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Minnie (1928–2019) and Tom Murphy (1915–1988)

Nlresize 1976 Cape Shore
A stormy day on the Cape Shore, ca. 1976 (photo courtesy of Aidan O’Hara; used with permission).

Minnie Murphy was born in St Bride’s, Placentia Bay, on 24 March 1928. She has been a hard-working woman all of her life, doing everything from cutting wood to hauling kelp, and working in fish plants in Branch, St Bride’s, and Argentia. She also kept the gardens and tended the hay on her own farm. Her favourite activity was working with the horses—or, more particularly, riding the local horses when no one was watching. Minnie doesn’t recall learning to sing; it was just something she did, especially when she was young and the songs came easily.

I could hear a song three or four times and then would just know it.
Minnie Murphy to Rebecca Draisey-Collishaw on learning songs (telephone conversation, 1 February 2018)

Like Minnie, Tom Murphy was born in St Bride’s. He was a fisherman most of his life, though he went away to work in Hamilton, Ontario, for a time. Tom’s people were known for their music, so that’s probably where he learned most of his songs. Because of Tom’s reputation as a singer, Minnie recalls, collectors often called to the house with the offer of a few dollars in exchange for some songs.

Both Minnie and Tom enjoyed going to house parties. Whenever one was happening on the Cape Shore they made sure to attend. These provided opportunities not only to sing—both solo and duet—but also to dance and be sociable. Songs they performed solo were “The broken-hearted milkman” (sung by Tom) and ‘Down by the riverside’ (sung by Minnie); they also performed together from time to time. 


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The bonny bunch of roses / Tom Murphy & Minnie Murphy

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The bonny bunch of roses / Tom Murphy & Minnie Murphy

The bonny bunch of roses, song (By the margin of the ocean, one morning in the month of June …) The lyrics of this ballad take the form of a conversation between Napoleon Bonaparte’s widow and his son. She warns her son of the danger of challenging England, Ireland, and Scotland—the bonny bunch of roses—and the folly of attacking Russia.  It is quite similar to another version of this song collected from Anthony Power in the neighbouring town of Branch by Aidan O’Hara. Tom and Minnie Murphy’s version of this song is remarkable as an example of duet singing, a practice that is comparatively rare in traditional Newfoundland singing. 

Down by the riverside / Minnie Murphy

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Down by the riverside / Minnie Murphy

Down by the riverside, song (When I was young and in my prime my age scarce twenty-one …) This song tells the tale of a man whose parents force him to marry a woman of higher social status, forsaking the woman he loves. He later murders his wife because he cannot live with his choice. He is sentenced to hang for his crimes.  After Minnie Murphy finished her performance, one of the men present in the room comments that he sometimes heard this song in the lumber camps of western Newfoundland. Little is known about the origins of the song, though the reference to Wexford Gaol suggests a possible southeast Ireland connection. Variants, including that collected by MacEdward Leach from John James of Trepassey, Newfoundland, have been recorded almost exclusively in Newfoundland.

India's burning shore / Tom Murphy & Minnie Murphy

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India's burning shore / Tom Murphy & Minnie Murphy

India's burning shore, song (As I strayed beneath those lofty pines on India’s burning shore …) Also known as the “Irish Patriot,” this song tells the story of a man whose wife and child are killed when he refuses to fight for his landlord’s rebel army. He takes revenge by killing his landlord and thereafter must forever live in exile, though he dreams of returning to Ireland to be buried beside his wife.  The origins of this song are unknown; Robert B Waltz and David G Engle note that it is found predominantly along North America’s eastern seaboard. The song seems to have had some popularity in lumbering camps during the early 20th century.

The broken-hearted milkman / Tom Murphy

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The broken-hearted milkman / Tom Murphy

The broken-hearted milkman, song (I’m a hard-working milkman in grief I’m arrayed …) Originally published as “Polly Perkins of Paddington Green” during the mid-19th century, this song was composed by Harry Clifton (1832–1872), a London-based music-hall songwriter. The version sung by Tom Murphy replaces the references to the London locality with references to Ireland.


Biographical Information

Courtesy of Minnie Murphy