Two locals were peering into a Rolls Royce parked opposite the church. There were other black shiny cars in town, but the Rolls attracted particular attention. Down along the street, knots of men in black suits paced impatiently. Many of them were big men, wearing decades of sites and bars and London grime on their faces. They resembled old soldiers, survivors of a clan that may be facing extinction. They were in town to bury their chieftain.
Soon after 6pm, the cortege hit Church Street. Eighty years after he left as a teenager, John Murphy was coming home to Cahirciveen, leaving behind an extraordinary life and a legacy far more valuable than the €220m he was reputed to be worth.
Murphy died at his London home on 7 May. He was 95 and until less than a year ago he was still working, tending to a construction empire of 18 companies that stretched across the UK, Ireland, Greece and the Middle East. Next to Murphy, the Irish developers who rose in the last decade look like little more than three-card-trick merchants.
For thousands of Irishmen coughed out of their own country in each generation over the last eight decades, Murphy provided work. And in the earlier years in particular, much of the wages that he paid found their way back to his native country.
He maintained a modest lifestyle and guarded his privacy intensely. He never gave interviews and was rarely photographed. Six months ago, when he knew life was ebbing away, he said he wanted to be buried near the final resting place of his right-hand-man for nigh on 50 years, John 'the Elephant' O'Donoghue.
On Wednesday, as the sun shone briefly, a guard of honour escorted Murphy into town. Some of the men wore black ribbons tied around their left arms. Only a few wore suits. In terms of formality, there was a sense of dishevelment about the guard, but their pride dwarfed appearances. They were Murphy men, bringing the boss home.
Inside the Daniel O'Connell Memorial Church, Canon Crean remarked that John was back in the place he had been baptised. What he didn't say was that the baptismal records show that the man the world came to know as John Murphy was christened under a different name.
James, as he was named, was born on 5 October 1913 at Loughmark, outside Cahirciveen. He was one of a family of five, known as 'Murphy the lakes' because their small holding bordered on an inlet. They were remembered locally as being "a cut above the average" but such a standing meant little in a peripheral corner where children were reared for export.
Murphy's early years have always been shrouded in mystery, but in 1999 he told his life story to a young man who was leaving his employment to return home to Cahirciveen.
With little formal education, he spent his early years fishing. Then, at 14, he walked 22 miles to Killorglin and secured a job in a livery stable. From there, he advanced to Tralee, where he worked for a period in a wrought-iron business. It was the early 1930s, and opportunity was a foreign word in Ireland. Murphy made his way to London.
He quickly saw possibilities in the bustling city, a place that was a world away from the rural outpost where he was reared. With his first pay packet he bought a new pair of long trousers, the first he ever owned. That evening, the teenager walked up and down outside a shop window, basking in the reflection of his exotic threads. At the far end of a remarkable life of achievement, he still looked back on that day as one of his proudest.
Tom McDonagh had to get four buses to make it down for the funeral. He left his home in Connemara, and caught one into Galway, another to Limerick and then Killarney, before the final leg onto Cahirciveen. He worked for Murphy all over the north of England, going back 45 years. He didn't know the man personally, but he had to pay his respects.
"When I heard he was dead, I said I had to make it down for the funeral," said McDonagh. "I worked for him in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, but I didn't even know what he looked like. I mean, he was never in the papers even, he wasn't one to lord it around the place. He just kept the head down. He was an amazing man."
Richard Walsh travelled down from his home in Wicklow. A native of Knocknagoshel in north Kerry, he worked for Murphy for 32 years.
"I started out digging and ended up welding," he said. "He used to call me Knocknagoshel. He was a genius, a one-off, a man who had the ability to keep five different items at the front of his mind at the one time.
"He looked after the men. He often ate breakfast with us in the yard or on a site. Whenever a new job started, his first thing was to get the best canteen. 'Men can't work on an empty stomach,' he used to say."
The biggest influence on Murphy's life was the manager of what in the 1930s was London airport. One of his first jobs was clearing snow from the runways. The manager saw potential in the Irish kid. When war broke out, conscription was introduced. Murphy had little interest in fighting Hitler. The manager wrote to the ministry of war, explaining that this young man could contribute far more to the war effort if he was allowed to remain in London, assisting in the construction of vital airports. An exemption was granted.
The manager also arranged for Murphy to see a tutor. The Irish kid could barely read or write, but his obvious intelligence meant he would master the basics with the slightest of promptings.
By the time he returned home for a visit in the early 1940s, he was already amassing wealth. He told his father, John, that his one big fear was the Luftwaffe's bombs, which were raining down on London. Father and son hatched a plan. James would go back to London and assume the name John. If Hitler managed to kill or incapacitate him, his father could claim ownership of John Murphy's bank accounts.
Once he returned to London, he became John Murphy, the name he would retain for the rest of his life. There was one problem. He already had a brother John, who arrived in London just after the war. The real John became Joe.
In time, Joe would spawn his own empire. In the years immediately before his death in 2000, he became embroiled in the Flood tribunal over what was ruled to be a bribe that his company JMSE paid to Ray Burke.
The post-war years made John Murphy. He specialised in clearing up the city in the wake of the bombing. From there, he branched out into cabling and electrification across the UK. His companies quickly became a magnet for Irish immigrants. The environment in the booming construction business was often brutal. Only the fittest and the most ruthless survived and prospered. Murphy surrounded himself with Irishmen, and particularly men from south Kerry, such as Elephant John O'Donoghue. They weren't shy men.
On an entrepreneurial level, he kept diversifying into other areas such as roads and water. By then, he was married with two sons, John and Bernard. The company was renamed J Murphy & Sons. The Green Murphy vans became as much a part of the London cityscape as red postboxes and black taxis.
On Thursday morning, the requiem mass began with Canon Crean giving a little talk on the church, a structure that towers over the town, and is the only church in Christendom named after a lay person, local boy made good, Daniel O'Connell. Ironically, it was said that you couldn't throw a stone in Ireland without hitting an offspring of the Liberator. Neither could you throw a stone in south Kerry without hitting somebody who had worked for Murphy. You might have to throw harder the further north you went, but there was still a good chance of hitting a Murphy man anywhere in the county.
They came from all around for his funeral mass, swelling the ranks of the exiles who had arrived in town. Chief mourners were his surviving son from his first marriage, Bernard, and his second family, started in his 70s after the death of his first wife. They included wife Kathy, and his son and daughter, 26-year-old Caroline and 24-year-old James.
The 1970s brought trouble to Murphy. The inland revenue launched a major investigation into tax evasion in the construction industry and the Murphy group was implicated. Two directors and the company secretary were jailed for three years. He also lost control of the group for a while, but then regained it. Later, there was conflict with his elder son John, who launched a court action against him. Through it all, Murphy kept the head down, expanding all the time. In his 70s and into his 80s, he was liable to turn up on any site at 6.30am, more often than not in the company of O'Donoghue.
In March 1992, he received a phone call from British prime minister John Major. The IRA had just blown the heart out of London's financial district. Major was advised there was only one man who could put it back together again. Fifty years after he had cleaned up after the Luftwaffe, he was doing the same in the wake of another bombing campaign.
J Murphy & Sons was involved in the cross-channel rail link that decade, and currently it is one of the main contractors for the Olympic infrastructure in London. In 2001, the man who had started out as an illiterate teenager joined writers and academics in UCC when he was presented with an honorary doctorate in engineering. Latterly, the baton has been passed on. Somewhat ironically, it is daughter Caroline who is now vice president of J Murphy & Sons.
At the conclusion of Thursday's funeral mass, company director James O'Callaghan paid one of the tributes.
"Mr John Murphy, pioneer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, legend in his own lifetime, affectionately known as the boss, may you rest in peace," he said.
They followed his coffin out of town, over the bridge and up a hill to the graveyard, led by a lone piper. He was put into the ground just across the road from where his friend O'Donoghue was buried 10 years ago.
The graves lie in a place called Killovarnogue. Above it is the mountain, below, the flowing waters of the River Fertha. It is a quiet place, where often the only sound is the lazy call of the birds. It's a long, long way from there to the cauldron in which Britain was built in the middle decades of the last century.
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