the clan from Caledon into The Fews.

His father's name is unknown; his mother was Aine. A grandfather was said to have been killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691 (see Diarmuid Mac Muireadhaigh). Séamus Mór had four sisters; one of whom, Aillidh, who was married to Mr. Duffy, a nephew of the poet Niall Óge Mac Murchadha, to whom he was closely related. No brother of Séamus Mór is mentioned.

He was noted as a handsome man, and used to introduce himself to his victims as Mise Seumus 'A' Mhurchaidh is deise 'bhfuil in Eirinn/Meet Seumus Mac Murphy, the handsomest man in Ireland.

He had a reputation as a great drinker and a charming companion of many women. Yet it was over-indulgence in drink and promiscuity that were to lead to his downfall.

Association with Ó Doirnín[edit]

His close friend was Peadar Ó Doirnín, a fellow-poet with whom he founded a school of Gaelic poetry. They held regular sessions at Dunreavy Wood and Mullaghbane. In the summer of 1744, Mac Mhurchaidh and O'Doirnin organised a monster meeting on Slieve Gullion to motivate the people for the expected arrival of the Young Pretender.


The two were active Jacobites in the years up to the 1745 rebellion; Mac Mhurchaidh was an active rapparee since at least 1740. His main adversary was John Johnson of Roxborough, known as Johnson of the Fews, a tóraidhe hunter (see "The MacShane O'Neills" in O'Neill Dynasty).

A truce[edit]

In the summer of 1744, as a result of the unrest caused by the Slieve Gullion meeting, Johnson was attacked and very seriously wounded. Though he survived, he met with Mac Mhurchaidh and Ó Doirnín, where they agreed to "an uneasy truce."

Molly MacDecker[edit]

Mac Mhurchaidh and Ó Doirnín often attended a sibín or inn at Flagstaff (or Upper Fathom?), a mountain route to Omeath, owned by Patsy MacDecker, known as Paddy of the Mountain. The area remains particularly remote even in the 21st century, and in the 1740s was the perfect hideaway for raparees.

Mac Mhurchaidh became a lover of Mac Decker's daughter, Molly. However, the affair was tempestous; after a fierce argument and break-up, Molly swore revenge on Mac Murphy. To this end, she plied Ó Doirnín with drink one evening, and inveigled him to compose a satirical poem about Johnson, which he called The Heretic Headhunter. She took the poem to Johnson, saying Mac Mhurchaidh was the author. Johnson was angry at this breach of their truce. Molly was offered fifty pounds by Johnson to trap Mac Mhurchaidh.

However, another version lays the blame on a lieutenant of Mac Mhurchaidh, Art Fearon, who wished to ingratiate himself with Molly. This version claims that he told her in-depth stories about infidelities Mac Mhurchaidh had with other women. Paddy of the Mountain decided to take advantage of the fifty pounds offered as reward money, and joined the scheme. On the Saturday night before the Pattern of Killeavy (a local religious festival), Mac Mhurchaidh was to spend the night at the inn; the Mac Deckers were to get him insensibly drunk and off-guard.

However it came about, Johnson and his men caught Mac Mhurchaidh at Mac Decker's inn, sometime late in 1749 or early in 1750.

Trial and aftermath[edit]

Séamus Mór Mac Mhurchaidh spent eight months in prison in Newry, before been tried, found guilty and sentenced to execution. He is said to have had not fear on the day and forgave all who helped his capture, including Molly. His body was left hanging for three days before it was taken down, waked for two nights at his mother's barn in Carnally, before been buried in Creggan churchyard. In 1973, Jem Murphy, a descendant of the family, erected a memorial headstone to all the Mac Mhurchaidhs and Séamus Mór.

Paddy MacDecker is said to have received his blood money at Armagh in copper coin, so disgusted with the authorities with him. Folk legend has it that the effort of carrying the reward twenty miles home caused him to die within sight of his home.

Molly MacDecker became ostracised by her community, and became mentally ill. She eventually drowned herself.

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