The death took place on 30 July 2021 of John Murphy, Ilen Street and formerly of the West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen.
John died full of years after a long and active life. His connection with Skibbereen goes back several generations and his singular knowledge of the area and its people was without equal. Though a very public figure as owner and manager of the West Cork Hotel for much of his life, and while he enjoyed the company of people, John was in many respects a very private person. However, the writer of this modest tribute has on many occasions been grateful to John for his patience and unfailing generosity with his time in answering many queries about aspects of the history of Skibbereen and its people.
John and Betty Murphy will of course be forever associated with the West Cork Hotel which they ran from 1959 until they retired from the business in the mid-1990s. John was predeceased by his wife Betty (née O’Driscoll) who died on 10 June 2018.
John’s great-grandfather, Patrick Murphy, and his great-grandmother, an O’Donovan from Drominidy, both emigrated to America during the Famine. They married in New York in 1853 before returning some years later to Ireland and to Skibbereen. Patrick brought a shop in North Street and later brought a premises in Main Street where he ran a pub and a meal and flour business.
Patrick Murphy died in July 1910 and Mrs Murphy died three years later in 1913. Patrick and Mrs Murphy were survived by one son, John, and this was the man who built the West Cork Hotel which opened in 1902.
John Murphy began his working life as a law clerk and later worked as a carpenter. He was a very progressive man and built a number of houses in Cork Road and at Market Street. John married Annie Fitzgerald of the Abbey, Skibbereen, on 8 September 1887.
By the turn of the twentieth century Skibbereen had become a very progressive market and business town, and Ilen Street was an ideal site for a new hotel, it being situated close to the railway station which then played such an important role in the commercial and social life of the town.
The original hotel had eleven bedrooms and early on the proprietors converted a downstairs billiard room into three bedrooms to bring the total up to fourteen. It was Annie Murphy who ran the hotel for many years. John and Annie Murphy had six children, three boys and three girls, Dan, John, Pat, May, Eileen and Katie.
Their eldest son Dan and his wife Lizzie took over the running of the hotel when his mother Annie’s health forced her to reduce her involvement in the business. Annie died on 27 September 1937.
Dan married Lizzie Ross of Glandart, Bantry, on 28 April 1927. It was Lizzie who mostly managed the hotel and she took over the business completely when Dan died tragically young on 1 August 1939. Dan pre-deceased his father by some sixteen months; John died on 13 November 1940.
Dan and Lizzie had two sons, John and Pat. John married Betty O’Driscoll from Carrigillihy, Union Hall, on 17 September 1959 and the couple took over the running of the West Cork Hotel. From the beginning, it was a real team effort. For thirty-five years John and Betty dedicated themselves to making the West Cork Hotel one of the best-known establishments in the south of Ireland.
The West Cork Hotel became an institution under John and Betty’s guidance. It was a tourist attraction, appealing to people from all over to come and enjoy the excellent hospitality and service. It was one of the most popular wedding venues in West Cork and over three decades John and Betty worked extraordinarily hard to make every visitor welcome. They treated everyone with the same respect and they, in turn, were greatly admired and respected for their enormous commitment to their guests.
John and Betty added seven bedrooms in 1960. Then when the railway closed in 1961, they bought more land behind the existing hotel and in 1965 they added a substantial extension. They added the function room and an extra seven bedrooms. In 1972 they carried out a further expansion to bring it up to a forty-one bedroom hotel. John and Betty retired in the mid-1990s and the management of the hotel was taken over by their son John, the fourth generation of the family to run the business.
Recognised in the Bridgestone Guide as one of the best one hundred places to stay in Ireland, John McKenna wrote that: ‘People find the West Cork to be a home away from home, a place of relaxation where things are done properly according to ageless standards of service. It demands that rare epithet, venerable, to describe its charms’.
John decided to pursue other business interests and in 2005 the West Cork Hotel was purchased by the Looney family who have continued the fine tradition of the hotel.
John Murphy is survived by his children John and Liz, sisters in law Elmar Nolan and Noreen Lucey, relatives, and a large circle of friends.